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Hooray! It’s Christmas Cookie Baking Time! This is a traditional event in our family and I know our family is not unique in this. I’m here in Southern California visiting with my 88 year old mother who, in her time, was a master cookie-baker. She is still the standard bearer for a particular old German cookie, Lebkuchen. I thought it would be helpful to pick her brain for her best cookie baking tips. I’d like the next generation or two to keep the tradition alive.
I’m going to share some tips and also three recipes that we have been making for generations. As in other homemaking practices, great cookie baking is both an art and a skill. Here are some tips to help with your skill:
- Make sure that your butter and eggs are at room temperature. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, usually about 30 minutes to an hour. If you are in a hurry, cut the butter into tablespoon slices and it will soften faster. Don’t let it get mushy, just barely soft. If the butter is too soft it won’t “cream” nicely with the sugar and the cookies tends to spread out when they are placed on the pan.
- To “cream” butter and sugar means to mix it together at high speed, usually an electric mixer. You want your butter and sugar to be light and fluffy. It will usually take two to three minutes.
- When you are creaming the butter and sugar, check to make sure it’s not too grainy. When it is too grainy it means that either the butter is too cold or it’s not mixed enough.
- Make sure you’re eggs are fresh so they are light and fluffy and mix well. To check your eggs, fill a cup or deep bowl with water. If the egg floats, it’s too old.
- When measuring out flour spoon it into your measuring cup and then level with a flat edge. Don’t dunk your measuring cup into the flour container. If your flour is too “heavy”, your cookies will be also. Make sure your flour is fresh. If you’ve had it since last Christmas, buy new. Use the old flour for play-doh or paste or making gravy.
- When the recipe tells you to mix the dry ingredients with the wet (butter and sugar) do it just until they are blended. Too much mixing makes for tough cookies. I usually only use the electric mixer for creaming and then use my wooden spoon for everything else.
- Always preheat the oven at least 15 to 20 minutes ahead of time. Cookies bake for such a short time that you want them to be at the right temperature and then just go in and out.
- Try to keep the size of your cookies the same. If they are all the same size they will all be done at the same time.
- Try out just four or five cookies for the first batch. A trial run helps you get the timing right.
- Always use the top or middle rack for cookies, never the bottom.
I’m sure there are many more tips than these but this ought to get you going for this year. Tomorrow I’ll share my favorite Christmas cookie and a favorite cookie cookbook. Friday and Saturday I’ll share two more family favorites (my mother-in-law’s and the famous Lebkuchen). Hope you’ll come back and join me.