Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cafe 305 Christmas Cookie Bonanza 2013

The halls are decked.

And it was the first weekend in December, which meant it was time for Annual Cookie Baking Weekend!

Every year except last year, when I was in Canada and didn't have a proper kitchen or a chest of krugerrands for shipping, I bake a ton of cookies and send them in to my colleagues back at the office in Atlanta. I've been doing this since I physically worked in the office. Although when I worked there, I didn't ship them, obviously.

In preparation for the day, first off, I did my workout. I'm not a big sweets person, and I'm not a nibbler, but I swear I can gain five pounds through osmosis if you put me in a room with butter and sugar all day. After that, I ran the vacuum, to minimize the amount of dog hair in the food. Note I said "minimize". It's impossible to completely prevent some hair from inadvertently landing in cookie dough somewhere. I mean, look at him.

He makes a Yeti look like a Chihuahua.

I try, is what I'm saying. But if you wind up with some small bit of shaggy dog in your edibles from 305, just remember, it was free, so you can't call the Health Department on me.

I cleaned the kitchen all spotless. Then someone decided he needed to come in and make lunch and get stuff all over the counters and in the sink again.

Bad timing.

I cleaned it up again (although to be fair, he cleaned up most of his mess - it just delayed my start). Then I was ready for prep.

Cooling racks - check. Mixer - check. My favorite scraper paddle for baking - check.

Eleventy hundred pounds of butter - check. Glass of water - check. Baking is thirsty business.

Fine Cooking's Cookie Cookbook - check. Christmas playlist - check.

Apron - check.

I was ready!

I will be posting a cookie a day for the next several days. For starters, though, here are my personal kitchen rules and some things I've learned over the years that help keep me organized when I'm doing a big baking day like this.

1. Most important rule of all: CLEAN AS YOU GO. There is nothing worse to me than finishing up six hours of cooking and standing there with an aching back surveying the aftermath of ... well, six hours of cooking. I've always had very small kitchens, and counter space runs short fast. I don't have the luxury of piling dirty dishes everywhere. So I clean up after almost every step. Saves me a mid-day shut down to clean a space off the counter. Put stuff back as soon as you've finished using it, even if you're going to use it again. I understand the whole mis-en-place thing, and I know it works for most people, but if I had to put out a bunch of little bowls and cutting boards in an assembly line all along the counter, I'd have to rearrange furniture in the dining room and start my cooking line in the living room. Plus, the clutter would probably make my head explode.

2. Look through the recipes and plan ahead. For today's baking, I had three doughs that needed to be refrigerated, and three that didn't. So I made the refrigerator doughs first so I could toss them in the fridge and let them chill while I baked the other cookies.

3. If you happen to be lazy, like me, choose your recipes carefully. I deliberately avoid stuff that's really fiddly, things that make a huge mess and use a bunch of bowls, things that involve melting chocolate (see "huge mess"), and ANYTHING that needs to be decorated. I just don't have the patience or the skill for it. I realize that makes me not exactly a top-notch baker, but I'll leave that to the Abby Dodges of the world, (several of her recipes I used today), and admire her from the back row of the baking short bus. One thing I've discovered is that these refrigerator doughs are awesome for a multiple-recipe baking day. Mix the dough, chill it, and after you've made the more labor-intensive cookies that need to be rolled into balls or dropped or whatever, you pull those bad boys out of the fridge, grab a shiv, and shank those bitches - wait - just slice them. This strategy keeps me from getting homicidal around 3:30 PM. Mostly.

4. If you have a stand mixer, invest in a second bowl. It has been a wonderful luxury having two. This does not undo my "clean as you go" rule, but I finish with one, wash it, put it on the rack to dry, and use the other one. Then when I wash the one I just used, the one on the rack is dry and ready. It really speeds things up.

5. If you live in the South, get cooling racks. Seriously. My baking day was rainy and damp and warm. Even with having A/C running part of the day, it still gets a little damp in the house. If you pull warm cookies out of the oven and leave them on parchment on the counter, they stick and sag a lot worse than when you pop them on a cooling rack so the air can cool them all around.

6. This is just something I observed yesterday. I've cooked for a bunch of years with a regular oven. Meaning not convection. And when it came time to remodel, I almost didn't get a convection oven, but I finally did. Since then, I've used the convection oven for this particular cookie baking extravaganza, and man has it saved me a lot of time and again, murderous rampages. I can bake three sheets of cookies at one go, and with minimal interference from me, they all cook evenly. I don't use it for much else, but it's worth it just for that.

If you want to follow along for the next few days, wander back over to Café 305 and see if any of the cookies strike your fancy. Stay tuned!

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