I absolutely love baking during the holiday season. I’m always looking for excuses to bake, and during the holidays, I tend to find a ton of excuses.
One of our biggest traditions around the holidays is what I like to call the annual bake-palooza, which is the weekend before Christmas. Basically, we live in the kitchen for the majority of the weekend and bake, bake, bake for friends, coworkers, neighbors…you name it! It doesn’t sound fun to most, but to me, it’s a blast! Over the years, I’ve learned which recipes are great for gifting, and which recipes, while impressive, are just too much work to make for 15-20 gifts.
This year, I’m doing something different. While I’m still baking up a storm, I figured I could lighten the load a little by spreading out the majority of the work—the cookies.
Since we’re making a ton of goodies (husband likes to help), I had to do the math to see how many batches of each recipe I’d need to make for gifts. Most cookie recipes make 24 cookies (check your recipes first), so after doing the math, I decided 11 batches of cookies was a good number (2 of those being cookie dough gifts, which is a whole ’nother gift idea). Of course, I doubt we’ll need all of those cookies, but I wanted to make sure I had extra dough, just in case…you can never have too much cookie dough, right?
One of the first things I always do for a big bake-palooza, is to stalk the grocery ads. I refuse to buy butter that’s over $2/pound box. I live in a fairly low to middle cost of living area, and from experience, I know $2 is rock bottom for the price of butter. It’s probably different in, say, New York or Los Angeles, but the idea is to buy butter when it’s the cheapest. Oh, and buy a LOT of it. I bought 12 boxes. Did you know that you can freeze butter? Just in case you don’t use it all..
Butter isn’t the only thing I shop for…I usually go through 3 bags of flour and sugar, multiple bags of chocolate chips, as well as 2-3 cartons of eggs. All of these go on sale this time of the year, and I know I sound like a cheap person for saying BUY EVERYTHING CHEAP, but seriously, when you’re baking multiple gifts, it all adds up! (and hey, saving money on ingredients means more money to buy pretty packaging, right?)
Once you have your ingredients, now of course you can make your dough. Since I’m usually doubling (or tripling) some recipes, I do that math in advance. Write those numbers on a post-it or something and stick it next to your recipe OR retype out your recipe with the correct amounts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve doubled a recipe, only to realize I forgot to double one thing…like sugar. Yup. Not good. Just do the math in advance.
Side note: Just keep in mind your mixer size when you’re doubling or tripling recipes. My standard 5 qt. mixer can usually handle a double batch of cookie dough, but tripling really pushes the limits on the capacity of my bowl. I was able to triple recipes just fine in the 7 qt. mixer I have, though.
Once your dough is mixed, use a medium sized cookie scoop (or large, if recipe calls for it), and scoop dough balls out. My freezer is a side by side, and a 9×13 cake pan fits just fine in there. So, I scooped them out into a cake pan, making sure to leave a tiny bit of space between dough balls, to make sure they don’t freeze together.
If you have more than one layer of cookie dough, just layer balls of dough between sheets of wax paper.
Once you have your cookie dough scooped out, place the pan into a freezer and allow the dough balls to freeze for 1-2 hours, until they are fairly set. Then, take them out of the pan and throw them into a freezer bag. Allow all of the excess air out of the bags, and seal until you’re ready to bake them.
To bake the cookies, all you need to do is place the balls on a cookie sheet, allowing a couple of inches in between for spreading, and bake at the temperature specified for the recipe for just 1-2 minutes longer than called for.
You can see that I burnt the cookie in the back, but that was because it was meant to be baked 25 degrees cooler than the others. Whoops! Glad I learned that lesson before the big baking weekend!
Stay tuned for the next posts in this mini-series: one about favorite recipes for gifting and another about packaging.