My lost weekend: Cookiepalooza 2011

Man, I’m tired. But in a good way…

A few weeks ago I declared that this weekend would be Cookiepalooza. This annual event at our home involves a whole lot of baking, and then a whole lot of packaging as we prepare to pretty much give away everything we just made to colleagues and daycare teachers.

We started this tradition quite a few years ago as we struggled to find gifts for our colleagues that didn’t cost more than we’d spend on our families and wouldn’t be relegated to some pile of “crippity crap” in the attic. (We all have those – come on, now! Don’t lie.) Since we love baking, the idea of finding really yummy recipes that could be divided up and shared – and that weren’t necessarily ones we would make the rest of the year – made a lot of sense.

We typically make double batches of everything we bake. So it is more work than just a batch of cookies on a Saturday morning. And there I was, at the crack of 5 on a Saturday morning, preparing to launch into Cookiepalooza.

We started off with a bunch of Poor Man’s Turtles.

Poor Man’s Turtles

  • 1 bag Rolo candies, unwrapped
  • 1 bag mini-pretzels
  • 1 bag pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and line a rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the pretzels salted side up on the cookie sheet; you can place them as close together as you’d like. Then top each pretzel with an unwrapped rolo. Place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 3 minutes (they may not look melted, but believe me, everything’s at the right temperature by this point). Remove the sheet from the oven, and place a pecan half on top of each rolo, pressing down to incorporate all three ingredients. Allow to set completely before removing from the cookie sheet.

This one was so popular, my husband ran out for more rolos and pecans on Saturday so we could make more.

Then, it was on to make some cutout cookies. Our idea was to glaze and personalize one of these lovelies for each package.

Holiday Cookies (from America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking cookbook)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup superfine sugar (you can usually find this in the baking goods aisle of your grocery store; if you can’t though, process 1 cup of granulated sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds and measure out 3/4 cup from there.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat the butter into the flour mixture, one piece at a time. Continue to beat the flour-butter mixture until it looks crumbly and slightly wet, 1 – 2 minutes.

Beat in the cream cheese and vanilla until the dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds. Knead the dough in the bowl by hand a few times until it forms a large cohesive mass.

Transfer the dough to a clean counter and divide it into 2 even pieces. Press each piece into a 4-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until the dough is firm yet malleable, about 30 minutes.

Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll the dough out between 2 large sheets of parchment paper to an even 1/8-inch thickness. With the dough sandwiched between the parchment, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (fun tip: use refrigerator magnets at each corner of your baking sheet to keep the paper from curling up while you place your dough on it).

Working with 1 sheet of dough at a time, remove the top piece of parchment and stamp out cookies using cookie cutters. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet with a thin metal spatula, spaced about 1 inch apart. If you have enough dough left over, roll it into a ball, and repeat the process above for rolling it out into a sheet, chilling briefly before cutting out more shapes.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time, until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

We broke away from that recipe to focus on the next one, involving coconut and chocolate chips!

Chocolate Chip Coconut Chews (from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book)

  • 3 cups shredded coconut
  • 1 6-ounce package semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 package Betty Crocker fluffy frosting mix (they still make this, folks; check the pre-made frostings in the baking aisle of the grocery store; it’s sold in little boxes.)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place coconut and chocolate pieces in bowl. Prepare frosting mix as package directs. With a fork, stir frosting into coconut and chocolate pieces. Using two forks, drop tablespoon-size mounds on lightly greased cookie sheet (or use parchment; I did!). Bake 17 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool a minute or two before removing from baking sheet.

And then, Cookiepalooza was nearly derailed. As I made the chocolate chip coconut chews, it hit me how they were very meringue-like in taste and even a bit in texture. And what was next on the Cookiepalooza roster? Meringues! That wouldn’t do. I like a little variety in these goodie bags, and try to balance out the tastes and textures so the recipient gets a little bit of everything. By this time the holiday cookies were completely cooled, and ready for icing. So I mixed up some icing and meditated on a substitute recipe that we could work in to replace the meringues.

Easy All-Purpose Glaze (from America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
  • Food coloring, as needed

Whisk milk and cream cheese until smooth; add sugar and whisk until completely blended. Spread the glaze onto the cookies using the back of the spoon. Let the glaze dry completely, about 30 minutes, before serving.

By the time we had frosted the cookies, I realized what was missing from all this sweetness: spice! Molasses cookies would fit the bill nicely. So early the next morning I began assembling the ingredients…

Molasses Spice Cookies (from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

  • 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup molasses

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread 1/2 cup of the sugar in a shallow dish for rolling. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices, pepper, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and remaining 1/3 cup sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in the molasses until incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds.

Working with 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls with wet hands, then roll in the sugar to coat. Lay the balls on prepared baking sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until the edges are set and beginning to brown but the centers are still soft and puffy, about 10 to 12 minutes, rotating each baking sheet halfway through baking. The cookies may look raw between the cracks and seem underdone.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

With cookies made and cooled, it was time to assemble the goodie bags. Like I mentioned earlier, we thought it would be fun to make one of the cookies the actual package label so we wrote names on some of the cookies and wrapped them individually. Then we used larger goodie bags to layer in a selection of all the other cookies before closing and attaching the label bag to the larger bag.

And, done! A total of 23 packages ready to share as we count down to Christmas.

I used to worry that this wasn’t enough – playing right into the commercialism of the season there, aren’t I? Then my husband ran into a former colleague right around this time of year a while back. As they were catching up, his colleague tilted his head to one side and suddenly offered: “I remember it was right around this time of the year that you’d bring in all those treats your wife made at home. Always looked forward to that.” Right then and there, I never worried about this being too little. And shifted my worries instead to making it more delicious. And that’s a challenge I can sink my teeth into!


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