Editor’s note: Food writer Casey Barber says December is cookie baking month. Stay tuned for her January recipe selection and for all the months that follow.
The calendar says December, but it really should read “Cookiember.” This is the month for bakers of all types and skill levels to go big and stock the kitchen with sweets and treats. It’s time to hop aboard the cookie train and let the joy of baking and sharing treats with others race through the holidays.
Irvin Lin, author of the “Dessert Cookbook”Marbled, swirled and layered: 150 recipes and variations for bars, cookies, pies, cakes and moreand founder of the Eat love site, has spent decades perfecting her holiday cookie baking routine. Whether you’re feeling ambitious, overwhelmed, sugar rushed, or a combination of all of these feelings, Lin has expert ways to make it a delicious cookie season.
Lin suggests choosing a mix of cookies when baking for the holiday — “one crumbly, one chewy, one chocolatey” — to give you and the ones you share with a variety of tastes and textures to try. If you have a list of tried-and-true recipes, he recommends choosing “80% of your favorite recipes and 20% of new ones that you want to experiment with.”
The most important thing, Lin emphasizes, is to read the ingredient list as well as the full recipe instructions before you start. “Don’t start baking a cookie thinking you’ve got everything,” he said, before realizing that there were only two tablespoons of sugar left in the pantry.
As you read the recipe, “mentally progress through all the steps,” Lin said. “Sometimes they want the butter cold, and sometimes they want the butter at room temperature,” for example, so you’ll need to plan the timing of many recipes in advance.
While experienced bakers can often halve recipes to make smaller batches, “it’s totally okay to freeze cookies” to enjoy them later or to keep them from going bad, Lin said. Freezing cookies can also help save time in the long run by allowing you to start your holiday baking early.
Lin bakes cookies weeks before her parties and thaws them at room temperature up to two days before an event. Freeze cooled cookies in sealed bags or lidded containers until needed. up to one year.
When it comes to the types of cookies to bake, there are two things to consider: your skill level as well as the amount of time you need to devote to the cookie cause. Here are some suggestions to keep the holiday effort from getting harassed.
Sea bass cookies are Lin’s secret weapon when it comes to holiday baking. “Cookies can take time because you make them in batches,” he said. They seem faster than making a pie or a cake, but “multiply 10 minutes by four batches” of cookies, and the time in the kitchen adds up.
Bar cookies, on the other hand, are “a one-time thing” not requiring constant monitoring. Lin likes to include a simple fudge brownie recipe in its line of holiday desserts, made with a one-bowl batter that makes for the perfect shiny brownie top.
Traditional Scottish shortbread bars are another bar cookie that gives amazing results from a simple recipe. Made with only flour, butter, sugar and salt (and vanilla extract, if desired) and without the need for cookie cutters or other special equipment, they are one simplest classic treats.
“Most people who bake multiple cookies have some baking experience,” Lin said, so they might want to tweak the flavor of a classic recipe to make it slightly new for the holiday season.
“If you have a favorite (cookie) but want to change it, add an extract or fruit peel,” he recommended. Use peppermint, maple, or almond extract for half the amount of vanilla extract called for in a recipe, or jazz it up cut out sugar cookies with a zest of fresh lemon or orange.
Lin likes to add a pinch of paprika or black pepper to soft cookies with ginger molasses or his gingerbread cookies to make the spice mix a bit more exciting. “Things you normally think of for savory recipes can work in sweet cooking,” he said.
Sometimes all it takes is a multi-step holiday cookie recipe to get you feeling like you’re really in the holiday spirit. (I admit that I tend to fall into this category every holiday season, my husband’s preference for peanut butter flowers notwithstanding.)
Following Lin’s advice to read the entire recipe before you start measuring and mixing is crucial when it comes to more complicated recipes. Many cookies, such as Lin’s red velvet crackle cookiesrequire the dough to be chilled before portioning and rolling, so it is essential to take this into account.
Peppermint Chocolate Sandwich Cookies are not as difficult as they look but also require the step of chilling a batter made with dark cocoa powder for that true Oreo cookie effect. Dyeing half of the peppermint cream red is optional, but it certainly makes it festive.