Carla's Corner: 5 Cookie-Baking Tips

At what point do we sit back and actually enjoy the holidays? Is it the point when we get the idea to invite 30 to 50 of our closest friends over for a holiday cocktail party? Or is it when it’s been decided that the big holiday dinner is going to be at our house? Does the enjoyment continue during the planning phase? During the execution phase? Or is the enjoyment on hold until the accolades come in? And yes, I’m sure there are accolades.

As a caterer, the holiday season comes fast and furiously for me. When the weather gets cooler and the leaves start to turn color, I know it’s only a matter of time before the madness starts (good madness, but madness nonetheless). It all begins in late September and comes to a screeching halt after the third weekend in December. Every year I brace myself for what’s to come and try to keep a clear and level head to get through it all. Sound familiar?

One of the things that makes me smile, no matter what, is making holiday cookies. We make cookies all year round, but there’s something special about making cookies during the holidays. After all, doesn’t Santa like cookies? We tweak our recipes to feature seasonal ingredients, such as cranberries instead of raspberries; we start using apples, pears and butternut squash. Always something chocolatey. Always something citrus.

I love crafts, so coloring little cookies is right up my alley. As you may suspect, this is time consuming. Only go down this road if you’re into it; otherwise, make powdered sugar and a stencil your friend.

Cookies are the perfect addition to a holiday dessert buffet; they are also great treats to have sitting out as your family and guests drop by during the season. If you don’t eat sweets, make savory cookies with cheese and nuts.

Here are some of my cookie tips:

1.If you have the space in your fridge or freezer, double the recipe. Most cookie recipes double beautifully and freeze like a charm for future use.

2.Right after making the cookie dough, like chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, spoon the batter into a resealable bag. Flatten the dough in the bag, then chill it. You now have a bag of dough that won’t take up a lot of space. Cut the dough into small squares as you need them OR cut the blocks into logs. (The log method works perfectly with shortbread, wedding cookies, sandwich cookies, etc.) Cut the logs into ¼-inch pieces and lay them out on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

3.Invest in one or two round cookie cutters. Uniformity is great, and slicing (a log) and punching out cookies is fast. This is definitely the way to go for sandwich cookies.

4.Consider making small cookies, about the size of a nickel. Why? Because you want to invite your friends to try ALL of them without thinking about an upcoming New Year’s resolution. Remember to decrease the cooking time for these smaller cookies. If the cookies look done in the oven, they will be overdone after they cool.

5.Last, but not least, feel free to change the add-ins, i.e. chocolate chips, craisins and the type of nuts. Also, consider changing the spice combinations (adding cayenne and cinnamon to your chocolate chip batter). Play. Explore. Make them YOUR yummy!

I’ll be thinking of all of you as I continue to make my cookies. Hopefully, you gained something from these insights. “Cheers!” to all the cookie lovers out there.

Until next time…Happy Holidays!

Toodles,
Carla

P.S. Plus, don't forget to enter your foolproof quick and easy recipe for a chance to win $1,000 in groceries! I'll be choosing the winner, so get the details and send in your recipe now.


Carla Hall was a finalist on Top Chef: Season 5 and runs Alchemy Caterers in Washington, D.C.

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