Tales From a Cookie-Baking Extravaganza


Peanut Butter Blossoms. (Nancy Kerr)


It started out seven years ago as a simple day of baking. My college roommate Brigid, my sister Cathy and I decided to get together to crank out a bunch of unique Christmas cookies to present as gifts to friends and business associates. We’d congregate at B’s farm-style house with its large, open kitchen and dreamy commercial-quality Wolf stove -- capable of baking six-plus dozen cookies at one time -- and make dough after dough. At the end of the day we’d divvy up bags of cookies and split costs. At home, treats were boxed up in white baker’s boxes with raffia and personalized labels. Sweet success.

As years went by, word got out about our box o’ confections. Starting Dec. 1, clients and friends started asking, “So, when are the cookie boxes coming?” Expectation levels and cookie quantities increased. Ingredients were no longer bought in a grocery store; they were loaded up on a flatbed at Costco. Sugar was bought in 100-pound bags. Another sister and more friends joined us, lured by stories of cookie craziness. A good friend joined one year but was voted off “Cookie Island” after she decided that 10 hours of baking was a bit too much. (Imagine that.) Clearly, this was not for the faint of heart.


Cooling cookies. (Nancy Kerr)

This year, due to increased demand, we decided to kick it up a notch. We’d do two back-to-back days of baking and churn out 28 different kinds of cookies. If one day was fun, well two days of nonstop baking, Christmas carols and catching up would be double the fun, right? Well...sort of.

Day One kicked off at 7:30 a.m. Over coffee and Diet Coke (me), we quickly turned out dozens and dozens of our faves: Peanut Butter Blossoms, Almond Jammies, Cappuccino Flats and White Chocolate Raspberry cookies. Our makeshift bakery shelves filled up quickly. Doughs weren’t just doubled and tripled they were -- well, what exactly is the correct term for eight timesing a recipe? Baking sheets were queued up waiting for their date with the oven.

Overheard in the kitchen:
-- “Is it possible to get Carpal Tunnel from scooping dough?”
-- “If this cooks for 10 minutes at 350 degrees in the regular oven, what time and temp is it in the convection oven?” [Note: This question was asked 100 times over the two days.]
-- “Do not let me taste any more dough. Seriously, don’t.”
-- “Why did we make 32 dozen oatmeal cookies? I don’t have that many friends.”

Quitting time was 8 p.m. It was a long, but satisfying day. Oh, and my back really hurt.

On Day Two I woke at 6 to the smell of baking cookies. (“I wanted to get a jump-start on these before everyone got here,” said Brig, surrounded by a sea of coconut Drommars.) The rest of the cookie crew shuffled in at 8:45, clearly questioning the wisdom of baking for a second day. A rhythm kicked in. Soon we were scooping, filling, dipping and decorating dozens and dozens of buttery orbs. At 4 o’clock we closed up shop. Doughs that were not cooked, were divvied up to distribute later. The anticipated final yield: upwards of 650 dozen cookies. (Yes, really.)


One day's cookie yield. (Nancy Kerr)

Lessons learned? The marathon session, though a bit too ambitious, was a blast -- and provided enough belly laughs and holiday cheer to last me until next December. Next year, though, we voted to return to one day. And we are going to simplify and reduce the number of jellies….

Yeah, right.


Kim is on vacation this week.
Nancy Kerr edits AMA and oversees features content for washingtonpost.com. She is not baking cookies again for a long, long time.


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A favorite we always make:

Ina Garten's Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
Raspberry and/or apricot jam

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve

From the "Barefoot Contessa Family Style" cookbook

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Bake Your Pick: Don't miss Food's fabulous cookie issue featured in our Holiday Guide.

By Nancy Kerr |  December 10, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Cookies , Holiday Treats
Previous: Edible Gifts | Next: An Advent Dinner Party

Comments

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The correct term for "eight-timesing" a recipe is octuple.

Instead of weighing balls of dough, or dipping them out with spoons, invest (please) in a cookie scoop. I have four - 3/4 oz. and 1,2, and 3 oz. Once I discovered how much easier they are to use, I never went back. They have the added benefit of making the cookies really uniform looking.

BTW, thanks for answering in advance a question I had about thumbprints, which I plan to try this year for the first time - whether to put the jam in before or after baking.

Pecans arrived yesterday, so my own marathon will start tomorrow.

Happy baking, y'all.

Posted by: lsgc | December 10, 2008 9:46 AM

5 neighbors and friends and too many 12 and 13 year old girls crammed into my neighbor's tiny kitchen for our 2nd annual "wine and cookie bake" in Alexandria this weekend. Though we didn't produce the volumes mentioned above, we made chocolate chip cookies, mint chocolate chip, flour-less "cow-pie" cookies, fudge, Xmas bark, macaroons, drank lots of cheap wine and had a grand time. The girls played monopoly and shrieked (very loudly) at the news of the first snow of the season. It was the perfect touch to a Christmassy day. I can't wait until next year!

Posted by: Jess65 | December 10, 2008 9:46 AM

About 30 years ago I decided to bake cookies for my grandmother at Christmas. She was in her late 70's at the time and died 11 years ago (lived to be 97). She didn't need anything else and always had people coming and going through the holidays. So, I decided to make batches of homemade cookies to serve with coffee to her visitors. This created a Frankenstein. Every year from then on she wanted a tin of homemade cookies. I maxed out at about 7 varieties but spent an entire weekend doing it -- in a teeny tiny kitchen the size of a postage stamp in a one-bedroom apartment. I used the dinette table as cooling space. I then branched out to make up tins for bosses and co-workers. Then my sister-in-law had to have snickerdoodles. Actually the hardest part of this process is finding the right cookie tins. Not too big, not too small, and I'm lucky if I can find them at Wal-Mart.

So, over the years my entire weekend of Christmas baking has become a tradition. I look forward to it. I crank up the Christmas music, grab a cup of tea or glass of wine, and just bake up a storm. Then I don't want to see another cookie until the following Christmas.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | December 10, 2008 10:45 AM

How many dozen does Ina Garten's Jam Thumbprint Cookies make?

Posted by: ORB21 | December 10, 2008 11:14 AM

An oven that fits HOW MANY dozens at a time?! Clearly, I was not thinking ahead when I bought my oven last year. I refer to this time of year as the non-demoninational "Cookie Season," as it's a holiday everyone can get behind and none of my friends care that I buy Sam's Club sacks of sugar and flour right after Halloween.

I've taken off all the Fridays this month and have informed people that I'll be late for their holiday gatherings. Since I bring them cookies, they don't mind.

My friends chipped in a couple years ago and bought me a KitchenAid. After burning out 2 handmixers and nearly burning out a Sunbeam that one year, it was a welcome upgrade.

And to package cookies -- i get the lingerie or shirt boxes from the dollar store (3-4 in a pkg), line the bottom with wax paper and arrange the cookies (always different shapes), sometimes separating them with little folds of craft paper if I need to fill small spaces. It allows everyone to get a sampling of the 6-10 different kinds I've made, and since everyone is watching their weight, it's not too many and no one has ever claimed that the cookies went stale.

And to answer the question of what DO you do with 32 dozen oatmeal raisin cookies? You split them into gallon ziploc bags and you drop them off at fire houses and police stations -- two more groups that don't complain about you giving them cookies.

Posted by: capecodner424 | December 10, 2008 12:09 PM

Hey Baltimore11: check thrift stores, or ask close friends to return them, claim it's a gift that keeps on giving. I get my candy treats in the same tin from a dear friend every year.

Posted by: capecodner424 | December 10, 2008 12:11 PM

Thanks for the story, Nancy. I canrelate to it, just in a smaller dose. Really, 650 DOZEN?!?

When I was in my 20s and living with my dearest friend and roommate, we spent several Decembers up to our elbows in cookies and fudge each night after work and on weekends. We would eat some ourselves and give the others as gifts since we were quite monetarily challenged.

We would look at each other after the holidays and promise not to get back on the "cookie diet" the next year.

We're older and wiser now, but your story made me think of calling her up and making a cookie-baking date.

Posted by: earlysun | December 10, 2008 12:32 PM

Sounds delicious (and tiring) and I realize you made too many to give us all the recipes, but how bout a few? Like the Cappuccino Flats and White Chocolate Raspberry cookies maybe??

Posted by: wjg78 | December 10, 2008 2:56 PM

fr the article:

>... Doughs that were not cooked, were divvied up to distribute later. The anticipated final yield: upwards of 650 dozen cookies. (Yes, really.)<

650x12=7800! WOW!!!!

I remember one year doing four kinds of cookies and fudge by myself. NEVER again.

Posted by: Alex511 | December 10, 2008 5:32 PM

Kitchen Aid mixer, cooling racks... must-haves. I make 4-6 batches of one kind of cookie specifically for this time of year, and send it to family as a reminder of a dear, departed member (their favorite cookie). One year I sent a batch overseas to my brother, serving in the Army and despite my packing the cookies arrived pulverized. He reported that he simply added milk to the big ziploc bag I'd packed them in, and ate the crumb-milk slurry with a spoon.

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | December 11, 2008 10:40 AM

Hi. I love baking cookies and am planning to try a few new recipes that I saw in the Cooking Section's Holiday Issue. Nancy, I would love to try your recipe for the Peanut Butter Blossoms. Would it be possible to post it? Thanks!

Posted by: halmin | December 11, 2008 5:35 PM

Here's the recipe for PB Blossoms. They are delish.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
Hershey Kisses, unwrapped
sugar for rolling

Instructions: Cream butter and peanut butter. Add sugars, baking powder and baking soda; beat until combined.
Add egg, milk and vanilla.
Beat in as much flour as possible by mixer, stir in any remaining flour by hand.
Shape dough into 1" balls and roll in sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 350 for 10-12 minutes. Immediately press chocolate kiss into center of each cookie.

Posted by: Nancy_Kerr | December 12, 2008 12:52 PM

We've been veganizing those Ina Garten cookies for a couple of years now. They're delicious!

Just use Earth Balance, and to fake the egg wash, just heat up a little cornstarch & water slurry (add a little agave or maple syrup for flavor) until thickened.

Posted by: sarahabc | December 12, 2008 2:02 PM

Thanks, Nancy, for the Peanut Butter Blossoms recipe. I can't wait to make them this weekend!

Posted by: halmin | December 12, 2008 5:43 PM

For the person needing cookie tins, there is a great shop online - cookietins.com. Large selection and good prices.

For the cookie scoops, search for nutmeg peddler on ebay. He sells all sizes....

Posted by: dollypolly | December 17, 2008 9:12 AM

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