Holiday Cookie Swap in Bella Vista

I have to admit that I sometimes get my terminology wrong.  It was not, as my husband reminded me, a cookie toss; it was a cookie swap sponsored by the Bella Vista Neighbor’s Association and organized by BVNA board member Liana Ottaviani,  and held at the Charles Santore Library on December 16.  

Everyone knows that cookies are special.  I mean, have you ever met anyone who professed not to like cookies?  Cookie Monster is right when he says “Today me will live in the moment unless it’s unpleasant in which case me will eat a cookie.”

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Christmas Cookies are even more special but it’s hard to find the time to bake more than a couple of varieties.  That’s why a cookie swap is so much fun.  Liana asked each of the participants to bring six dozen cookies.  Everyone got at least a half dozen cookies from the other cookie swappers. 

Fante’s   donated coffee (really good coffee by the way!) and bakery boxes so we could tote our treasures home.

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Children’s book author and neighborhood resident Martha Freeman not only baked cookies, she brought copies of her books  including her latest one, the Secret Cookie Clubto autograph.

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Liana and Martha

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Meeting neighbors and enjoying that great coffee with our cookies.

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Here are the cookies we made and exchanged with one another.    I contributed the biscotti in the lower right hand corner.  You can find the recipe here.  Liana collected everyone’s recipes and printed a little cookbook for us.

Thank you Liana, thank you Fante’s and thank you Bella Vista Neighbors!

Welcome to My Holiday Cookie Bake Shop

Baked

 

I didn’t have an Easy Bake Oven when I was little. I didn’t need one. My mother let me use the big oven, with her supervision of course, but I was turning out cakes and cookies by the time I was six. I remember when I was in Kindergarten, my friend Debbie Levine asked me to come over to her house for lunch. I came and brought some peanut butter cookies for dessert-you know, the lunch box classic with the crossed fork marks on the top. “I baked them myself,” I announced proudly.

Debbie must not have been too impressed because she took a bite out of one and screwed up her face. “Eewww,” she said, “they taste like throw up.” Debbie’s mother rushed over and took the cookie from her hand and said, “Debbie we don’t treat our guests like that.” I wasn’t too upset because I knew Debbie was only kidding. She finished the first cookie and had a second one.

My mother made spritz every Christmas and had an ongoing battle with her constantly malfunctioning cookie gun. She wouldn’t get a new one though; she preferred thrill of the hunt for the perfect recipe for spritz dough that would work in her cookie gun. She never found it and when she died, I returned her cookie gun to the earth. I was never fond of spritz anyway.

I don’t bake much anymore, but I did bake this year. I thought I would share some of my tips to make the task easier (besides throwing away tools that you can never get to work.)

If you make cookies that have to be cut out and decorated, do yourself a favor and make them over the course of three days. Mix your dough on the first day and let it chill properly. Just put it in the fridge and forget it. Roll, cut out and bake on the second day. Decorate on the third day. This will make your life so much easier. If you think this is impractical, go out and buy some cookies.

cutting out

Properly chilled dough is easier to roll. Rather than dusting with flour during the rolling, I prefer to use cooking spray. I spray the rolling surface, my hands, even the rolling pin. If you roll between sheets of wax paper, spray the paper. If after you’ve cut the shapes out the dough is soft again, return the wax paper with the cookies to the fridge for a couple of minutes to let it firm up. You will be able to move the raw cookies to the pan without distorting them.

Rolling pin

It’s important that rolled cookies have a consistent thickness. I have a rolling pin that has different sized rings that fit on the ends to help maintain uniformity. You can get yourself a set of rings here.

Parchment brown

Baked on parchment paper

If you learn only one thing from this post, let it be these two words: parchment paper. Parchment paper for baking that is. I don’t know what took me so long to start using this stuff but once you use it, you won’t go back. It saves on pan cleanup and you don’t have to grease your cookie sheets. It’s easy transfer a whole batch of baked cookies off the hot pan for cooling and it’s easy to get them off the paper. Foil or a so-called non-stick pan will not give the same results. I do not advocate any particular brand. I bought mine at a grocery store. I have heard that you can’t use sheet more than once. Not true although it does become brittle after awhile and since you can’t really clean it, you don’t want to save it too long.
Twokinds

The more fat chocolate chip cookies have in them, the more they spread. If you want firmer cookies, use less butter and make up the liquid balance with water or eggs. The cookies in the foreground had more butter in the recipe and those in the background had less. Both taste fine. It’s your choice
I love the convenience of refrigerator cookies and who says you can’t slice and bake drop cookies like chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies? It’s easy. I make logs of cookie dough, wrap it in foil and put it in the freezer. It never freezes rock solid. A day or two later, I unwrap the dough, slice and bake. What could be easier? These cookies keep a shape too. But with any cookie, always make sure you start out with a cold cookie sheet. Otherwise your cookies will spread more and you won’t get the shape you want. I have two cookie sheets and bake with one sheet at a time. When a batch of cookies comes out of the oven, I wait a couple of minutes and lift the sheet of parchment with the baked cookies (carefully!) off the pan and put it on a rack or other surface to cool. Then I let the pan cool before putting the next batch on it. If there is a short time between batches, I will cool the pan in the sink with cold water. It really does make a difference.
Well, tomorrow night is decorating time! Here are some more pictures of today’s cookies.