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December 21, 2013

Culinary Conversation: Baking Christmas cookies, chapter 2

NEW CASTLE — Are you still making Christmas cookies?

Or are you waiting until this weekend to finish your baking?

Whatever the case, there most likely won’t be a crumb left when you present your best dropped, pressed, bar, molded or icebox cookies at your holiday get-togethers.

Somewhere in my house is a cookie press. I used it twice — both times to make spritz cookies. I also inherited one from my mother. I don’t know where that one is, either.

But I did locate a Pillsbury’s Best Butter Cookie cookbook belonging to mom that cost 20 cents so I’m guessing it’s from the early 1960s. In that book is a recipe for spritz cookies, which can be formed into different shapes including long strips, stars, wreaths, bells, Christmas trees and flowers.

The cookie tips in that book from 50 years ago still apply today. They may seem simple and obvious but can make all the difference in the final results.

So if there’s baking left to do, remember a few basics — preheat the oven, use a baking sheet with little or no sides because pans with deep sides prevent browning, don’t excessively grease your baking sheets because that could cause the cookies to spread and burn on the bottom and edges, and cool cookies on a flat surface or wire rack.

And whoever invented parchment paper should receive an award.

How you store cookies is also very important. Make sure the containers have tight-fitting covers. Store soft cookies and crisp cookies in separate containers, and bar-type cookies can be stored right in their baking pans, tightly covered with aluminum foil.

Keep soft cookies moist by putting a slice of bread or half an apple in their container. If crisp cookies soften in storage, heat in a 300-degree oven about 5 minutes before serving.

Many cookies also freeze very well. There are lots of containers to use — wide-mouthed screw-top glass jars, or canisters and coffee tins with tight covers, sealed with masking tape. You may also use commercial freezer containers. My methods are my old, but still very useful Tupperware pans and tins I have collected over the years. Wax paper goes between each layer of cookies and I finish with several layers of aluminum foil before putting on the lid.

Here’s probably the most important tip — oven temperatures vary. So it’s best to check cookies after a few minutes, especially those baking at higher heat. They may take a shorter or longer time than the recipe indicates.

Now that cookie baking 101 is out of the way, let’s get to some cookies.

From Culinary Conversation to you, Merry Christmas.

Pinwheel Cookies

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