Hassle-Free Holiday Baking: 6
Easy Days to Perfect Christmas Cookies
By Mimi Cummins,
Cookbook author Mimi Cummins shares her secret for baking a large assortment
of holiday goodies during the busiest time of the
Like many people, I love the idea of making a large assortment of Christmas
cookies during the holidays, but I find it difficult to find the time to
get it done. As a working mother, cookbook author and webmaster of
I am a very busy woman, but baking Christmas cookies every year is a must.
Over the past few years, out of frustration and necessity, I have developed
a system for organizing my Christmas baking. This system allows me to make
a large variety of holiday treats without taking too much time out of my
busy schedule. By dividing the tasks up into 6 days, I can spend a couple
hours each day getting this done, and on the 7th day, relax and enjoy giving
and eating some delicious Christmas cookies. After all, God rested on the
7th day! You dont even have to do this on 6 consecutive days. Most
of the steps can be done days and even weeks in advance, giving you a great
head start on your holidays.
Search your books, recipe cards, and favorite Web sites and decide what recipes
to make this year. I usually mix my traditional family recipes with a few
new recipes for variety. 6 to 12 different recipes makes a nice assortment,
depending on how many people you have to feed and how much time you have
to spend baking. Write down the name of each recipe on a piece of paper,
as well as the source of the recipe so that you can look it up later, such
as the Web site URL or page number in a cookbook. Print out the recipes that
you find online, and set aside the books or recipe cards youll need
so that you can access them easily on Day 2. Things you may want to consider
when making your selection are:
-difficulty of the recipe if you are a novice cook or will be baking with
-cost of special ingredients such as chocolate or nuts, if you are on a budget,
-whether the cookies keep well or can they be frozen, if youd like
to do your baking ahead of time.
Consulting your list of recipes, create your shopping list. Calculate roughly
how much of each ingredient youll need in total by adding up cups of
butter, number of eggs, and other common ingredients. Include in your list:
-All of the ingredients for the cookies. Check what you have at home for
freshness. Nuts and shortening will go rancid after a few months, and baking
powder and baking soda lose their effectiveness, so keep this in mind: out
with the old, in with the new! Fresh ingredients are the key to good tasting
-Any baking tools you may need. Consider replacing old worn out tools or
adding a new tool to your collection each year.
-Anything you may need for decorating such as food coloring, colored sugars
and jimmies, or pastry bags for piping frosting.
-Containers like plastic tubs, cookie tins, or even cardboard boxes to store
your cookies in. Make sure you have containers that are large enough to hold
a complete batch of each cookie (look at the yield of your recipe if youre
not sure). If you plan to parcel them out for gift-giving, make sure you
have enough containers for each recipient.
-Organize your shopping list according to store, such as: grocery store,
kitchen or home store, cake decorating supply store, etc.
Go shopping! Lay out your plan of action so that you go to the grocery store
last of all, so that you can take your refrigerated ingredients home as soon
as possible. Of course, if you live in a very cold climate, this is not too
much of a worry. When you get home, wash your new baking tools and put all
the non-perishable ingredients in one place so that you can easily get them
out on Day 4. At my house, I have a designated baking cupboard that gives
me easy access to everything I need on days I decide to bake. You can do
Day 3 weeks before you plan to bake as long as you:
-Freeze your butter or shortening, and
-buy the perishables such as eggs and cream cheese just before you plan to
Today you will just make the dough for your cookies, but you will not actually
bake them! Most cookie doughs can safely be refrigerated for days or frozen
for weeks before you need to make the cookies. The reason for doing it this
way is because when making several different kinds of cookies at the same
time, its very efficient to make all your dough at once while you have
all your ingredients and baking tools at hand. If you do have a particular
recipe that cant be frozen, identify it and plan to make it on Day
Remember to bring refrigerated items like butter, eggs, and cream cheese
to room temperature before you start to assemble your recipes. Take them
out of the refrigerator at least a couple hours before you plan to bake.
To make this process even easier, Ive developed a system for making
dough assembly-line style, which you can read more about in
article about the Cookie Assembly Line. Wrap each ball of dough in plastic
wrap, identify it by writing the name of the recipe on the plastic wrap with
a felt-tip marker, and refrigerate it or freeze 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. Make sure to keep your recipes in a handy place
so that you dont have to search for them on Day 5.
Today is baking day! Check your recipe: if you have to work with dough at
room temperature (as recommended for most cookie press cookies) then take
your dough out ahead of time and let it warm up to room temperature before
you begin forming the cookies. If you have frozen your dough, allow it to
thaw in the plastic wrap and only remove the plastic wrap once it has reached
the desired temperature. If you remove the plastic while it is still frozen,
then condensation will form on the dough and that will add too much moisture.
Start with the recipes that call for the lowest oven temperature and pre-heat
your oven to that temperature. Remove dough from the refrigerator, line your
baking sheets with parchment paper (no greasing!) and prepare the dough for
baking as called for in your recipe. You may have to roll out the dough and
cut it with cookie cutters, or fill it with some kind of filling, or place
it in a special pan like a mini-muffin pan or a Madeleine mold, or simply
slice and bake the rolls you made on Day 4. Once all the cookies that are
baked at the lowest temperature are completed, raise your oven temperature
to the next highest to bake those cookies, and so on.
Even if you have some of the handy stackable cooling racks, you will surely
run out of space to cool several batches of cookies. Placing a double-thickness
of aluminum foil on your countertop is a good substitute for a cooling rack
when you run out of space. Once your cookies are completely cooled to room
temperature, line your containers with waxed paper and place your cookies
in the containers one layer at a time, with another sheet of waxed paper
in between each layer. Then return the containers to the refrigerator if
they will not be eaten for a day or two, or you can leave them out at room
temperature until the next day. If they wont be eaten or shipped for
several days, you can wrap the entire container in plastic wrap and freeze
your cookies for up to 2 weeks. You can freeze them for longer than this
if you wrap the cookies in small stacks of 5 or 6 before placing them in
their containers. Defrost the cookies at room temperature, leaving them wrapped
until they are thoroughly defrosted.
Many of your recipes may be completed at this point if they dont require
Day 6 is decorating day. For many of us, this is the most enjoyable step
in the cookie-baking process. Decorating should always be done no more than
2 days before the cookies will be eaten, ideally the day or even the morning
before. Now you will make your various frostings and icings, or prepare your
melted chocolate for drizzling, or dust with powdered sugar to decorate your
cookies as directed. If your cookies are not to be eaten immediately, make
sure that the icing or melted chocolate has thoroughly set and hardeneda
process that may take several hoursbefore stacking the cookies back
in their containers, again separating the layers with sheets of waxed paper.
Cookies that have been frosted with a buttercream-type frosting cannot be
stacked. They should be stored in a single layer with a loose covering of
Relax and enjoy your holiday, because your Christmas baking is 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
or order from your favorite online bookstore.