Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Baking the Chilled Way

Hello, my lovely friends. As you might know, I really, REALLY enjoy baking and get into overdrive before Christmas in particular. Above, you see a photo from my annual little advent party last Sunday. In case cookies weren't enough, I decided to conjure up some cinnamon buns as well as marzipan-filled chocolate-covered dates. I was on my last business trip from Monday to Wednesday and had already finished my Christmas baking on Sunday. In other words, I can now lean back and enjoy the festive season. Cheers! Since I only exchange gifts with my parents and my godchild and her brothers and have all gifts sorted already, I really don't have anything to stress about and my only task remains writing the Christmas cards that I need to pick up from the shop tonight. Here are some tips in case you're not quite as chilled as me:
1. Do you really have to bake yourself? Do you even enjoy baking in the first place? Unless you love it and find it relaxing as I do, perhaps your mum/granny/aunt might supply you with perfect cookies in large quantities anyway. This was the case when I was growing up up as my paternal grandmother was a true pastry goddess and therefore my Mum and I never baked. I have inherited some of her recipes and swear by her Vanillekipferln and gingerbread recipes.
2. "Social baking", i.e. having a session with friends is fun, but also potentially stressful. I used to love this and the advantage is that you usually end up being really productive and can bitch about all mutual friends while you're at it, but much as I enjoyed it, I actually prefer baking on my own. Why? Well, while my kitchen is too small for more than 1 person really, I have by far the best equipment of all my friends and ended up travelling with it through Vienna, which was not the most practical. Also, preparing the dough after work, then cutting the cookies the day afterwards turns out to be more efficient for me.
3. Don't give yourself a hard time if the dough ends up taking an extended vacation rather than a an overnight stay in your fridge. In most cases, this is actually beneficial for the flavour so: whatevz!
4. You might want to consider taking shortcuts (I don't personally, but don't let that distract you) such as pre-made dough from the supermarket or baking trays with moulds. Another good tip for instant gratification is to choose recipes where you just cut the cookies with a sharp knife as opposed to with little fiddly moulds.
5. Read the recipe carefully to make sure it's not extremely time-consuming and requires 10 steps and 3 coats of glazing or some such. Unless you love the challenge and have enough time on your hands, that is.
6. Cut-out cookies are cute and there are plenty of choices, but can be rather painful if you have a huge ball of dough and a rather troublesome cutter. As a rule of thumb, the surface needs to be well floured and it helps if you quickly dip the cutter into a bit of flour as well. Working on a silicone mat or rolling the dough (in particular the more crumbly types) in a freezer bag often works wonders. Don't choose super intricate cutters that have very small segments as these a) are often a pain to get the dough out of and b) tend to burn easily, which is not what we want.
7. Go for quality rather than quantity. Now this might be obvious, but it's quite tempting to go overboard and feel you need to come up with 10+ varieties. Unless you enjoy it (see 1.) and have the time, stick to perhaps 3 recipes, but choose some that are good and above all distinctly different from each other. I know quite a few people who pride themselves of making >20 varieties, but they turn out to be essentially the same (rather unexciting) butter cookie dough in different shapes and with different glazes. Not really worth the effort, in my opinion.
8. Use your common sense and don't stick to the recipe too religiously. If you did everything by the book, but the dough still is impossibly dry and impossible to work with, just ad another egg even if the recipe just calls for the 2 you've already added. Your eggs might be smaller than the one the author was using. Personally, I reduce the sugar quantity in most recipes as I don't like baked goods too overly sweet. Don't go overboard with this, though, as we want Christmas cookies to taste indulgent, not boring or healthy.
9. Become creative at damage mitigation: your cookies are not golden brown all over, but much darker at the edges? Cover them with chocolate, sugar & lemon icing, sprinkles, whatever goes with the overall flavour best. They taste a bit bland and boring? Perhaps you can stick two together with some really good jam, lemon curd or other "glue". Your gingerbread is rock hard or your coconut macarons sticky to the touch? In the first case, put a slice of apple in the tin, making sure to cover it with parchment paper so it doesn't touch the gingerbread and make it soggy. Remove it after a few days or it will get mouldy. If cookies are too soft, leave the lid of the tin open and let them dry out for a day or two. Alternatively, you can pop them into the oven at a low temperature as well. Obviously, this only works for non-glazed varieties.
10. And if it all gets too much, you can just resort to this super-easy recipe. Good luck and feel free to share more tips in the comments!


Blogger Ameen Azzam said...

congratulations guys, quality information you have given!!!

12/18/2013 08:41:00 AM  

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