As a busy working mother, I'm short on time, especially during the holidays, but baking Christmas cookies is a family tradition I'm unwilling to give up. Over the years, I've come up with many ways to make the process of baking a large variety of cookies go much smoother and take less time out of my busy life. You may want to start by checking out my 6-day program for hassle-free Christmas cookie baking ( http://www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com/hassle-free.php ). In addition to the 6-step method, I've found an efficient way to prepare a large variety of cookie dough with minimum fuss by setting up a cookie assembly line. The best part about this process is that you can make 12 different batches of cookies and only have to wash the dishes once!
This process assumes that you have already chosen your recipes and gone grocery shopping. You will want to use your longest available expanse of countertop for this. My assembly line turns two corners as it winds around my small kitchen, but that is fine.
You may need to make some adjustments depending on your individual recipes, but for most recipes, you can set up your assembly line like so:
-Large mixing bowl
-Measuring cups and spoons
-Fork for stirring
-Baking powder and baking soda
-Any other dry ingredients that are added to the flour in your recipes
-Another large mixing bowl (or the bowl from your stand mixer)
-A second set of measuring cups and spoons
-Butter, shortening, margarine and/or cream cheese
-Sugar (white and brown)
-Vanilla and other extracts
-Chunks such as raisins, nuts, chocolate chips
-Any other ingredients that are added to the butter and eggs in your recipes
To avoid transferring flavors from one recipe to another, you will start with basic recipes that have no spices, chocolate, or other strongly flavored ingredients. Starting with your first recipe, go down the line measuring out the amount of flour, baking powder/soda and salt into one bowl. Then, combine the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla in your larger bowl as directed. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture. After that, stir in any chunks.
Next, scrape down the edges of the mixing bowl so that it's fairly clean, shape the dough into a ball, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Identify the recipe by writing its name on the plastic wrap with a felt-tip marker, and refrigerate it. If it is a slice-and-bake refrigerator cookie, form it into a log instead of a ball, according to the directions in your recipe. If you plan to bake much later, you can even freeze the dough. Most cookie doughs freeze very well. Defrost at room temperature while still wrapped in plastic wrap, and unwrap only when dough is thoroughly defrosted. Otherwise condensation could add too much moisture to your dough.
When your first batch of dough is prepared, wrapped, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, return to the beginning of your assembly line, without washing your dishes, and begin preparing the next batch of dough. When you have prepared all the recipes that contain no spices or cocoa, move on to the recipes that contain cocoa, and finally those that contain spices. This way, you will only have to do dishes once at the end of the process, and you will have several different kinds of dough waiting to be baked.
When all your dough is prepared, then you can finally put away all your ingredients, clean up the kitchen, and do your dishes. Now if you plan to finish your baking today, you'll have lots of space for rolling out your dough or setting out your cooling racks. If you plan to bake another day, you're done!
Copyright 2004 Mimi Cummins. All Rights Reserved.
Mimi Cummins is co-author of the book "Christmas Cookies Are for Giving: Recipes, Stories, and Tips for Making Heartwarming Gifts." This book, "enthusiastically recommended" by Midwest Book Review, is full of baking tips and hints, including nearly 50 recipes each with a full-color photo. For more information visit http://www.christmascookiesareforgiving.com/ or order from your favorite online bookstore.
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