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Every year during Thanksgiving week, my mother and I start our annual Christmas cookie baking frenzy: 11 types of cookies, totaling over 100 dozen pieces – plus candies. We do this as a labor of love for our family and friends, and the look in their eyes when they see their homemade cookie tray is priceless.
You don’t need to be as prolific in your baking as my mom and I to enjoy baking for Christmas, as baked goods can be an enjoyable and affordable gift for the masses. Here are a few tips, for novices and experienced bakers alike, to put you on your way to the wonderful smells of Christmas.
Start early – even if you don’t make as many cookies or candies as we do, starting early is a good idea for a couple of reasons: one, the cookies can be frozen and taken out as needed for gifts or parties; and two, you may discover one or two batches isn’t enough and need to make more.
Use your freezer – cookie doughs can be made and frozen for up to three months. Cover and package dough in airtight containers or resealable bags; when you’re ready to bake, thaw the dough in the refrigerator.
Shop early – scan your grocery ads and coupon inserts for great deals. Many stores start running specials on baking products in early November, so scan your recipes and make your shopping list of ingredients.
Have a “go-to” recipe – this may take much experimenting, but if you have that one recipe that people love, it’ll be a great gift to present at the holidays.
For “messy” cookies, use parchment paper – one of my mom’s special cookies is the classic “jelly fold,” which tends to get messy with jelly spilling out of the ends. Using parchment paper to line your cookie sheets is a great idea for these types of cookies, as clean-up is simple – throw it out.
Use aluminum baking sheets for cookies – aluminum distributes heat evenly, and cuts down the chance of burning the bottoms of your cookies.
Try a “one-dough, many-ways” cookie recipe – these easy recipes are great for someone who is just starting to bake or is short on time. The basic cookie dough is the same for each type of cookie, and you just add a few ingredients to change up the taste or texture of the dough. This is an economical method as well as easy – since the basic dough is always the same, you will have these ingredients in your pantry.
Create a cookie platter – as mentioned earlier, baked goods make wonderful gifts at holiday time. Invited to a party? Make up a festive tray of cookies, either to pass or as a hostess gift. Check party stores for affordable yet elegant serving trays, or use a heavy-duty plastic dinner-sized plating heaping with cookies.
Don’t lose small cookies and candies – place bite-sized pieces in mini-cupcake liners – these can be found at places like JoAnn Fabrics and Michael’s, and can be very affordable when on sale or using coupons.
Other gift presentation ideas – find small Christmas or winter tins in craft or dollar stores and fill with homemade candies or flat cookies (like cut-outs, snickerdoodles, or chocolate chip). If you make many cookies for gifts, check out party stores or warehouse stores for large packages of heavy-duty plastic dinner plates in festive colors – you can then perform an “assembly line” and create all your cookie trays at once (I’m speaking from experience on this one!).
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