Aspiring author Debra Sennefelder has two constant writing companions, her Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy. She's been an avid reader since childhood and found writing came naturally for her. When she's not writing, she loves to cook, exercise (yes, really) and read. Learn more about Debra at her .
There are a few things I share in common with Hope Early, the amateur sleuth in my mystery series. One of those things is the love of baking, and Christmas is my Super Bowl. The other thing Hope and I share is that we are extremely busy, so we look to streamline as many things as possible. Since I love to bake cookies at Christmas and I work a full-time job and I am writing and I have a home to maintain and I ... you get the picture...I've come up with a method to bake batches and batches of cookies without having to spend countless hours in the kitchen.
I've been baking Christmas cookies for over 20 years and I've learned a thing or two about the process. This baking obsession started innocently enough with a cake when I was about twelve years old. My mom wasn't a baker so she used boxed mixes and I made a simple one-layer cake and covered it with white frosting and added some Christmas decorations to bring to our family's holiday dinner.
I was greeted by oohs and ahhs and I admit, I liked it. Watching everyone enjoy my cake made me feel happy, accomplished and proud. Over the years I traded in the Christmas cake for cookies because everybody loves a cookie and they're easy to make. But since I usually bake 10-12 different types of cookies for the holiday season, I needed to find a way to streamline the process. I've experimented with a few ideas - fewer cookies (not a good option), freezing baked cookies (not every cookie freezes well) or adding mini-cakes to my cookie trays (the people in my life want Christmas cookies, end of story). And over the past few years it's become more important to me that I not spend hours every night after work baking because I need to use that time writing. And weekends? Well, errands need to be run and the house needs to be cleaned and I need to write.
So how do I manage to deliver dozens of cookies to friends, family and co-workers?
#1 - Plan
#2 - Prep ahead
#3- Freeze the dough
#4 – Bake
Here's how I pull it all together.
In October I pull out my planner, and I list all the cookies I want to bake. There are some that I bake every year--Ginger Crackles, Double Chocolate Crescents, Rugelach, Sugar cookies, Chocolate Chip (the only cookie my husband eats), and Cranberry Drop cookies.
Then I decide on 4-6 other cookies I'd like to bake. With my list completed I create my shopping list. I review each recipe for the ingredients, and over the next few weeks I spread those purchases out during my regular shopping trips so it’s a little easier on the budget and I can take advantage on any sales. I also make sure to include gallon sized zip lock bags.
I then schedule my baking days. Since I gift these cookies, I usually bake ahead of Christmas Eve so I have time to make deliveries. I base the baking days on when I plan on delivering the cookies. I identify which cookies can be held the longest (it's usually no more than three-four days) and work down to the cookies that need to be delivered within 24 hours of baking (my Double Chocolate Crescents are those type of cookies, best served right after they’re baked).
Then I set the dates for my prep work.
The prep period is usually Thanksgiving weekend. I settled on this period a few years ago. I used to do the prep work in the evening after work but between working all day and writing at night, I couldn't continue to do that. Thanksgiving weekend gives me 3 full days to dedicate to prepping all of my baking bags.
On prep days I prepare all the dry ingredients for each cookie. It's that simple. Scoop, measure and dump into a re-sealable gallon sized bag and label. Then I move on to the next recipe. By the end I have all of the dry ingredients ready to go for baking. At this point, you can make the cookie dough and freeze it for baking at a later date. Depending how many cookies I have to bake, I will do this.
On my baking days all I have to do is grab a bag and then pull together all of the wet ingredients and mix, scoop and bake. Or, if you’ve frozen the dough, defrost in the refrigerator and bake.
I use more re-sealable bags and containers to store the baked cookies.
Just before I deliver the cookies, I bring out my trays (everyone on my cookie delivery list returns my trays and cookie tins so they can be reused) and cookie tins and begin assembly. I typically post on Facebook my baking progress so friends and family eagerly await their gift. It's so awesome to see their faces light up when I hand over my cookies. It never gets old. And the added bonus is that I am still able to balance everything that I need to do, which includes writing the second book in my series this holiday season.
At this time of the year we’re all in a time crunch and this is one way I found to help ease the stress of the season. Do you have a tip or two that helps lessen the stress of the holidays? If so, please share.
Before I go I’d like to share the recipe for my Double Chocolate Crescent Cookies. They are my favorite cookies and it’s very, very hard to resist devouring them just after they’ve come out of the oven. As I mentioned earlier, these cookies do not do well stored and should be baked within 2 days of sharing.
Double Chocolate Crescent Cookies
Yield: approximately 2 dozen
1 ¾ cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ pound butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (in a pinch you can use regular chocolate chips)
Confectioners’ sugar for dredging
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, cocoa and salt.
With an electric mixer set at medium-low speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Reduce speed and beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Dough will be crumbly and dry. That’s okay.
Scoop dough into approximately 1-1/4” balls (you can use a tablespoon measure spoon for this part or an ice cream scoop). Roll each ball into a log about 3” long and taper ends. Bend each log into a crescent shape. (I use a donut cutter for uniform crescents, gently shape the log inside the cutter). Place about 2” apart on a silicone sheet lined baking sheet pan and bake until the edges are set and the bottoms are dry but corners are slightly soft, 10-15 minutes.
Remove from the cookie sheet carefully as to not break the cookies and immediately dredge in confectioners’ sugar. Continue to handle the cookies gently. Let them cool completely and dredge a second time in confectioners’ sugar.