Wednesday, December 19, 2018

I Refuse to Use More Parchment Paper!

'Tis the season for cookie baking! Let's dive right in to the annual Christmas cookie-palooza with my dear friend. Last year, you'll recall, was our "Back to Basics" Christmas after a truly disastrous adventure the previous year. Having regained some of our baking mojo, we set out on our 7th year of baking insanity with a definitely manageable list of cookies:

1) Palmiers (a staple I cannot live without) - double batch
2) Walnut balls (taking careful note of the correct recipe) - triple batch
3) Spritz (cookie press) cookies - triple batch
4) White chocolate ginger cookies (huge hit from last year) - double batch
5) Something chocolate (yes, that's what our planning list said) - who knows because we haven't picked a recipe yet
6) Walnut kiffles (special request from my sister) - single batch
7) Zebra cookies (new recipe that I saw in the Bon Appetit Christmas issue) - single batch
8) Something with jam - single batch

8 cookie types, lots of batches, approximately a day and a half, and a casual goal of 1000 cookies. But actually casual. We didn't really expect to get to 1000 cookies. Our main goal this year was to have fun!

So we're off to the races! We did the absolute minimum level of planning which included thinking about which cookie doughs would need chilling in the fridge and then we went to the grilled cheese restaurant. Priorities, people. That said, I think we ultimately got started somewhere around 2:00. I had bought all of the ingredients in the morning, ensuring that there would be no whipped butter disasters this year, and had taken the butter out to soften. Apparently there was too much butter in too close a proximity for it to soften well so we had to use the good ol' microwave trick. We decided to start with the ginger cookies because the dough had to chill and then they'd be ready for whenever we had "down time" for dipping in chocolate and decorating. We both worked on this dough and I swear it was completely ready in approximately 8 minutes. Into the fridge!

Next, we decided to work on the zebra cookies because they were new and different and required chilling as well. The idea behind these cookies are pretty similar to any icebox sugar cookie. We were supposed to split the dough in half, flavor one chocolate, layer the white and chocolate dough into stripes, roll it into a log, chill it, cut it and bam! Zebra stripes! Yeah, that didn't quite happen. The error here was in my definition of "half." You see, when you're eyeballing half the dough and THEN you're adding the dry ingredients, if you don't do it accurately you end up with one very wet dough and one very dry, crumbly dough. In my defense...I have no defense. I took a lazy way out and paid the price. When we were trying to shape our logs of striped dough, we ended up with very sticky chocolate dough and very dry regular dough so we couldn't get quite that striped effect. I believe my assessment was along the lines of "eh, it'll still look fine" and moved on. I'll jump ahead a bit to tell you that there were further consequences to this decision-making. We had to roll our chilled logs of dough into colored sugar (I had both red and green for maximum Christmas spirit!) and the chocolate dough got very sticky with the sugar and the sugar didn't stick to the other dough very well. Oh yeah, and somehow the colored dye was coming off in a liquidy mess on the parchment paper. Still don't quite understand why. Anyway, when we sliced the cookies from the log, they definitively did not look like zebra stripes. More like blobs. Or ultrasounds. Or Christmas Rorschach tests. They looked like this:

We call them: Art Deco Cookies. Hey, if not for this blog, it's not like you would know what they were supposed to look like, right? Hilariously enough, the next day, my friend looked at the cookie table and said "Wow, those zebra cookies actually turned out really well!" and then realized she was looking at the magazine photo and not a physical plate of cookies that we had made. We may have been a little delirious by then.

Anywho, backtracking to when the Art Deco Cookies were chilling, we used that time to make the dough for the spritz cookies. There was an initial debate over tripling or quadrupling the recipe but my friend wisely convinced me that quadrupling wouldn't have fit in the mixer. She was right. Tripling barely fit in the mixer. So since we were tripling, we decided to make trees, wreaths, and snowflakes. And for some reason, I was entrusted to third the dough. I did this...poorly. We have at least three times as many trees as the other shapes. Whoops. Also, because my oven temperature is a hot mess of crazy, we slightly burned one of the batches. But that's ok, they went in the husband pile.

After that, I started monitoring the temperature a bit. It was crazy. In summary, sometimes when the oven was set to 450 it was up at 500, sometimes when it was 350 it was 325 (or 400!), and all the times it was frustrating the hell out of me. I ended up effectively monitoring the temp and changing the setting all willy-nilly hoping to get close to the target temperature. Stupid oven.

After our one batch of cookie burn, all the rest went smoothly and we baked up the rest of the spritz cookies and the ginger cookies. With those cookies done, we decided it was time for pizza, wine, and Christmas movies. Nothing beats an evening of baking, a glass (or several) of wine, and the questionable Christmas classics Christmas in Connecticut and The Christmas Chronicles.

Rise and shine early in the morning for day 2!

I was up first and was just sort of putzing around the kitchen when I decided, "hey, I might as well do something. I'll make the jam!" Because we were making jam sandwich cookies and why would I use jarred jam when I could just MAKE jam?!? (I'm crazy.) I've never made jam before. I had no idea how to make jam. I found recipes that had me boiling raspberries and sugar and lemon juice anywhere from 4 minutes to 20 minutes. I don't even really eat jam so I had no frame of reference for this at all. So there I was, in pajamas, boiling sugar and raspberries, and pondering why I needed to freeze a spoon to decide if my jam was done. Apparently there's some sort of test where you put a drop of jam on the back of a frozen spoon and then if you can run your finger through it and get a line then it's done. By the time I did that, I got my line with no problem. Which was weird because the jam in the pot still looked so liquidy! So I quickly transferred the jam to a container to cool off. By now my friend was up and we both tasted the cooled jam. It tasted really good but the consistency was less jam and more "dear god, why is it sticking in my teeth like a raspberry jolly rancher?!" Yep, I candied my jam. Didn't know you could do that. I nearly chucked the whole batch but a quick Google search showed me that I might be able to save my jam by heating it slowly with about a cup of water to re-liquid it. That....worked! I was shocked! Jam disaster averted!

With that done and our ginger cookies dipped in white chocolate and laying out on parchment paper (I literally can't remember if we did this the previous day or not), we headed off to Zumba. Because it's not enough exercise to just bake for two days obviously. Once we got coffee and came back, we set to work on the zillion batches of palmiers. I actually remember how to make them without consulting the directions now but the problem is that they must be baked on parchment paper and they must be monitored constantly and we can only bake about 8-10 cookies at a time. So they take forever. At least it was passive enough that one of us was able to shower while the other monitored the cookies. Plus my many baking pans meant we could cut them all and lay them out on pans and get on with other tasks like making the dough for the jam sandwiches.

The jam sandwiches were a pretty simple sugar cookie recipe but the dough needed to chill and I needed to find some cookie cutters. Fortunately, my gigantic box of cookie cutters has all of the letters and an "O" was perfect for the tops of the cookie sandwiches to get an adorable window of jam. Stay tuned for how well the assembly of the cookie sandwiches goes...

So let's see, palmiers are baking (FOREVER) and we had some downtime so that's a perfect time to pipe the holly onto the ginger cookies. We melted the candy melts in my new microwave with some shortening and started piping. On a table this year because I thought ahead and remembered how much piping on the floor killed our backs. This went alllllllmost seamlessly. The one mishap was when my dear friend needed to take palmiers out of the oven but was afraid of red chocolate leaking out of her piping tip so she turned the whole bag upside down. Red chocolate POURED onto the table, the floor, her pants, and her socks. It was like the scene in the Shining. Clearly she was experiencing baker's brain. (On the other hand, we really melted that chocolate perfectly if it poured out of the bag that easily!)

So with that mess cleaned up and the palmiers finally just about done, we decided we desperately needed food. We had Zumba-ed and had been baking all morning and it was now about 1:30 and we were getting hangry. Long overdue for a break.

[Healthy salad lunchtime!]

Now fed and watered, we got back to work. Only jam sandwiches to assemble, walnut balls to bake, chocolate cookies to bake, and kiffles getting struck from the list. Since it's too important to not mess up the walnut balls, we tackled that next. Really it was just me chopping all of the walnuts and my friend making the dough. We tripled this recipe but somehow managed to fit all of the cookies on two pans. Once we got that ball rolling (GET IT?!?!), I set to work rolling out the dough for the jam cookies while my friend made the chocolate cookie dough.

I should use this moment to point out that it was a gorgeous, warm day outside. Which meant it was a hot as hell kitchen inside. I didn't realize how hot it was until I opened the window and finally felt like I could breathe. Anyway, the problem with this beautiful day was that rolling out chilled cookie dough for cutting had to be done extremely quickly. The recipe had dictated to roll out the cookies on parchment paper. I would never do this again. The paper kept sliding everywhere even when I weighed it down with random kitchen tools. Plus it was hard to lift the cut cookies off the paper. I was working as quickly as I could but it was just awful. I cut out the bottoms of the cookies but needed to re-chill the leftover dough before I could reroll it to make more. Then I had to do the same thing with the tops of the cookies and everything was getting so warm and the shapes were warping and I just couldn't care by then. I have some wonky jam sandwich shapes.

Ultimately they got cooked (on parchment paper, of course) and filled with jam and they look really cute (albeit messy). P.S. I now have about 5 more cups of jam to use. Any ideas?

While all this was happening, chocolate cookie dough was being made. We tripled that recipe which was INSANE. It was also apparently a new recipe because we couldn't remember which chocolate cookies were made last year and I was too tired to look it up. The result was chilling a gigantic log of chocolate dough that looked...unappetizing. Let's leave it at that.

The final step of the day was to bake the chocolate cookies. I swear, we thought we would never roll out all of that chocolate dough. There was so much of it. I read in the recipe that we were supposed to bake them on parchment paper and I lost my mind and yelled, "HARD NO. NO. MORE. PARCHMENT. PAPER." So we skipped that step and I do not apologize for it. Now the problem was, these cookies take about 15 minutes and they grow. I mean, they get giant. Even though we were actually rolling the balls tiny, they filled the entire tray. It was making us really mad. We just wanted to be done. We were so exhausted that while the chocolate cookies were baking we just laid on the floor and stretched. It felt really good. Eventually, we got the last cookies out of the oven and breathed a collective sigh of relief over another baking weekend well done.

Final roundup: we started out targeting 8 types of cookies and only downgraded to 7 so that was pretty good for us. We used 5 lbs of sugar over the course of one weekend. We determined that I can't divide dough and should never try. The ginger cookies look way too cute and perfect to even be real. Jam apparently can magically turn into candy and then back to jam. And we should get together and bake more often because as frustrating as it was at times, we had a lot of fun. Final tally: 757.

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