by Margaret Mendel
Cookies are great to bake any time of the year, but my fondest memories of cookies are those my mother made for Christmas. The smell of butter and sugar, cinnamon, and ginger snaps will be forever embedded in my memory of the Holidays. Mom would begin to bake her cookies a couple of weeks before anyone else in the neighborhood even thought about getting started with making the holiday treats.
The first cookies she made were the sugar cookies; every one of them would be cut in the shape of a Christmas tree, a reindeer or a Santa Claus and then baked to perfection. They were the cookies that stored best and because we would not decorate them until it was nearly Christmas Day, she would wrap them tightly in a container and squirrel them away out of our reach on the top cabinet shelf.
In the next couple of weeks she would bake the ginger snaps, the nut cookies and lastly her specialties, which could have been anything that took her fancy that year. Though she made mounds and mounds of cookies, she never let us taste any of until Christmas Eve.
Mom was a genius when it came to baking cookies. She never burned one pan of her sugary treats that I can remember and she never followed a recipe. The only time I saw her using a recipe was when she made something for the first time.
The ingredients for sugar cookies, gingerbread and nut cookies were as familiar to her as the back of her hand. She scooped out cups full of flour, dropped in chunks of butter, dumped in sugar and then threw in some of this and a little more of that and the next thing we knew there were cookies baking in the oven.
But, the most exciting time for my sisters and I was when Mom brought down the box of plain sugar cookies. First, we all got busy making the sugary frosting. There would be five cereal bowls filled with frosting, each one a different color. We heaped on globs of green frosting on to the tree cookies then add sprinkles for decoration making the cookie look as much like a Christmas tree as we possibly could; Santa would be covered in a deep red with usually only a small place where he should have had a face; and the reindeer could be any combination of colors that we thought would make them look beautiful. When all this work was done the decorated cookies would be left on the table to let the frosting get firm. The best part of the day was that we got to each eat the broken pieces, our first taste of Christmas.
TYPES OF COOKIES
There are drop cookies, rolled out cookies like mom’s sugar cookies, cookies that are cut into bars, hand molded cookies, and there are cookies that are made with a cookie press. Some cookies are even made with specially designed hot iron molds that are first dipped into a sweet batter and then deep-fried. Another type of cookie is prepared by piping long strips of the dough directly into the hot oil and dusted with sugar and maybe a little cinnamon while still hot and steamy.
There may be many varieties of cookies, but there are still certain guidelines that all cookie bakers must adhere to. Cookies have a high sugar and fat content and very little liquid. It is the high sugar content that helps to keep moisture from circulating throughout the cookie dough and discouraging the formation of gluten. The cookie dough ingredients are usually mixed together at one time, which allows little opportunity for gluten to develop. If cookie dough is beaten too vigorously, gluten develops and the result is a cake-like cookie. The crisp cookie is one that has been mixed slowly and sparingly, allowing the starch granules of the flour to gelatinize only slightly, resulting in a tender, crumbly cookie.
Eggs play an important role in cookie making. The egg protein coagulates in the dough during the baking and works along with the starch to help form the structure of the cookies. The fat in the yolk also helps to keep baked goods moist. That is why meringue cookies (which use only the white of the egg in their preparation) are drier than cookie dough that uses both the yolks and whites. If there is a concern about cholesterol and fat content and you want to use only egg whites in your cookie baking (cholesterol is only in the yolk of the egg), but if you are not happy with the resulting texture of the cookie, add a quarter of the whites, unbeaten, to the recipe. While the beaten whites help the cookies to rise, the unbeaten whites help bind the ingredients together and set the structure of the cookies.
Some people are very particular about their cookies; some folks like soft cookies, while others are quite adamant about their cookies remaining crisp. If you belong to one of these groups, here are a few recommendations to help you get the cookie you desire.
THE SOFT COOKIE METHOD
1. Under-bake cookies by two to three minutes for softer, chewy dough. Baking cookies for a shorter time keeps sugar from crystallizing and turning the cookies hard.
2. Include molasses, corn syrup, and honey, which have a high affinity for staying moist.
3. Use margarine and shortening. They spread less quickly than butter and will allow the cookies to keep a denser center and therefore stay chewier.
4. Maintain an oven temperature of 375 degrees. Cookies brown quite quickly, so you are more likely to remove the pan of cookies from a hot oven sooner than if they were baked at a lower temperature.
5. Use a large amount of dough for each cookie (use an ice cream scoop or measure out a quarter of a cup per cookie) and leave it mounded on the cookie sheet. Do not flatten.
6. Use an ungreased cookie sheet because that way the cookies do not spread as much. Remove to a cooling rack as soon as they are cool enough to be lifted from the pan. This will stop them from cooking more while cooling on the pan.
THE CRISP COOKIE METHOD
1. Bake until cookies appear to be done.
2. Keep the sugar content high. Sugar delays setting, allowing more time for the cookies to spread, and a larger spread cookie makes a crisper cookie.
3. Maintain a low ratio of liquid to flour.
4. Keep the fat content high. Use butter, which tends to spread faster than shortenings.
5. Maintain an oven temperature of 350 degrees. This slows browning so that the cookies dry as they bake.
6. Flatten cookies or use a small amount of dough for each cookie, so they lose moisture more quickly during baking.
7. Grease the cookie sheet to encourage spreading.
TIPS ON BAKING COOKIES
When baking cookies use what I call “double-panning.” You can do this by putting one cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet. This will allow an insulating layer of air to circulate between the pans reducing the chance that the cookies will burn. Place several coins between the pans to insure there is air circulation between the “double-panning.” The coins act as spacers.
When making bar cookies it is best to line the pan first with foil. This will insure the cookies will come out of the pan more easily and there is less mess to clean up when you are finished baking. The quickest way to do this is to turn the pan upside down and shape the foil smoothly over the back side of the pan, tightly closing off the corners. Lift off the foil from the bottom of the pan, turn the pan over and slip the “foil pan” inside of the real pan.
Baking cookies can be time consuming, but let me share with you two of the easiest cookie recipes I have ever run into. They are quick, unique, and they can be our little secret. I am also sharing with you some of my favorite cookie recipes. They are more complex, but by no means are they difficult cookies to prepare.
Top Secrets Sweeties
24 saltine crackers, lightly buttered (If you want fewer calories, leave off the butter.)
On top of the crackers use one of the follow toppings or experiment, and make your own topping mixture. The idea is to have fun, and get the job done quickly and discreetly.
1. Combine ¼-cup honey, 3/4 cup crisp rice cereal, 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
2. Combine 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows, 1/4 cup chopped nuts, 1/4 cup miniature chocolate chips
Using a teaspoon, spread one of these toppings on top of the buttered crackers and bake 425 degrees for about five minutes or until Sweeties have turned a delicate brown.
The Bronx Brownies
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate
1 cup butter
1/3 cup strong prepared Spanish coffee
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
8 oz. (2 cups) chopped nuts
Prepare pan first. Line a 9 X 13 inch pan with aluminum foil leaving at least 2 inches beyond the sides of the pan. This will help to remove the brownies from the pan. Butter the bottom and sides of foil-lined pan.
Melt chocolate and combine with butter and coffee, cool, stirring occasionally. This mixture will take about 10 minutes to cool. In the meantime, beat eggs until foamy (30 seconds). Gradually add sugar to the eggs and beat about 2 minutes. Reduce speed and gradually beat in chocolate mixture. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and then fold in the nuts. Do not over-beat or your brownies will be tough or cake-like and not chewy.
Pour into prepared pan, bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for at least 30 minutes. Do not remove from the pan. Cover pan lightly with foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Remove from pan using the ends of the foil as handles. Cut into squares.
3 cups vanilla wafers (1 pound)
1 cup nuts, chopped finely
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
¼ to ½ cup of extra confectioner’s sugar for coating the cookies
Place vanilla wafers into a plastic bag and crush into crumbs by either using a rolling pin or a tightly closed bourbon bottle. (A food processor is also good for this purpose.) Mix together all ingredients and shape into small balls, about the size of walnuts. Roll in confectioners’ sugar. This will make about 2 1/2 to 3 dozen bourbon balls.
Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar (brown or white)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
Cream the first 3 ingredients and then beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, salt and soda. Add flour mixture to the creamed batter. Form into one-inch balls and place on cookie sheet, and flatten lightly with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. This is a good recipe for a crowd because it will make about 6 dozen cookies.
Mint Surprise Cookies
3 1/4 cups flour (sifted before measured)
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (well packed into measuring cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package chocolate mint wafers (9 oz.)
Sift together flour, soda and salt. Cream together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla to creamed mixture and beat thoroughly. Add dry ingredients and mix well, but do not beat. Chill dough for at least two (2) hours.
Use a level tablespoon to measure out dough for each cookie and drop onto a greased cookie sheet. Place the cookies 2 inches apart. Press mint wafer into the center of the dough and fold dough over the mint wafer so that the mint is covered. Do not make cookies too large. Press a half walnut on top of each cookie. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan immediately after baking. Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies.
After spending all of that time in the kitchen baking cookies why not head over to the Reedley Sandwich Shop for a nice bowl of clam chowder or a sandwich. Use the coupon below and get a special KRL discount.