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Christmas Cookies: Carefree cut-outs

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Ever since I can remember, the quest for the perfect Christmas cut out cookie was mine come holiday baking time. As a child, the cute misshaped and gaudy decorations were a nice addition to the holiday plates and as a teen, I settled for being a helper on cookie baking day, washing dishes, rolling dough, running errands, putting pans in and out of the oven, or counting the final product for distribution. Now, as an adult and a degree holding culinary professional, I still long for the shiny magazine cover perfect cookies, and settle for something less. This year, as the cookie exchange nears, our traditions have changed and I thought my approach to cookie baking should too. So I researched a bit and found some helpful tips – hopefully to those out there that share my holiday baking drama, these tips will be of some use.
Butter verses Margarine: It’s taste and it’s tradition but whatever route you chose, the execution of the recipe will be a bit different. Keep the following in mind:
• Look for margarine with an 80% or higher fat content. Anything lower will have more water and that will cause your cookies to spread.
• Butter temperature is important. To get it soft, let it sit. By microwaving your butter, you can cause the cookies to become flat, since the butter is melted.
• Follow the instructions – no question about it. If your dough calls to be chilled – make sure it’s chilled. If your recipe used margarine, its best to freeze your dough to get the best form to cut out those cookies.
Oven 101: A few tricks to getting the perfect baked cookie – no matter what your recipe.
• Cool your pans in between baking – this will help the cookies bake more consistently.
• Use an edgeless cookie sheet – if you don’t have one, flip your cookie sheet over, and now you do.
• Parchment paper can help make sure your cookies cook evenly on the bottom, no matter what shape your pan may be in. I’ve been taught the spray-parchment-spray method – spray the cookie sheet, lay the parchment down and a light spray again but, just the parchment on its own will help turn those dark burned bottoms to a nice golden light. When it doubt – take it out earlier. Do not overcook!
Finishing touches: A great tasting and pretty looking icing can be achieved. The store bought versions look great and dry fast but take away from the taste of your cookie. You can make your own frosting in just a few quick steps.
• It is best to bag up your royal icing in two consistencies. Use a thick consistency to outline your cookie, and use a thinner consistency to flood inside your outline.
• Keep a small spatula and toothpick on hand to help smooth out you icing and to pop any air bubbles that may come up, as well as clean out your icing tip of any clogs or dried icing.
• Remember that a little bit of water goes a long way, add in small increments to thin your icing. You can always add more but it is more difficult to balance your texture and color when you have added too much water. I add by 1/8 of a teaspoon at a time – it’s just a few drops but makes a big difference. Using a gel food coloring is also best to keep your texture and consistency of the icing that you want.

If all else fails - you can make simple cookies look beautiful with just a bit of decorating. Gingerbread cookies outlined with a simple thick icing and let dry, or make things glitter with edible sugar glitter. You can also use any assortment of glazes, clear, flavor, chocolate or get creative with a caramel drizzle and some sea salt – you’ve got a modern flavor that looks nice AND tastes great!

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