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Baking tips and ideas for those holiday bakers

We have all just enjoyed tasty Thanksgiving food and all the wonderful aromas, planned-overs and everything about it. Now is the time to begin baking and candy making. I know everyone is about doing less and not preparing food from scratch, but I thinking holiday baking is worth the time, money, and effort. It could be holiday cookies, mincemeat, pecan or pumpkin pie, and of course, fruitcake. Yes, there are some flavorful, good tasting fruitcakes.

When I write about cookies, I mean cookies made from basic ingredients that you measure out. I am not writing about cookies made from a mix, a tube or bought dough. Plan for and use these ideas so that you can try to make the baking experience successful! With a positive attitude, your time, and a few ingredients, it is possible to create an array of cookies in different shapes, sizes, textures, and tastes. When it comes to your holiday baking, I suggest you leave recipes as they are, in their original way, so you will not disappoint your family.

Real ingredients are what makes great tasting cookies that have lots of flavor. The main four ingredients are eggs, flour, sugar, and some kind of fat such as butter, margarine, solid shortening or oil. Then you add other ingredients in interesting combinations including chocolate, cocoa powder, nuts, raisins, citrus zest, oatmeal, spices, and extracts to create flavor and texture interest.

Most recipes call for a fat and that makes for the flavor of the cookie, the color, texture and tenderness. The fat also supplies the moisture that dissolves the sugar during the creaming process and this contributes to the very smooth flavor of the cookie. I know that many of your cookies are eaten so fast that you or others have no idea what I am writing about.

Butter, salted or unsalted, makes for the best flavor in cookies and adds a creamy richness. Butter makes for cookies that are more on the crisp side. When solid shortening is used, your cookies will be more on the tender or moist side. Margarine is sometimes suggested as an alternative but cookies made with it tend to have a different texture and the dough may be harder to roll. Regardless of which fat you choose, soften it before hand so it will cream easier and the sugar will dissolve faster.

Here are some additional fat facts that can make a big difference in your cookie-baking success. If the recipe calls for margarine, make sure you use stick margarine because tub margarine has more water and air incorporated into it and you will have wasted all your ingredients and your time. Also, do not try substituting oil for butter or solid shortening because you can mix oil and sugar forever, and the sugar will never dissolve. You have to have water or liquid for the sugar to dissolve.

For the best dough, thoroughly cream softened butter with sugar in an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. Creaming can take about five minutes if the fat is room temperature. Next, blend in all of the liquid ingredients such as eggs or milk. The final step is to add the dry ingredients as the recipe directs. Try not to over-mix the dough once the flour is added. This causes the cookies to become tough, I know this from personal experience.

Many types of cookie dough is chilled before baking to prevent excess spreading. When dough are chilled, their flavors have a chance to blend. Except for when making bar cookies, choose cookie sheets that are without sides or only have the tiniest rim. The newer specialty cookie sheets help bake cookies that are evenly brown and more on the soft side.

If you want to bake light or golden brown cookies, use light colored cookie sheets or the baking stones are your best choices. Dark cookie sheets make darker, crisper cookies. Also, remember cookies baked on greased sheets spread more than those baked on ungreased sheets. Plan to space cookies far enough apart on the baking sheet to allow sufficient room for spreading during baking, an inch or more is usually good. Also, try to make the cookies the same size and shape so they bake in the same amount of time. For bar cookies, spread them evenly in the pan.

For cookie-baking success, always preheat the oven at least 15 minutes before using. For even browning, turn the cookie sheets halfway through the baking time. Sometimes you might want to bake only one baking sheet at a time in the center of the oven, and allow an inch or more between the sheet and the oven wall so heat can circulate. It is best if you wipe the cookie sheet and cool it before reusing so the next batch does not spread or start baking too quickly. When using two baking sheets, space them evenly and switch positions halfway during baking. It is better to under-bake cookies slightly as they will continue to bake when you remove them from the oven. My last bit of advice on this subject is that the baker should be the first to taste, so have that cold milk, hot tea or coffee ready for your tasting!