Come December, I find myself baking ridiculous quantities of cookies. I’m not sure why; there are just two of us here at home, and I don’t usually go to cookie-swap parties [unless anyone wants to plan one and invite me?]. It’s like the swallows returning to Capistrano or the monarchs migrating to Mexico: I’m seasonally, instinctively, inexplicably compelled to bake.
As the calendar page turns to 12/2012, I’m beginning my baking preparation, searching for new and old favorite Christmas cookie recipes to make and assembling a stockpile of ingredients. In the seasonal spirit, I thought I’d share some of my best Christmas cookie recipes, point you to others I’ve discovered on the internet and offer a few tips for baking success.
First, the tips:
Freshen up your ingredients. That half-empty bottle of vanilla extract in the pantry? Sure, it’ll make decent cookies. But for real, intense flavor, you’ll want to purchase fresh vanilla (and also peppermint, almond or other extracts you may need for holiday baking). I recently opened a fresh bottle of almond extract and was surprised by the depth of its flavor compared to the old bottle it replaced. I like Penzey’s extracts for quality and taste.
While you’re at it, pick up fresh canisters of baking powder and baking soda; when you get home, use a Sharpie to write the month and year on the lids. These baking essentials lose their leavening power quickly, and it’s recommended that you replace them every six months.
Ditto flour. If you don’t go through it quickly, it might be wise to replace that old bag of all-purpose. Whole-wheat flours especially tend to go “off” with storage of more than 10–12 months, as their oils can get rancid (you can keep whole-grain flours in the freezer to extend their life).
Ditto baking spices. Most spices have a shelf life of 2 years, max. If you’re not sure how long that tin of ground ginger has been lurking in the spice rack, might as well buy fresh. Some groceries like The Fresh Market and independent spice shops will sell small quantities, so you don’t wind up spending on more ground cloves than you need. Fresh spices make a huge difference in flavor, and this is the season when you especially don’t want to skimp.
Plan and shop ahead. Bookmark (online and off-) the recipes you want to make, and create a shopping list that aggregates all the ingredients you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than being an egg short when you’re in the middle of a baking project.
Consider packaging. If you’re making cookies as holiday gifts, then look for pretty packaging to wrap them in. MarthaStewart.com has tons of wonderful cookie packaging ideas. If you’re baking for your family, then you’ll need less fancy storage for your goodies: large Glad containers and zip-top bags work just fine.
Need some holiday cookie recipes and ideas? Check out my Christmas Cookie Board on Pinterest for inspiration!
My favorite Christmas cookie recipes include, clockwise from top left: Christmas Almond Wreath Cookies, pretty, buttery and sprinkled with cinnamon-almond sugar; Classic Crispy Sugar Cookies, which can be decorated simply with colored sugar or elaborately with icing and décors, Chocolate Black Pepper Cookies, a slice-and-bake cookie with a bright hint of spice; and Pecan Dream Cookies, a classic wedding-cake-type of cookie.
How about you? What are you baking this holiday season?