Have you baked your cookies yet?
The holidays inevitably evoke memories of baking, standing in the kitchen with mom and rolling cookies, choosing favorite cookie cutters and, after a break for baking, decorating time.
Around the holidays, cookies are both treat and tradition, recipes come from grandmothers, aunts, uncles and other family members, or they might even be clipped from a Christmas-time copy of a magazine.
"We’ve gleaned them over the years," said Deer Valley’s executive pastry chef, Letty Flatt.
Flatt is author of "The Chocolate Snowball: and Other Fabulous Pastries from Deer Valley Bakery," she is also responsible for directing the Deer Valley pastry empire, including a variety of restaurants and baked goods at Snow Park, Silver Lake and Empire Lodges. Making the sweets and breads for 10 restaurants Flatt runs what has to be one of the bigger day-to-day baking operations in the state.
At the peak of the Christmas season, Flatt said Deer Valley will sell approximately 1,000 cookies-a-day across the resort. Those include gingerbread men, Linzer cookies, snickerdoodles, Russian tea cookies and frosted sugar cookies, among others.
Baking on a slightly smaller but my no means small scale, Stephanie Kinzer, the executive pastry chef at the newly-opened Windy Ridge Bakery, says she will make about 30 dozen cookies for the bakery this holiday season, plus the cookies and pastries for the five Bill White-owned restaurants in Park City.
In addition to her normal cookies like chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin Kinzer said she’ll make gingerbread and decorated sugar cookies. A trip through the bakery reveals cookie sheets full of some of the season’s first holiday offerings.
"We do lots of snowflakes, lots of ornaments, lots of trees," said Kinzer. "An assorted Christmas cookie plate is one of our most popular items."
Kinzer said Windy Ridge kept its cookie formula simple for the holidays.
"We usually come up with a couple designs we like and just run those," she said.
Walking through the Windy Ridge Bakery on Thursday afternoon, chefs were cutting out cookies and a several cookie sheets full of finished products sat in the back of the room. Green Christmas trees, dusted with white snow and decorated with small pearl balls sat next to glittering snowflakes and multi-hued ornaments.
They’re the sort of Christmas cookies most people dream of. But while both Flatt and Kinzer specialize in such professional-quality baked goods, they were also willing to offer some tips for Christmas cookie cooking.
"Use real butter, unsalted butter, and use real vanilla extract," said Flatt.
She said the reasons behind those suggestions were simple.
"Unsalted butter is fresher, " she noted, "and often cookies don’t have a lot of salt, so you get more of the butter taste."
The real vanilla extract, she said, simply tastes better.
Flatt, a veteran of plenty of 8,000-plus foot cooking, also offered a tip for high-altitude cookie baking.
"Pull two tablespoons of sugar out for every cup," she said.
With water’s lower boiling point, she noted, sugar concentrates faster, meaning that removing some sugar will help cookies reach their proper consistency.
Kinzer offered some other types of suggestions.
"Don’t wait ’til the last minute to do your holiday baking," she said. "Try your recipes out a bit before you need them."
That way, she said, if adjustments need to be made, or a recipe doesn’t work out too well, you can make sure to find one that does.
Kinzer also contributed some decorating tips.
"Use magazines as a guide for decorating and them assemble all of your decorating stuff, because stores run out of that stuff," she said. "It takes a little practice to create cookies that don’t have that homemade look."
For powdered-sugar frosting, Kinzer also recommended adding a bit of meringue powder, to add fluff to the frosting.
Otherwise, both she and Flatt recommended perusing magazines for new and interesting recipes. Both said they’d clip interesting recipes to try for future Christmases. That way, each season, they can try something new.
But right now, they’re focused on their work this Christmas season, baking cookies and other holiday sweets. If the holidays are a busy baking time for mom, pastry chefs have it even busier.
The holidays, after all, are a cookie time of year. A recipes from one area baker
Ginger bread cookies
By Houman Gohary, Executive Chef at The Canyons Grand Summit Hotel
15 ounces (430 g) unsalted butter
15 ounces (430 g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups (360 g) corn syrup
3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
2 1/2 pounds (1 kg,120 g) bread flour
1 table spoon (12 g) baking soda
4 table spoons (20 g) ground cinnamon
2 table spoons (12 g) ground cloves
3 table spoons (18 g) ground ginger
1. Place the butter, sugar, corn syrup, andmilk in a sauce pan. Heat to about 110′ F (43′ C), stirring the mixture into a smooth paste at the same time.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda, and spices together. Incorporate into the butter mixture.
3. Line the bottom of the sheet pan or cookie tray with parchment or baking paper. Dust the paper with flour and place the dough on top. Flatten the dough, then refrigerate, covered over night.
4. Roll out a small portion of dough at a time to 1/16 inch (2 mm) thick. Keep the dough you are not working in the refrigerator. The dough may feel sticky, but do not be tempted to mix in additionalflour. The flour used in rolling the dough will be enough, and too much flour will make the baked cookies too hard and not as pleasant tasting.
5. Cut out cookies using a 3-inch (7.5 cm) heart or star shape cookie cutter. Place the cookies, staggered, on sheet pans lined with baking paper. Add the scrapes to the fresh dough as you roll out the next batch.
6. Bake the cookies at 400’F (205’C) for about 10 minutes or until they have a rich brown color.
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