Sugar and Spice

Ginger Lemon SnapsEons ago, I worked in a small-town bakery. The homebaked goods–cookies, pies, rolls and bread–featured the local flour, ground by a real-life Dutch mill nearby. The bakery was an old house, its kitchen was our kitchen, still recognizable as a basic farmhouse cooking zone with the addition of a mixer big enough to fall into, an industrial oven and a stainless steel counter where we rolled and measured dough, and dropped cookies onto large metal sheets. We sold what we made just steps from the work area, at a glass case near the back door.

I learned a lot working there… mostly tricks to improve efficiency, a must in a small space with several moving people and a hot appliance in the middle of it all.

I was reminded this week of one of those tricks after I toted piles of Christmas cookies into the office. First, I heard people marvel that I took all that time to bake cookies. (“They’re such a pain.”) Next, they wanted to know how I got them all perfect, e.g., all round and the same size.

Now, I do not believe for a second that cookies are a chore. On the contrary, they are a zen joy to me, all process-based chemistry with quiet fulfillment at the end. I will admit, though, that several actions can make the baking all the more simple–and lead to more satisfying (visual) results.

So my Christmas gift to you–in addition to recipes for my favorite ginger snaps, a chewy coconut-pecan bar and the sublime no-roll sugar cookies that we produced every morning at the bakery–are these three tips:

1. Always chill the dough. Even half an hour will help cookies keep their shape, make them easier to form and let them rise rather than run. This is especially true if you have a hot kitchen.

2. For drop cookies, use a small ice cream scoop with a release band that sweeps the bowl of the scoop. Just dip, scrape against the bowl to flatten the bottom and drop the cookie onto the sheet. No fuss, no muss. And the cookies will exit the oven all the same size. 

3. Do not overbake. Unless your oven temperture is wildly off, bake no more than the time range advised by the recipe. They will still cook a little once out of the oven, and you do not want them over dry. Or burnt (unless you are my dad…).

Happy Holidays!

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