Today is my First Reader’s birthday. We have no gift-exchange traditions, we are as likely to give one another spontaneous gifts as we are to wait for some arbitrarily special day. So for his birthday I had planned to do our usual of making a special meal for him (tonight will be steak and veg and fresh dinner rolls), and I did get him a silly gift, but gave it to him early (digression – he loves lights, as in work lights, so when I saw a glove with LEDs on the fingers for working in tight spaces I had to get it, even if it is really cheesy). But this year his coworkers had let him know that the tradition is for the natal day to be celebrated by the person bringing in treats. Not for the whole plant, surely? I asked. He said he’d find out for me.
Which is what led to him announcing about a month ago – before I knew I had a job – that he’d need 6 dozen cookies by this morning. Can you make 12 dozen? he asked, so we’d have enough for the kids and house, too.
It turns out, no, I can’t make six dozen cookies. I can, however, make eight kinds of cookies, introduce him to a new favorite, learn that my favorite cookie is amazingly easy to make, and defeat a culinary challenge. All in about eight hours of work. It’s not terribly different from the Christmas baking I once did, or the massive baking orgies my sister and I used to do monthly to keep the family in lunch cookies and snacks. What it does require is a bit of planning ahead and preparation.
First, I had to figure out what kinds of cookies we’d be making and ensure we had enough supplies on hand. I knew I wanted to try French Macarons, and this was a great excuse to tackle that challenge. Second, I knew his favorite cookie was oatmeal. He also decided he wanted me to try a couple of new recipes, and then when I was talking about Macarons, the Otaku Princess begged for Coconut Macaroons. Why not?
- French Macarons (made up ~70, sandwiched to 21 presentable ones) (filled with Mulberry-Blackberry Jam whipped together with cream cheese)
- Oatmeal Walnut Cookies (made 6 dozen)
- Pinwheel Cookies (because they look fancy without decorating effort) (made 2 1/2 dozen)
- Butterscotch Chip Cookies (didn’t make the cut, they didn’t have enough flour and weren’t pretty, even though very tasty) (made 2 dozen)
- Pecan Sandies (recipe calls for hazelnuts, which I didn’t have, but I did have pecans) (made, um, a lot. I doubled the batch and shouldn’t have. At least 6 dozen)
- Chocolate Brownie Salted Caramel Cookies (happened because we found bags of Salted Caramel chips at the store) (made 3 1/2 dozen)
- Nauvoo Gingerbread (makes 6 dozen)
- Coconut Macaroons (made 3 dozen)
You’ll note some recipes have links, others don’t. I was using an old reliable recipe for the Butterscotch Chip, which failed I think because I sifted before measuring, which I often don’t bother with. For the Oatmeal Walnut I was riffing off an Alton Brown recipe (in I’m just here for More Food) but I added all the spices I would for spice cake. the Chocolate Brownie Salted Caramel Cookie came from the same book, Chocolate Chip recipe, but I added 1/2 c cocoa powder and of course switched out the chips. The Pinwheel Cookies were also from a book – my old reliable Fannie Farmer, the sugar cookie recipe aplit in half, and 1/4 c cocoa powder added to one half.
I organized the baking to keep things moving, so I never had a point where I was sitting around waiting on things. This meant I started out with a drop cookie (the Salted Caramels) so it would be baking, while I got the rolled cookie doughs that would need to chill started (sugar cookies for pinwheels, gingerbread, and Pecan Sandies). Once I had all of them in the fridge, I started on the oatmeal cookies. The other thing I was doing was separating the two fat based doughs – the gingerbread and sandies are both lard fatted, while the oatmeal, salted caramel, sugar cookies, and butterscotch chip are butter-based. I left the meringue-based recipes for last, because I wanted my cooking area and bowls to be absolutely clean and my area decluttered before I got to them.
I kept decorating to a minimum – I want to make a nice presentation, but I wanted this variety to be more about flavor than flashy looks. That, and I knew I would have limited time to put into this, and decorating takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. I enjoy it, and it’s lots of fun with royal icing and colors, but for this I was going to keep the effort minimal while still making a great spread. I didn’t originally plan to make eight kinds, but when the butterscotch failed, I added another one, and I couldn’t resist the macaroons, they are my favorite!
I don’t think I could have done this without the stand mixer. It kept my physical fatigue down to a manageable level and freed me up to just assembly-line the cookies. Even a hand mixer would be useful, but it can’t handle the stiff doughs – or the very large batches.
I, um, lost count of how many cookies I made. I sent more than 6 dozen to work with the First Reader this morning. There were six boxes made, I sent five with him, and each box contained 21 cookies approximately (might have been more in a few) and the sixth box goes with me to work tomorrow. Oh, the boxes… I’d decided when I started this that there was no good way to send them to work with him. Paper plates and ziplocs were right out. Amazon to the rescue! Bakery boxes with cello windows let me create professional-looking varieties, and people are more likely to eat them that way… But in the end, I made probably 24 dozen cookies, although only about 12 were baked up on the day, the other doughs were wrapped tightly and frozen. We will have fresh cookies with minimal effort for quite some time now!
As with any endeavour like this, I learned as I went. I’ve been baking cookies for more than three decades, and still, I’m learning. I had no idea coconut macaroons were so easy to make. We will have them more often, they were scarfed and they were incredibly good while warm. I was blown away and so happy with them. The First Reader tried the Nauvoo Gingerbread, since he’d wanted a lard-based cookie, and fell in love with it. It’s neck-and-neck with the oatmeal as his favorite cookie now. I learned that although you are supposed to sift and then measure, or cook by weight, it’s not always a good idea, I had trouble with three recipes, although I was able to adjust two on the fly and salvage them. Baking a small (1 doz) test batch before committing them all to the oven is a good idea. I also learned something I sort of knew, but hadn’t tried fully – silicone sheets are the bomb for mass baking. I was able to use my four cookie sheets, three silpats, and parchment paper to keep the oven going almost continuously with short periods where I adjusted the temperatures. I do need more cooling racks, though.
Most successful, very fun, and I don’t want to do it again for at least a month. Maybe two. I have a LOT of dough in the freezers!