The Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Christmas Baking Begins

It's here ! It's here! it's the most wonderful time of the year !

The Christmas season is my favourite time of year for a number of reasons. The cold snap in the air. Mittens and hats and scarves. Spending time with the family. The excitement in a young child's eyes; and the certain sparkle in the eyes of the young at heart.

But by far, this is my favourite time of year for baking. Each year around mid November, I pull out all my baking books and magazines and start marking what I want to make. I also begin a list of ingredients I'll need. I try to keep my selection of recipes down to an even dozen. However, each year it is a struggle between the tried and true cookies that our family loves and the new recipes that I want to try. There is also a discussion and decision meeting with the family. So quite often that selection process ends up at about 16 different varieties.

You may think that 16 different kinds of holiday treats is a bit overboard, but in a family of bakers, this is actually quite easily accomplished. My parents are lucky to have a large kitchen. Having two mixers going at the same time is also a time saver. (I bring mine over to my parents' house and we set them up side-by-side).

Most of the recipes call for a chilled dough, so the batters are often made in advance and then wrapped and labeled for a later time. We find that if we make all the dough over one week, and then do the baking the following week, it doesn't seem like such an ordeal.

When it comes to rolling out the dough and cutting the shapes, we have three stations going; two on the long kitchen table and one on the counter. So really, there are three people working on three different cookies at one time. We just make sure we are all working on recipes that call for the same oven temperature.

The dining room table gets converted into the cooling and storage area. Once a particular batch of cookies has cooled overnight, they get packed into a large tins and labeled. Hard cookies will stay in the dining room, soft cookies will head to the freezer downstairs.

But more important than the actual baking are the memories we share as we are making the dough and cutting the shapes. There are some pretty amazing conversations that occur when there are three people all rolling, cutting and baking at the same time with Bing Crosby playing in the background.

Okay, so what do we need with 16 types of cookies, with between 50 to 60 cookies per recipe? Well, in truth, we give most of it away as gifts. My Oma (grandmother) lives in a wonderful home where a good majority of the residents are of Western European decent (predominantly Dutch, but also German, Danish, and Belgians). They all enjoy home baking, especially those traditional treats they remember from their homelands. So we pack up a couple large tins with an assortment of 4 or so dozen cookies in each for her to offer to her guests that come for coffee. Oma is also diabetic, so we know she won't be eating them herself; and she doesn't have time to bake. My Oma is, and has always been a social butterfly. Her personal appointment calendar rivals that of most teenagers.

Mom likes to give baskets of home made jams, jellies, salsa and a variety of baked goods to her close friends. This will take up another 15 to 20 dozen cookies. Then she also brings a large platter of them to the Christmas Concert for her students. There goes another 12 dozen. I take a few of tins packed with 3 or 4 dozen each to my work, so there is another 10 to 12 dozen. What are we at now ....52 dozen?? That's 624 cookies. Which, if you've been following my math, leaves 176 cookies or 14.67 dozen. These get divided into individual treat bags with a dozen per bag and tied with pretty ribbon to hand out as needed (the postman, the pharmacist who takes my mom's prescriptions over the phone, the delivery driver who comes every other week with her dialysis equipment supplies). Some will go home with my brother and his girlfriend, others home with my nephew.

So really we are left with about 6 dozen assorted cookies for actual drop-by guests and "personal consumption." And when we feel we can't stand to look at another cookie, we pack up the remainder and stick them in the freezer until summer. Lebkuchen and Speculaas in the middle of July? Why not.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting some baking and cookie photos. I hope you will be inspired by these and want to bake something tasty for someone you love.

Happy Baking!

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