I am SURE all of you think January/Febuary cookies are a bit of a no no. But truth is…..a bit of sweet makes the chilly winter months seem more enjoyable.
One of my wintertime favorite cookies is a Snowball Cookie. Yes, it is the old fashioned mexican tea cake or pecan ball or sandies (as my mother called them). These buttery, nut ball are formed and baked just a few minutes then rolled while still warm in fluffy powdered sugar! Perfect with a cup of tea or hot cocoa!
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teasp. pure vanilla
2 teasp. water
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans (or hazelnuts or almonds)
pinch of salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Beat butter for 30 seconds; add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
Add vanilla and water; beat well. Stir in flour and pecans. Don’t over work the dough. Roll into 1 inch balls, place on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 15 to 20 min. in a 325 degree oven. Or until very lightly browned on the edges. Remove from oven and cool for 5 to 10 minutes then roll in the powdered sugar. Makes approx. 37 cookies.
“What’s the best flour to use”? Is a question I am often asked. I say, “Depends on what you are baking”.
Flour is the backbone and structure of your baked goods. It is a binding and an absorbing agent. It affects the quality of your baked goods. It adds flavor and nutritional value to the baked product. That’s a lot for humble, little ‘ol flour to do.
“All Purpose Flour” is just what the name suggests; this flour can be used successfully in a variety of baked goods. It is a mixture of soft wheat flour and hard wheat flour and gluten flour. (Gluten adds protein). I have used “unbleached all purpose flour” for many years. I like this type because it has less chemical treatments. For most home cookie bakers this is the flour I recommend. I like to buy organic flour when I can find it. (I just feel good about using anything organic.)
Do not be tempted to use cake flour for your cookie baking. Cake flour is extra fine, soft milled flour (low gluten) and your recipe measurements will be off. (If all you have is cake flour, substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for each cup of all purpose flour your recipe calls for.)
I look for “low protein content flour” for cookie baking. (9.2 or lower) This will help produce a tender cookie.
For bread baking you want high protein flour. (14.5 or higher.) Since you want to develop the gluten in bread, you need this extra protein in your flour.
All flour has a shelf life. The expiration date should be printed on the package. If you buy a large quantity of flour on sale, you can freeze the extra. Be sure it’s wrapped well and placed in a freezer bag. Flour can keep 5 to 6 months in the freezer.
So, why have I said all of this??? Just to say it’s okay to use a good quality all purpose flour. Most home bakers will be very satisfied with the results.
It does seem a little early to be discussing packaging and the how-to’s of wrapping your cookies for gift-giving. But, I like to share this information in the summer. This way, as you are out shopping you can keep an eye open for tins, boxes and baskets on sale that you can store away and use when gift giving season rolls around. Funny thing, the holidays come exactly the same time every year yet we are some how ‘surpised‘ to see how fast they arrive. Nothing is worse than making some beautiful cookies and having nothing to deliver them in. I shop/buy year round for unusual containers, tins of all kinds, pretty boxes and totes to place my cookies in. Even the most humble homemade treats look fabulous in a lovely tin or little hat box. It’s like getting two gifts. #1, the cookies or treats you made and #2, the tin or container they arrive in. Many people re-use the containers to store items or pass it on to a friend.
Keeping the cookies fresh is really important. I always package cookies in airtight containers. Because home bakers do not use any type of preservatives, most cookies will last 4 to 7 days without loosing quality. After this, most cookies or baked goods start to dry out or become stale. The exception are highly spiced cookies like my gingerbread cookies. These cookies will last several weeks if kept in an airtight container.
It is important to keep crisp cookies together and soft cookies, (like chocolate chip cookies) in a different container. Do not mix the two types of cookies. The crisp cookies will absorb moisture from the soft cookies making both cookies taste less than perfect. If I am going to ship two different types of cookies together, I’ll place each type of cookie in different air tight containers. Then place the two types in the same box and ship it off. I know the cookies will taste great when they arrive. It is fine to place your cookies in large zip-lock type bags. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can before you seal it. I like to wrap decorated cookies in their own little cellophane bags and hand tie the bags with a pretty ribbon. This way, each cookie looks like a little “gift“. You can purchase these bags at party stores and hobby stores.
A really big Thank you to all of the students in my Cookie Decorating classes in Louisville, KY this week!
Classes were held at Campbell’s Gourmet Cottage in Louisville. www.gourmetcottage.com (ph.502-893-6700). The class members made wonderful Holiday cookies in the “Christmas in July” Cookie Decorating Class. About 18 students participated in each class. The students learned several decorating techniques and applied them to a Giant Santa cookie, as well as several other cookies we created in class. Everyone’s cookies were simply outstanding! Students were able to take home 4 beautiful Holiday cookies they decorated in the class.
In addition to the Giant Santa Cookie, the class made a large Holiday Cottage, an adorable Snowman and a Decorated Christmas Tree.
I encourage everyone in the greater Louisville area to check out the classes at Campbell’s. Sign-up for a cooking class, and bring a friend!
(Special thanks to Jennifer for bringing her gal friends Cindy and Amber! We all had way too much fun!)
I know, I know. What could be more boring than a discussion about cookie baking sheets?
I taught a cookie decorating class last night and question came up about baking sheets. “Why couldn’t I just use my moms’ old thin baking sheets?” was one question. I understand perfectly well, why you would not want to toss out an old baking sheet. It’s still good, right? If it’s like the baking sheets I grew up with, it probably was thin, light weight and would warp after about 4 minutes in a hot oven.
I like to use very heavy gauge aluminum baking sheets. There are several good quality manufactures of baking sheets. Several are commercial quality. I prefer shiny aluminum to dark coated sheets. Even though they might be a bit expensive, I consider them an investment. These baking sheets will last forever.
Baking on a good quality baking sheet is a joy. Cookies bake evenly, because the heavy sheet transfers the heat to the whole pan. No ‘hot’ spots. Cookies bake to a golden brown.
Plus I use these baking sheets under casseroles, pies, cobblers and anything else that might bubble or spill over in the oven. Even roasting vegetables or potatoes is easier. The result……I almost never have to clean my oven! I do have a self-cleaning oven but why turn it on and heat up the kitchen to 500 degrees for several hours? Yikes! Think of the energy you save!
One more trick is to line the sheet with parchment paper. I use this under my cookies and don’t have to wash the baking sheet. Yea! Less dishes to wash!
I recommend you invest in at least 4 high quality baking sheets. The sheets must cool down between batches of cookies. Do not place chilled cut out cookies on a hot-from-the-oven baking sheet. The butter in the cookies will start to melt and your cookies will loose their shape.
Okay…….here it is! The one technique you will use nearly every time you bake a batch of sugar cookies.
After you roll out your well chilled cookie dough, cut out the shapes you want with your cookie cutters.
(Note:) Bake same size and same shapes of cookies together on a baking sheet. This will insure even baking of all cookies.
Once you have placed your cut out cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet, place the whole tray of un-baked cookies in the freezerfor 20 minutes. Remove the tray from the freezer and place in a preheated oven. Bake as usual. This will do two things. 1.) It will re-freeze the butter in the cookie and 2.) It will help keep the cookie shape during baking. What happens: The butter, if not frozen or well chilled, it will start to melt as soon as the baking sheet is placed in the hot oven. If the cookie is frozen before baked, the cookie will start to bake before the butter starts to melt. It’s that simple! Once I discovered this simple tip I was amazed at how well my cookies kept their shape during baking.
Also, be sure you let your baking sheets cool between batches of cookies. Never place chilled cut out cookies on a hot baking sheet. This is why I recommend buying several heavy duty baking sheets.
I know all of you want to make really “pretty ‘ cut out cookies that don’t look like the dreaded “blob” cookie. ( Note toself, if no one can tell what the baked cookie shape is………time to read the “Cookie Tips and Techniques.” ) Again.You want nice, sharp cookie edges. (This is, after all why we buy cookie cutters…….so the cookies will have some resemblence to the cutter shape.)
Always have all of your ingredients at room temperature. This will make creaming your butter and sugars so much easier. Be sure the butter and sugars are well creamed before adding the room temperature eggs. Add one egg at a time. Combine each egg and then add the next. Making sure all of your wet ingredients are well combined will make adding your dry ingredients much quicker and easier. You do not want to over beat the dough once you have added the dry ingredients. Beat just to combine.
Chilling your cookie dough is very important. Well chilled dough doesn’t stick to the surface as you roll out it out. (I mean cold.) The more flour you add as you are rolling your dough out, the less tender the baked cookie will be. Incorporating more flour also makes the cookie ‘grow’ larger. I only re-roll my scraps one or two times before I bag up the left over dough to use for drop cookies or “eating cookies”. I’m sure all of you cookie bakers have made the ”giant…is it apoodle or Easter egg” ? cookie. No one can tell what it is!! Scary!
What??! No baking cookies?? Hey, “It’s too hot to bake”, you might say. (Even though it’s almost National Sugar Cookie Day!) Remember….”must make cookies” for July 9th.
Idea, what’s wrong with buying a few baked cookies from your local bakery? (Shop from locals whenever you can.)
The best part of cookie making is the decorating! Make up some fun, bright colors of Royal icing and let the kids decorate! Round cookies can be the sun, a beach ball, logos, badges, baseballs, soccer balls…..whatever they can think of. Just let them have fun! (Sort of like Dec. cookie decorating in the kitchen, what a fun mess)! Pull out all of the holiday sprinkles, jimmies and silver dragees. What a great way to fill up an afternoon! Plus you get to eat cookies!
This is a great rain-y day activity for all ages. Plus it’s fun when it’s too hot to go outside!
A neat idea: If the ‘store bought’ cookies are soft enough, try cutting shapes with your own cookie cutters. Just be sure and use simple cutter shapes. Place the cookie on a hard surface, (cutting board works great) place the cutter on the cookie and press. Cut all the way through the cookie. Heart, square and round cookie cutter seem to work best. You can even use a mini cookie cutter to cut out the center of the baked cookie for a ‘fun look’. Decorate cookie as usual.
Just wanted everyone to know about a very important day this month. Most of you know July is “National Ice Cream” month. However, did you know, July 9th is “National Sugar Cookie Day“? I am letting you know ahead of time so you will have plenty of time to make your cookie dough, stash it in the freezer (yes, sugar cookie dough freezes very well) and bake a batch of fresh homemade sugar cookies!
Be sure and let me know how you celebrate the big day. (I’ll post a photo of the best celebration!) Your family and friends will thank you!
PS: July 22 is “Ratcatcher Day” (really!) So…go catch a rat?? Yikes!