Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cookies

The other day I was at my friend Beth's house and she was showing off some beautiful Christmas cookies she had made at a class on how to make the best Christmas cookies. That inspired me to make my first batch of Christmas cookies this year. Beth was telling me some tips the pastry chef had passed on, like having the ingredients at room temperature when you mix the dough, refrigerating the dough to stiffen it before rolling it out, and rolling out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, instead of sprinkling extra flour, to avoid sticking. I already do the first two, so I decided to try the last tip, except with waxed paper, since I had lots of it.
Even though the dough was still quite cold from the fridge when I rolled it out, it warmed up quickly and became very sticky and fragile. I couldn't remove the cookies from the waxed paper without them tearing, so I put the whole sheet in the freezer to firm them up. For the next portion of dough I did sprinkle a tiny bit of flour on the waxed paper--like 1/4 tsp.--and then shook off the excess, just to help the sticking. By the time these were cut out, they too were sticking so I put them in the freezer and pulled out the first sheet. By then these were nice and hard, and peeled off the waxed paper easily. So I made all the cookies this way: putting the sheet with the cookies stamped but not removed from the surrounding dough in the freezer while I rolled out the next batch. It took longer and kind of gave me a head ache.
But...the results were dramatic. The cookie edges were nice and sharp (from being in the freezer) and the cookies did not expand much or get puffy. They turned out crisper and more delicate in texture than usual. They seemed to take slightly less time to bake, but had that lovely golden brown edge and bottom. I think all those trips to the freezer may be what makes such a big difference--as well as not using flour to roll them out.
I went all out and iced and sugared them (normally I just toss some colored sugar on them before I put them in the oven). Then I ate two. This is just a regular old sugar cookie recipe from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. I'm sure the recipe on the back of the Gold Medal flour would be fine, too, since it's with butter. It's all about the butter.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

After years of baking pretty casually (and with a fair amount of success despite being so lax), I'm paying more attention to the chemistry of baking and noticing a difference! this NYT article might interest you: