While most people spend August at the beach, on vacation, or simply enjoying the balmy weather, this year I found myself all wrapped up in Christmas cookies. In my line of work as a cooking instructor and food writer, I often find myself looking several seasons forward, as I develop classes and magazine articles. This August, despite the heat and desire to eat light, I was up to my apron strings in cookie dough.
As I contemplated a December "Holiday Baking" class, as well as a magazine article on Christmas cookies and holiday cookie traditions, I found it a bit difficult to wrap my mind around the idea of baking in 90 degree weather. So before I pulled out my stand mixer and turned on the oven, I headed to the library for some inspiration.
The librarians definitely looked a little bewildered as I checked out stacks of holiday baking books. "Getting an early start, are you?" one asked. "My, you're certainly thinking ahead!" commented another. With a smile and a swipe of my library card, I was well on my way to a near-certain sugar-induced food coma.
I read about the history of cookies, and specifically how they became associated with Christmas. I learned about various ethnic holiday traditions, and which of those traditions were brought to America with the many waves of immigration. I spoke with five local women who do a tremendous amount of baking around the holidays, after convincing them to fast-forward their brains four months because I had a September 1st deadline. Then it was finally time to head to the kitchen and bake.
I tried two recipes for chocolate cookies----my standby chocolate mint cookies (an old Bon Appetit recipe), and a new recipe which called for the cookies to be dipped in confectioners sugar before baking, which created a beautiful result. In the end I decided to combine the two for a chocolate mint cookie that looks like a brown and white peppermint swirl candy.
I then moved on to bright and colorful holiday wreaths, loaded with green food coloring and red cinnamon hot candies for decoration. I made two types; one with a marshmallow base and one with a white chocolate base. My extended family was certainly a bit perplexed when I showed up to our vacation rental house with Tupperware containers full of little Christmas wreath cookies, but no one complained about having to test the results, particularly my two little girls!
I moved through biscotti, bar cookies, and finally gingerbread cookies, made from a recipe submitted to me by a local baker. Since I will be publishing the latter, I was careful to note any changes I had to make to the recipe, to be sure it was easily replicable by a reader. I rolled the gingerbread into cut-out cookies, used the dough for drop cookies, baked with and without parchment, and with and without insulated baking sheets. I then froze a portion of the dough to test its longevity in the freezer. The last test was to see how long the cookies stayed fresh tasting in an airtight container. It was finally time to clean up the kitchen, draw up a final description for my December class, and draft my magazine article.
It is now Labor Day, and I feel as if Christmas has come and gone---only without all the stress of buying gifts, decorating the house, and cooking large, extravagant holiday meals. As a result of my August holiday cookie extravaganza, I've added a few new recipes to my holiday dessert table, designed a unique cookie class for my students, and completed a fun article featuring some local women who log in about as much time in the kitchen as I do. Who said summertime isn't for baking? Merry Christmas!
To check out my class schedule, including the "Holiday Cookies" class, go to http://www.thesecretingredientonline.com/
Be sure to look for my article "Let Them Eat COOKIES!" in the December/January issue of Fairfield Magazine.