Jessie Raymond: Holiday baking not cookie-cutter work
These days I’m feeling, like much of the rest of the country, Decidedly On Edge. Luckily, we’re moving swiftly toward the holidays, when emotional comfort comes in several forms, a vital one being cookies.
I find making cookies kind of a drag; it’s a lot of creaming of butter, beating of eggs and routinely forgetting to take the final batch out of the oven until the smoke alarm goes off. You know how it is.
But this year, it’s what I need to do for myself and my frazzled friends and family. I’ve already got pounds of butter stacked like bricks in the fridge. I’m laying in supplies of sprinkles and brown sugar.
I’ve been working on my spritz-making skills nights and weekends, and soon I’ll be shooting delicate five-petaled flowers from my Bake Master II cookie gun with a cool confidence you haven’t seen since Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.”
If I recall, I’ve only had one successful year of making cookies in bulk. Starting around Thanksgiving, I made a batch every few days and froze them. When someone would stop by, I’d run to the freezer with a poinsettia-patterned paper plate and throw on a sampling of a dozen different kinds of cookies. I liked the sharing; I just didn’t care for all the work involved, not to mention the caloric minefield of having 300 cookies on hand at any given time.
But this year, I’m going for it. All the things that health-conscious humans are supposed to avoid will be joyfully laid out at my house for the month of December. Does looking at butter clog your arteries? Are you off sugar? Does white flour destroy your gut? Oh, dear. I guess I can fix you a plate of cinnamon sticks and walnuts. But it won’t be the same.
The ideal selection of holiday cookies includes a variety of shapes, sizes, flavors and colors. Taste is barely a consideration; at this time of year, looks matter.
Every Christmas cookie has its own special qualities. You’ve got your gingerbread people — they taste like spicy plywood, but they look amazing. And they should, given that it takes several days to decorate a batch. (Hint: It requires more time and effort to paint colored clothes on a gingerbread person than it would to actually cut out, press and hand sew the real items.)
Sometimes there’s fudge. It’s not a cookie per se, but its square edges are a nice complement to the rounder lines of dropped cookies. Additionally, fudge packs a wallop: A single one-inch cube contains enough sugar to cause a small child to ricochet off the furniture like a ping pong ball for a half hour to 45 minutes.
Of course, there will likely be some sort of peppermint treat, because ’tis the season, and snickerdoodles, because people like to say the name. And every Christmas cookie platter is required to feature balls of almond paste or chocolate or possibly spackle rolled in powdered sugar. Some kinds are nutty and delicious, some are bland and gritty — it’s a Christmas crapshoot — but they look like festive snowballs, so they earn a spot on the plate.
And last, there must be shaped sugar cookies. Because I’m ruthless with the cookie cutters, my Christmas trees, for instance, look like they were chopped down by a maniac with a dull ax, but that’s where presentation comes in; careful arrangement on the platter can hide that one-winged angel or that reindeer with the pronounced limp.
I don’t want to make things too hard on myself. I’ll avoid any recipes that call for a double boiler, zesting of anything, prep time longer than my waking hours in any given day, or the use of obscure specialty tools such as a “5-speed mélange whisk, with fondant attachment.” If I can’t make a batch of cookies with two bowls and a wooden spoon, I pass.
But I will make tons. And I will be that person who shows up carrying a platter piled high with sweets. I will be simultaneously celebrated and cursed by every person who needs cookies in their life right now but who has vowed to “eat clean” during the holidays.
So be ready: This Christmas, I’m sharing my love through cookies, and I might have a plate with your name on it.
(Just look out for those powdered-sugar-covered balls. I tend to go a bit heavy on the spackle.)