Just-in-time holiday cookies

This past weekend, a holiday-induced panic set in.  I hadn’t even started thinking about Christmas present ideas, let alone shopped for anything.  Holiday card? Photo not selected, let alone printed.  And baking?  Normally by this point I’ve perused recipes and picked out a few new ones to add to my standard repertoire.  But this year?  Forget about it, I’ve been too busy.

Each year, I toy with the idea of not baking any holiday cookies.  But I’m known for my cookies and I love to give platters to my kids teachers and daycare staff  plus family and friends at Christmas time. And when your kids start coming home from school and daycare saying that the childcare workers are talking about your ginger cookies, well…you know you must report to oven duty.

It was seriously time to kick some holiday cookie ass.

The problem was, most of my evenings and weekend days between now and Christmas were booked with events.  There was no big swath of time that I could set aside to dedicate to baking. And I’m a freak for cookie freshness – I don’t like to freeze baked cookies or keep them on hand for more than a couple of days.

Originally I planned to bake them all last Sunday.  But it took so long to run errands that afternoon that I ran out of time.  That’s when a light turned on in my head and I realized that I could stagger my cookie prep over the course of several weeknights, and bake smaller batches each night, then deliver fresh cookies to various people the next day.

I decided to stick with the same cookies that I baked last year so I wouldn’t have to stumble through any new unpredictable recipes. What helped further -> three of the four recipes required a chill in the refrigerator prior to baking, so the dough could be made a day ahead.

I like to make memorable cookies that stand out from the typical Christmas platter lineup. No rolled dough or fancy frosting, just intense flavor and a chewy texture.  Here’s my 2011 cookie lineup:

Ginger spice cookies – I love this recipe because it’s so flexible – if you’re really on top of things, you can make a batch of dough ahead of time, shape into balls, freeze and bake as needed.  Alternately, you can bake these cookies a couple of days ahead of when you need them and they will still stay fresh.  Plus, the kids can get involved in mixing and creating the dough balls.

ginger spice cookies

Macaroons with toasted coconut and macadamia nuts – there’s a reason that I don’t make these more often – they are a pain to make and the ingredients are expensive.  Still, the final result is worth it  - they’re toasty and exotic.

Salted chocolate covered caramel cookies this is a recipe from fellow Minnesota blogger Kathy Lewinski’s A Good Appetite blog.  Super chocolatey with chewy bits of caramel and a surprising salt kick, these cookies are a fun, unique addition to the holiday cookie platter.

Just be forewarned – with very little flour in the dough, it can be hard to scoop when chilled.

Chocolate peppermint cookies – these cookies are based on the same recipe as the Salted Caramel cookies, but substitute peppermint extract for the vanilla, semi-sweet chocolate chips for the caramel bits and are topped with broken bits of candy canes.

This is an ultra-chocolate alternate for those who don’t go for the salted caramel cookie.  Though the dough base is similar, the peppermint offers a refreshing twist that makes this cookie seem different.  Plus, I like how the candy melts into psychedelic waves.

Throw some mini candy canes in the middle of the platter, and voila, you have a decadent mix that will get the teachers tweeting in appreciation.

Based on my experiences this week, I discovered that this staggered approach can be successful but the key is to be hyper-organized.  For me, the biggest challenge was to have all ingredients on hand and the kitchen organized with the tools that you need at your fingertips.

  • Key tools are:  mixing bowls, whisk, spatula, measuring cups, measuring spoons, a pastry brush, hand mixer or stand mixer, a Silpat if you have one or parchment paper, cookie sheets and a cooling rack. I also find that I go through numerous hand towels during cookie-making because I’m wiping my hands a lot.
  • Key dry ingredients for the recipes I made:  flour, white sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, molasses (light / mild version), vegetable shortening, vegetable oil, baking soda, baking powder, table salt, sea salt flakes; cinnamon, ground ginger (a large jar), cloves, crystallized ginger; vanilla extract and peppermint extract; several bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips, bittersweet chocolate chips, sweetened flaked coconut, caramel bits and candy canes.
  • Key fresh ingredients:  Eggs, butter.
(Oh, and the secret to successfully breaking up candy canes?  Use the butt end of a wrench.  Smashing candy canes is the perfect stress-reliever for the holiday season. :-) )

What worked for me was to buy all ingredients over the weekend, then prep the dough for the ginger and chocolate cookies on one night and bake them the following night.  The macaroons are an exception -  I think it’s best to prepare the entire recipe in one go, timed as close to possible to when you will give them away.

Some shopping notes:  I like to buy the two most expensive ingredients – crystallized ginger and macadamia nuts – in bulk to save money.  In the Twin Cities, I’ve found bulk crystallized ginger at Penzey’s and area co-ops and bulk macadamia nuts at Rainbow Foods. I use Ghirardelli chocolate chips, and have found both the semi-sweet and bittersweet chip varieties at Super Target.

What’s your favorite treat to bake for the holidays?  Do you get your baking done in one marathon session, or do you spread the work out over the month?
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4 thoughts on “Just-in-time holiday cookies

  1. Man, your cookies put my cookies to shame :) I have a cookie post coming up this weekend, I hope! Mine are pretty awesome, but I love your variety and the peppermint and salted caramel ones sound perfect. And macaroons have always seemed like a lot of work, but I know my husband would appreciate them, might have to try!

  2. I bake like mad the Saturday before Christmas — and give almost everything away within a few days. Tomorrow's the big day! Woo!

  3. We are so lame this year. No cookies, not even a tree. I've been so sick we are lucky to have the presents done! Good for you for getting the cookie tray done

  4. Thanks Rachel! The macaroons are definitely worth making, so delicious.

    I hope you rocked your cookies yesterday, Catherine. There's something to be said for doing one marathon session. Think I have it in me to do one last round of baking and then that's it for this year.

    Sorry to hear that you've been sick this year, Kathy. Your salted caramel cookies inspired me!

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