Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Joy of Baking

I know Avo and my mom are right. I have to back away from the Bundt pan and cookie tins for a while. But it is hard when baking is so satisfying.

For one thing, although people can get pretty fancy with pastries and cake decorating, for the most part, baking relies on a few basic ingredients: generally sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder. And the directions are pretty straightforward – you mix the ingredients and then you bake them. Not at all like cooking, where you’ve got to double-check the shopping list to make sure you’ve got the right ingredients and then decide whether you’re going to steam, sautee, smoke, roast or fry your food.

For another thing, apart from a few freaks who don’t like anything sweet, most people appreciate a tasty cookie, cupcake or cake. You don’t have to worry that your guests are vegetarian or don’t like onions or won’t eat fried food.

On a day when I’m procrastinating about articles to write and toilets to clean, it’s satisfying seeing the result of my labor – in the form of a muffin.

So when my friend Kathryn invited me and the girls over for a cookie baking bonanza on Saturday, I didn't hesitate.

In addition to the Butter Spritz dough I prepared, Kathryn prepped the dough in advance for Swedish Tea Cakes, Gingersnaps, Chocolate crinkles and rolled sugar cookies. Where did she get the recipes? From the Pillsbury Kitchen Family Cookbook circa 1979. It's great if you're looking for recipes featuring onion soup mix or for classic cookie recipes. Unfortunately, it's long out of print and is available used on amazon for nearly $90! So take good care of that cookbook, Kathryn.

Even with the dough prepared in advance, it took Kathryn, me and assorted children six hours (!) to churn out five batches of cookies. The kids especially enjoyed decorating the sugar cookies with multi-colored sprinkles -- by the end of the day, the kids were coated in a thin layer of flour and "snacked" by licking the sugar off their hands.

Just to show that even a pro can make an honest mistake, Kathryn accidentally used the Spritz dough for the Swedish tea cakes.

"That's okay. We can paint them with egg yolks and sprinkles. Kids go wild for anything with sprinkles," said Kathryn.

Kathryn was right about the sprinkles, but unfortunately, the Spritz/Swedish tea cakes didn't hold up. They were a crinkled, sprinkled mess. Not one to be discouraged, Kathryn quickly whipped up some more spritz dough, which produced perfectly spritzy cookies. Light, sweet, and buttery.

A helpful baking tip from Kathryn: "Remember, use parchment paper for everything except for the Spritz cookies since they need to stick to the pan."

Aside from the initial batch of botched "Spritz" cookies, the rest of the cookies were delicious -- and so colorful too. The Ginger Snaps were Jesse and my favorite, while Ruby preferred anything with sprinkles. Apparently, this was the most cookies Kathryn has produced in a day. I was proud to be a part of the production process.

The girls and I went home with a nice stash of assorted holiday cookies -- which somehow managed to disappear before the weekend was over.

Perhaps it really is time to take a break from baking or else I'll have to buy a whole new wardrobe -- in a bigger size.


Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - Although I've baked many, many cookies in my lifetime, I've settled on baking cakes and loaves i.e., banana and orange nut. The cookies are too time consuming and the supermarkets have delicious cookies, very often on sale. However, I have a new recipe for biscotti that I'm going to try one of these days.

I do agree with you in that I enjoy baking much more than cooking. I'll leave that to Dad who likes to cook.

MadMom11215 said...

I'm the Kathryn who botched the first batch of spritz dough. For those of you not familiar with spritz, it's a germanic/austrian type butter cookie that you put a press that looks like something from a playdough set. They come out looking like those cookies from the blue Danish cookie tins but so much better. My press is from about 40 years ago, but my mom who haunts home goods found an oh so fancy model that Pedrini makes. also a big shout out to Cooks Companion on Atlantic in Brooklyn Heights. They have the largest selection of sprinkles -- most for $1.75 a jar. And they carry the now illegal silver dragees (little silver BB things) that are required to be labeled non-edible but are fascinating to kids.


Undomesticated Me said...

I think you need a T-shirt that says "I'm Kathryn, who botched the first batch of Spritz dough."

Seriously, you are a marvel in the kitchen. I'm so impressed at how you kept your cool near that hot oven with all of those kids hepped up on sugar.

Thanks again for the baking tutorial.