I know a lot of you don’t bake anymore (or never have) but for those of us who do, this is the start of our busiest season. We’ve been stockpiling butter and pecans, flours and spices for a while now, and visions of sugarplums (and other assorted cookies!) are definitely dancing in our heads.
Baking is a science; when a recipe says to, for example, “chill the dough for two hours,” it behooves you to do just that. Besides making a sticky dough easier to work with, chilling before baking yields a cookie that will hold its shape better.
Don’t eyeball your ingredients — you want to measure exactly the correct amounts of both wet and dry ingredients. A pinch too much or too little baking powder will make a big difference! My mom showed me how to use the flat side of a butter knife to level off dry ingredients for accurate measuring, and I still do that to this day.
You also don’t want to overmix the ingredients; when a recipe says “gently fold in,” that’s what it means. Overbeating or overworking the dough will change the formulation, causing problems like cookies that rise and then collapse or overspread while baking. And always, always whisk dry ingredients together thoroughly before combining with the creamed butter and sugar or eggs, which are often added alternating with each other.
Oven temperature is crucial; I struggle with my oven, which doesn’t hold high temperatures or, really, any temperatures very well. (So frustrating!) If you don’t already have one, an inexpensive oven thermometer can be a godsend and give you a true reading of what’s going on in there. Speaking of temperature, if a recipe says to use room temperature eggs or butter, take the time to do so. Those ingredients will combine better and emulsify into the dough if they’re not straight out of the cold refrigerator. And in order for eggs to fluff up and add volume to the dough, they need to be at room temperature.
I always encourage you to use the best ingredients you can afford, and in baking, this advice still holds. For the best flavors, use “good” butter — i.e., real, most likely imported — high-quality dark cocoa and fresh, active baking powder and baking soda.
Chocolate chip, Snickerdoodles, “Mexican wedding cookies” and oatmeal cookies (crisp and crunchy or soft and chewy) are all perennial favorites, and I’ll leave it to you to find those classic recipes online. I’ve included recipes here for other big-batch cookies. These recipes yield enough cookies to give as gifts, whether to friends, neighbors or whomever you want to share a little holiday cheer with. And don’t worry; none of them require special equipment or ingredients. Provecho!
- ¾ cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla
- 2 Tbsp. cold water
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ¼ tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). No need to grease the pans. Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add egg, vanilla and water; beat well. In another bowl, mix flour, cornstarch and salt; add to butter mixture and combine well.
Drop batter by rounded teaspoonfuls about 1½ inches apart onto cookie sheets. Bake about 8 minutes, until edges are lightly golden. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to racks to cool. Yields about 80 cookies.
Refrigerator Spice Cookies
This dough can be kept 2–3 weeks in the refrigerator and baked as needed. If need be, substitute pumpkin pie spice for the individual ones listed here.
- ½ cup butter or margarine
- ½ cup grated piloncillo or brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. water
- 1½ cups flour
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ground allspice
- ½ tsp. powdered ginger
- Optional: ½ cup chopped pecans, ½ cup chopped dates
Cream butter and sugar; add egg and water. Beat until light and fluffy. In another bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to butter mixture; beat till combined. Stir in dates and nuts, if using.
On a lightly floured worksurface, shape dough into a roll or rolls about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap in parchment or plastic wrap and chill until firm.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F (175 C) and grease cookie sheets. With a thin, sharp knife, cut dough into rounds about 1/3-inch thick. Place 1 inch apart on pans. Bake about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on racks. Yields 50 cookies.
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 4 egg whites
- 1-1/3 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 3 cups cornflakes
Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. With an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy; mix in vanilla. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff and glossy. Fold in pecans, coconut and cornflakes. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets.
Bake at 325 F (165 C) about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove immediately from baking sheets; cool on wire racks. Store in airtight container. Yields 48 cookies.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
- 1 cup cocoa
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup vegetable or coconut oil or a combo
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 cup flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ cup or more confectioners’ sugar
Mix cocoa, sugar and oil. Beat in eggs one at a time; add vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; fold into cocoa mixture. Mixture will be sticky. Cover and chill for 2 or more hours.
Preheat oven to 350 F (177 C). Line cookie sheets with parchment. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in confectioners’ sugar. Place on pans about 1 inch apart. Bake 10–12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Yields about 60 cookies.
Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.