Thursday, October 16, 2008

How the Cookie Crumbles

These days with the economy the way it is, and holidays around the corner, who doesn’t want to save time and money? Here are some tips to make holiday task more manageable. First break down the big holiday shopping category into smaller groupings such as gifts, parties, food and baking. Set up a budget for each area. This will help you stay within your means. For our purpose let’s just focus on one category, my favorite, baking. The following are some tried and true, time and money saving tips to make the holiday baking season a little less stressful and to give you extra time for other important things. It all starts with planning, sound familiar? Planning is the number one helper in saving time and money. Here are my top ten most helpful steps to get you started on the right track. These tips will help you save time; money; and sanity during any baking venture. 1. Make a list of all the cookies you want to make. Keeping in mind shape, flavor, and texture so you will have a nice assortment of cookies when finished. If you ship cookies you also want to think sturdiness. Most drop cookies will hold up well during the travel process. 2. Gather recipes and ingredients. Make a master shopping list from your recipes. Then look in your pantry or freezer for ingredients you may already have or staples you may be low on. Remember specialty ingredients, items like spices, flavorings, sprinkles, and mix-ins (nuts, choc chips, pieces of candy bars, or coconut). 3. Make a master baking shopping list. This will also allow you to spread out your expenses over several shopping trips. Start purchasing some ingredients ahead when you see them on sale. During the late summer and early fall purchase items such as chocolate chips, flour, and sugar. Knowing your prices helps with knowing how good a sale really is when you happen on one. 4. Be creative. Marked down Halloween candy makes great mix-ins or centers for cookies and brownies. Mix-ins and centers can be altered easily from the original recipe. 5. Oh No’s! What to do with cookies, that don’t turn out right. If you forgot an ingredients or used too much of another ingredient. Don’t trash the batch, use them for something else. Dry them out in a 250˚ F oven and grind them in a food processor many basic cookies such as chocolate chip ,peanut butter and most bar cookies can have as much as 1/3 of the total flour needed can be replaced with dried ground cookie crumbs. 6. No more sticky mess! When measuring shortening or sticky items in measuring cups, line the cup with a piece of plastic wrap first. This will prevent the need to wash the cup for the next ingredient. 7. No Time to bake! If you don’t have time to bake now, mix up batches of dough. Most drop cookie dough made with butter and flour as main ingredients can be frozen now and baked later. If you form the dough into a log and roll it in parchment or wax paper. Then cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Just slice and bake when you have time. You will get best results if dough is still partly frozen while slicing. 8. Parchment paper is your best friend! I know it can be pricey but the time it will save you on clean up is worth the money. In case you didn’t know, parchment paper can be reused until it turns light tan. 9. Make ahead! Freezing baked cookies is another saving grace. About 95% of all cookie varieties can be frozen for up to 3 months without losing flavor. Varieties that don’t freeze well are meringue based, fried, lace and any cookie with hard candy. If you are not sure if a variety you bake freezes well test a sample. Put a few in a zipper seal freezer bag and place them in freezer for overnight. You will know 15 minutes after taking cookies out of the freezer if they are suitable for freezing. Fragile cookies such as cut- outs should be placed in sturdy container s before freezing. Most other cookies can be stored on edge packed tightly together in zipper seal bags. To lock in moisture and freshness, bag cookies as soon as they cool completely. Don’t wait long, cookies start drying out as soon as they come out of the oven. 10. Are we done yet! When I finish my holiday baking for the year, I package extra ingredients in airtight bags or container and freeze them to start the next year. Items that work well for this are choc chips, nuts, coconut, even fruit filling. Baking with family or friends is a great way to spend time together and have fun, even little hands can help. If all the above seems like too much, but you still want homemade baked cookies. Join or start a cookie swap with family and friends. Remember, portion control so you don’t have regrets after the holiday season and stress about weight loss. I know I missed many great ideas so please share your tips for making holiday baking a little less stressful for someone else.

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