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.
How to Win a Cookie Bake Off
1. It starts with a recipe. (or two. or three……)
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.
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.
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.
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 set up my kitchen into stations. One part of my counter holds all of the cookware I will need during my bake-a-thon.
My table is cleared and divided; half devoted to baking sheet prep (cookie cutters, parchment paper, etc) and half devoted to cooling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Taste all the efforts. [this may be the best part.]
Keep your acceptance speech short. There are cookies to eat.