Jan 032011
 

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Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the first prize award for the first annual holiday cookie bake-off at my office. Do you realize what this means? This means I WON!!!!

Apparently those 24+ hours I spent in the kitchen was well worth it, because I came away from the bake-off with bragging rights, a fun award, and LOTS of lessons learned.

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How to Win a Cookie Bake Off

1. It starts with a recipe. (or two. or three……)

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Try several recipes until you find one in which you are beyond happy.  I started with six base gingerbread recipes I found on blogs and in cook books, then started making my own modifications to my favorite of the recipes. 

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The cookies I ended up submitting to the contest (and winning with) were a modified version of Ange’s Wedded Bliss Soft Ginger Cookies.  My other favorites were Mama Pea’s Pumpkin Gingersnaps, but I was concerned with the judge’s distaste for pumpkin.

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2. Get organized for success.

Read through the recipe at least once completely before beginning.  I also bring all the ingredients I will need for the recipe in one place before I even preheat the oven. This assures I won’t be running to the store 4 steps in.

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When I am doing a lot of treat baking at one time, I moved a table from my living room into my kitchen to hold all the mix ins, spices, and flavorings I will be using.

I also use the less full baking cabinet shelf to hold all the flours and sugars I will be using.  Everything is visible and it’s easy to grab what I need.
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I set up my kitchen into stations.  One part of my counter holds all of the cookware I will need during my bake-a-thon. 

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My table is cleared and divided; half devoted to baking sheet prep (cookie cutters, parchment paper, etc) and half devoted to cooling.

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My favorite tip from bake-a-palooza 2010? Tape printed out recipes on cabinet doors at eye level! It makes reading instructions a breeze, and you aren’t trying to flip through pages or hold up a piece of paper with dough filled hands.

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3. Mixing it up.

If you like crispier cookies, use whites in place of some of the whole eggs in a recipe.

If you like soft cookies, try subbing part of the granulated sugar for equal parts brown sugar. Brown sugar contains more moisture, so it often results in a softer cookie. 

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If you are making a cookie with dried fruit add ins, such as craisins, raisins, cherries or other any dried fruit try this tip before you add the mix ins to the dough. Pour a bit of boiling water (just to cover) over fruit and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, drain, and mix into dough. Once baked the fruit will be softer than if you would have poured in directly without this “opening” technique.

 

 

4. We like to Move it, Move it.  [Getting the dough to the sheet.]

With most cutter cookie recipes, put dough in fridge before rolling and cutting, otherwise cookies could start to lose shape before making it to oven. [*NOTE: Some recipes for cut-out cookies DO NOT refrigerate well, but many do.]

After rolling, dip your cookie cutter in flour and gently knock on side of bowl to avoid clumps of flour on the edges of your cookies.

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When trying to make round cookies uniform in size, either drop with mini ice cream scoop (also found in kitchen stores as “cookie scoops.”) or roll dough into a log and slice to same size.

 *SGITK Portion Control Tip!* Want to try that recipe you found but don’t want to be left with a four dozen cookies to eat on your own? Think past just putting the baked cookies in the freezer.  You can also freeze the dough! Cut/drop your cookies on a sheet as if you were to bake, but instead, put your sheet into the freezer.  Wait about 1 hour until the cookie pieces are firm and transfer to freezer bags or Tupperware. Freeze up to 6 weeks. When you bake you don’t need to thaw, them, but you may need to add a minute or two to the baking time.

 

5. The time for baking and cooling and storing.

Before reusing cookie sheets that came out of the oven, run them under cold water until cool, then dry.

If you are using all oven racks are being used, but the bottom rack is making the cookies darken quickly, try to double up on your cookie sheet on the bottom, creating an extra insulation to prevent burning/browning.

 
While baking, rotate your sheets- front to back, and each rack – for even cooking. I always set my timer for half of the cook type and rotate my sheets at this point. 
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Always cool cookies completely before packing, storing, and stacking on top one another.  Wire racks are the best place to cool cookies because they allow even airflow from both the top and the bottom of the cookie.  I love this set of space saving stacking cookie sheets

When storing a variety of cookies, don’t put crispy and soft cookies in same container the crispy ones will lose crispness. I also try and separate strong flavors. I use zip lock bags to keep strong scents like peppermint, peanut butter, and gingerbread from “contaminating” each other.

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6. When it comes to judgments.

There is no reason to bribe judges. They are already getting cookies.  Oh, and, you know, you should “do the right thing” and be “fair” and all that.

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Remember that your competitors put in a lot of work.  Celebrate all of their efforts and all of your efforts, too.104_7122        104_7141104_7121 104_7129

Taste all the efforts. [this may be the best part.]

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Keep your acceptance speech short.  There are cookies to eat.

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Nov 242010
 


Welcome to the Handmade Christmas Kitchen – a very special segment ofHandmade Christmas 2010. I’ve asked a few of my favorite blog-land bakers to share a bit of their own holiday traditions found folded into batter.  Be prepared to tie your apron and be inspired to spend some time in your own Christmas Kitchen.

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Hi everyone!  I’m Liz from Little Bitty Bakes.  If this is our first time meeting, you should know that I am a firm believer that allowing little indulgences are key to maintaining a healthy diet and overall quality of life.  This is a especially true at this time of year.  Don’t say no to the cookies.  Just make sure you say yes to your running shoes.

When Heather asked me if I’d be interested in sharing a holiday treat (that could be given as a gift) with her readers, it took me about ten seconds to reply.  Of course!  And after about thirty seconds of thought, I knew the recipe I’d share with you guys.  It’s one that I first made with my childhood best friend and her mom in fourth grade.  These chocolatey little guys were the first ‘outside the box’ cookie I ever made, so it’s fun to revisit those memories at Christmas, and to share them with others.  It’s a pay it forward type of thing, you know?

These cookies are great for holiday gift-giving for countless reasons.  They’re delicious.  The recipe is simple and fail-proof.  They’re indulgent without putting you in a sugar coma (so long as you only have one or two at a time).  They pack and travel very well — no worrying about spoiling or smudged frosting.  And, well… they’re just so darn cute.  Go ahead and try to tell me you wouldn’t smile if you received these in the mail this holiday season.

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Mhmm.  That’s what I thought. :)  You see, there’s no reason to go out and spend your hard-earned cash at the mall when you can put together a delightful, from-the-heart cookie gift in your own kitchen!

Holiday Fudgy Bon Bons
1 12 ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup margarine (recommended over butter)
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla (almond or peppermint extract work, too!)
2 bags Hershey kisses (any flavor!), unwrapped
2 ounces white chocolate
1 tsp. vegetable oil

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Melt chocolate chips and margarine in medium saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and add the milk, then flour, then vanilla.
  • Wrap dough around kisses and roll to form 1 ½ inch balls.  Place two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 6-8 minutes. Transfer cookies to wax or parchment paper and cool completely.
  • In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt white chocolate and oil (about 30 to 45 seconds on HIGH).  Drizzle over cookies and decorate as desired.

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Nov 162010
 


Welcome to the Handmade Christmas Kitchen – a very special segment of Handmade Christmas 2010.  While we are all making final decisions on what to make for our loved ones holiday gifts, I thought it would be a great opportunity to hear from some special guests. I’ve asked a few of my favorite blog-land bakers to share a bit of their own holiday traditions found folded into batter.  I expect we will hear about love rising in the oven and extra kindness mixed by hand in the early morning.  Be prepared to tie your apron and be inspired to spend some time in your own Christmas Kitchen.

Hello friends! My name is Gracie, and I blog over at Girl Meets Life.

I want to let you in on a little secret: buying people gifts for Christmas is so 2009.

Okay, I kid. There’s obviously no harm in buying that scarf that you know your best friend would love. But – I don’t know about you – I’d much rather skip the mall and make gifts from my cozy, Christmas-decorated house. I also personally love receiving handmade gifts from others. So in an attempt to a) save money b) embrace my inner Martha Stewart and b) provide my loved ones with thoughtful andtasty gifts, I decided to take the handmade route for this upcoming holiday season.

Well…semi-handmade, at least :)

I can’t say I pride myself as being incredibly savvy in the arts & crafts department, but I have found some ways to fake it when it comes to giving thoughtful, semi-handmade holiday gifts. Since I love baking and have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love cookies, that seemed like a natural way to go.

My favorite cookie recipe when it comes to baking for others is Michelle’s Montana Whoppers.

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These are the epitome of a crowd-pleasing cookie – primarily because they include just about everything but the kitchen sink. They’re loaded with peanut butter, oats, chocolate chips, M&M’s…the whole nine. They also just happen to be wheat-free. In other words, you just can’t go wrong with Montana Whoppers.

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Next: the packaging. My favorite stop for baking accessories and decor is Michael’s. Not only do they have a great selection, but it’s also quite inexpensive. I got all of these festive packaging goods for under $10.

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The proof:

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You’ll hear me mention that deal about a million times in the video below too. I like a bargain, what can I say? :)

Here is a step-by-step video tutorial for how to make quick and easy Christmas treat bags.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAedoP7Ffxg]

The finished product:
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See? Making (semi)handmade Christmas gifts doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming. But it sure is thoughtful, festive, and FUN!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, to one and all :)

xoxo G