The sun sets early these days. When I leave work at 5 p.m. I step into a world of inky darkness broken only by the row of lights in the parking lot, and maybe the cold glow of a distant crescent moon.
Cold and darkness may be unwelcome to some of you, but to me, they signal the real heart of the baking season. In July, spending hours in a hot kitchen is something to be avoided; in December, it’s comforting. I turn on the oven, and feel its heat gradually chase away the dampness and chill. My well-worn recipe book opens automatically to the special Christmas cookies I make every year, and the never-fail fudge. I sigh happily, and start opening cupboards, assessing my holiday supplies. Cookie cutters? Check. Flour, vanilla, colored sugars? Check. Baking sheets, parchment, cookie scoop… check, check, check…
I bake my mom’s and grandma’s Christmas recipes. But I don’t bake EXACTLY like they did. I streamline every process I possibly can. Modern conveniences? Love ’em. Not for me a simple wooden spoon and bowl. Nah, I get the stand mixer and food processor and bread machine all going at once, making brownie batter and pie crust and yeast dough while I grease pans and slice apples and read again how to shape a fan-tan roll… I’m so used to multi-tasking every day at work, it’s an easy segue from desk to kitchen counter.
So, starting in early December, I make drop cookies and freeze them, unbaked, ready to pop in the oven at the last moment: for the office Christmas party, or when friends drop by after shopping. Here’s what you do: Make your cookie dough–your snickerdoodles, chocolate chippers, peanut butter cookies, whatever those special cookies are you bake and give every year. Use a TEASPOON cookie scoop to drop balls of dough, very close together, onto parchment-lined baking sheets, as many as can fit in your freezer at a time. Freeze the dough balls solid–this will take about an hour.
To freeze cookie dough for baking days or weeks later (I’m freezing dough for Sparkling Cranberry Gems here), use a cookie scoop to drop dough balls onto your parchment-lined pan. Place them close together, as pictured, then freeze. When frozen, throw ‘em in a plastic bag and keep frozen till you’re ready for fresh, oven-warm cookies.
Remove from the baking sheet, pack them airtight in plastic bags, label, and store in the freezer. When you’re ready to bake, remove them from the freezer, space them on your parchment-lined baking sheets, and turn on the oven. The dough will thaw as the oven gets up to temperature, about 20-25 minutes. Bake and serve to an appreciative audience.
Now, why a TEASPOON cookie scoop? In fact, why a cookie scoop at all? First, there’s nothing like a cookie scoop to SAVE TIME and produce perfect balls of dough (read: perfectly shaped cookies). Never mind trying to scrape dough off sticky tablespoons… or your fingers. The cookie scoop just plop-plop-plops balls of dough onto your sheet. And using a teaspoon scoop at the holidays is a great way to add variety to an array of gift plates: instead of each recipient getting, say, a dozen normal (2 1/2″) chocolate chip cookies, you can make small (1 1/2″) cookies with a teaspoon scoop, and treat your friends to half a dozen each sugar, oatmeal, peanut butter, fudge drop, molasses… whatever your specialties are.
So that’s my first holiday tip: Make cookie dough, use a teaspoon cookie scoop to shape it (for more, smaller cookies, perfect for gifts), and freeze. You’ll thank yourself round about December 22…