Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Christmas Cookies – The Sweet Side of the Holidays

November 29th, 2011 · No Comments

Jan's famous orange-drop cookies

I’m an original cookie monster – I love me some cookies! I will forgo all other desserts for a good cookie.

I therefore pay attention when I find great websites with great cookie recipes.

My favorite so far this year is the Tampa Tribune’s “Cookie Hall of Fame.” It has cookies voted on by readers who chose their favorites from 11 years of cookie recipes that have appeared in the newspaper and online.

This is the Cookie Issue’s 10th anniversary, from food editor Janet Keeler, and I’m delighted to share her site and her great recipes.

I have dozens on my own site

I’ve written about cookies each year – just type the word “cookies” in my search box for a wealth of recipes and ideas for them. I include my family’s all time favorite, the Orange drop cookies.

For cookie bakers – some advice

Baking cookies is not easy in South Florida. Humidity plays a role – and ingredients that succumb to heat in hot, humid kitchens also factor in. Doughs get soft quickly – and must be kept refrigerated till rolled out. Lots of things happen, actually.

Here are my cookie baking tips, gleaned from decades of cookie baking on my own and two decades of judging the contest at my former newspaper. These are for anyone considering entering a contest, but work for everyone who wants to make great cookies.

Bake with your little ones - it's a memory in the making

Know your limitations. If you’re new to baking, take on something simple, rather than a complicated four-part recipe. All you have to do is bake one cookie really, really well – and you’ll soon be known for it.

Use fresh, good quality ingredients. Sounds simple? We have a trash can on hand as we judge. Cookies that have stale nuts, or dried raisins and the worst — old shortening or butter — aren’t even swallowed. We take a dim view of canned icing or slice-and-bake doughs (except for the 3-year-olds’ cookies). Spend time on great ingredients and bake from scratch for great results.

Read the recipe carefully, and measure accurately. We’ve had cookies in previous contests that contain 1/2 cup salt — when it should have been sugar. It’s really obvious. Or 3 tablespoons of an extract when it should be 1/3 tablespoon — it’s a powerful difference. Did you, or didn’t you include the baking soda? Here’s a tip to fix that dilemma: Line up every ingredient in the order used. Once you use an ingredient, turn its container upside down on the counter. Famed baker Maida Heatter taught me that.

Don’t overbake your cookies. Bake them on parchment and put them in the center rack of the oven. Cookies will continue to bake after they’re removed from the oven. Always bake a test cookie, so you don’t waste a whole batch – and figure out just how accurate your oven is against the recipe’s baking time. Adjust accordingly and — for a contest — bake only one sheet at a time, unless you’re adept at moving and turning the sheets to produce perfectly even cookies.

Taste a cookie from the batch you submit! Another no-brainer. But how else would the judges get cookies full of salt or those who forgot sugar, or in the case of a raisin cookie — forgot the raisins?

Don’t use inedible decorations. If it’s not in the recipe, don’t put it on the cookie for “effect.” Several real leaves are poisonous — ditto, berries. We judges don’t go near anything that looks like bugs, either. That’s why they make green food coloring. Use decorations judiciously – less is more! But do make them pretty.

For rolled cookies – roll only twice. You can use your dough scraps once after rolling out the first time; after that, they become way too tough. Be judicious with the amount of flour you use on your rolling surface, too. Tip: To cut cookies neatly, chill the dough well, then roll out thinly, leaving part of the dough in the refrigerator as you work with the rest. Soft dough won’t cut well. Flour your cutters before cutting, and cut straight down, pressing neatly. Remove with a floured spatula to the baking pan.

Pack your cookies with care. First, never pack warm cookies; allow them to cool completely on a rack. Nestle them in crumpled tissue paper or waxed paper to keep them from breaking if they’re fragile. Don’t stack cookies directly on one another unless they’re the same exact size; use small sheets of waxed paper to separate cookies and wrap tightly to prevent shifting.

Tags: Baking: Cheap therapy · Holiday cooking · Recipes · Recipes: What's Cooking!

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