December 3, 2010

Here’s a picture of last year’s cookie box. It takes some planning to create this. I’ll let you in on my planning secrets. I have been thinking this over for days. It takes two full weeks to get holiday cookies and candies made, packed and mailed. And it takes a huge number of lists. In fact, I have a little book I use just for this purpose.

packing day, 2009

First, I thumb through my favorite resources for cookies and make a list of everything I want to make. This is the hardest part. I’m seduced by new flavors, but my friends and family are traditionalists and want the same ones year after year. I swap out two, maybe three, cookies every year. Someone is always sad that their favorite was excluded. You can’t please everyone…

This magazine by Martha Stewart was purchased at the grocery store in 2005 and I have made nearly every cookie in there. Each is perfect. The recipes are well written. There are some cookies that are “projects” and others that are easy.

This lovely book from Gourmet just came out. I already have more than a dozen of these recipes in my files, and can’t wait to try the others. Over the years, Martha and Gourmet have had the most consistently tested, perfected recipes. I’ve come to rely on them.

And then there are my own files. Obsessively cataloged. I suppose that doesn’t surprise you.

Once the list is culled, decide which can be made and held for a few days, and which ones need to be baked and mailed quickly. That’s how I come up with the timeline.

Then, I make another list of recipients – family, friends, neighbors. Couples receive 2 of each cookie. Family boxes are packed with one cookie for each family member. (Is there a dog? I’ll send dog biscuits, too!) My hairdresser, mail-lady, UPS guy, garden crew all are handed bags of cookies. And then there are the cookie swaps – one in NYC for bloggers, and one here for Food52’ers. And let’s not forget a few dozen just to serve here at the house when friends drop in for the holidays. Count the total number of cookies you’ll need. Decide which recipes need to be doubled. Some recipes can be extended by making the cookies smaller. One or two bite size is better for packing and shipping, especially if you are making many types.

Last year, I made 120 dozen cookies. This year, there might be a few more.

I know – just a little nutty. I love the holidays. And I really love cookies.

Once you’ve selected your cookies and determined how many of each you will need, print out all the recipes and start to count out pounds of butter, ounces of chocolate, pints of cream, and eggs.

If it helps, you can start with this list. I shop at Costco, Trader Joe’s, the grocery store, King Arthur, Sur La Table, the Container Store and Michaels Crafts:

white flour
other flours
white sugar
brown sugar
powdered sugar
other sugars
corn syrup
unsalted butter
semi-sweet chocolate
bittersweet chocolate
white chocolate
raisins and other dried fruit
vanilla, almond, peppermint extract
peppermint candies or candy canes
decorations (sprinkles, sanding sugar, etc.)
parchment paper
wax paper
mini and regular muffin cups (for packing)
candy wrappers (if needed)

Do some shopping and come back here tomorrow as I bake my way to the 15th, and the big mailing day. In the meantime, here are links to some cookie posts from last year. The photos are so small – aren’t you glad the blog was redesigned? I am.

Little Apricot Confections

Peppermint Patties and Salted Caramels

Sometime in the midst of all this, I’ll be trimming the tree, too. Ho Ho Ho!

33 Responses to “holiday cookies – a checklist”

  1. The Yummy Mummy

    This reminds me of my mom. She loved to bake. Every year she made tray after tray of gorgeous, intricately-decorated xmas cookies. Everyone got a plate of cookies from her in our small town.

    I never tried to duplicate her efforts, even though her recipe box is sitting right here. I always thought of it as her thing, her way to express herself. So, I never really did the Xmas cookie thing. But last year, when the kids and I baked a few and brought them around to the neighbors in the country, a new tradition, one that they love, was born. And this year, at the behest of my children, the whole pre-k and kindergarten are making and decorating their own cookies again.

    Something has started. Now, I see myself adding on new flavors and types, making more kinds, starting earlier, planning ahead. I see how important it is, a run-up to the holiday. It feels like xmas is longer and more exciting to bake cookies in the beginning of December.

    The only thing I’ll do differently from my mom is that I’m going to let the kids make and decorate as much as they want. Make it our thing, not my thing, and try not to worry if the sprinkles are all mixed into a heap on the frosting or if the tree cookie lost a few branches. I will shoot for fun over perfection. But other than that, I’m joining the ranks of you cookie freaks.

    Thanks Cathy for really being a constant inspiration to me. What you do is beautiful. I am always following your lead…


    PS: Your recipe filing system is seriously anal. Just an observation… 🙂

    • Cathy

      Thank you for this lovely comment, Kim. I think baking with the kids is a great tradition to start and continue! As to the comment on my filing system. Hmph. xo

  2. Gail

    You’re perfect. Absolutely perfect. Especially the filing system. I love a filing system. Mine’s in my computer. And, backed-up to an external hard drive. Damn, I love cookies!

  3. The Turnbulls

    Impressive…very impressive! There is nothing like the thoughtfulness and time (don’t forget the time) that goes into a homemade gift…and, this is proof!!

  4. Elizabeth@ MyCommunalTable

    Holy Moly Chocolate rolliness! 120 dozen cookies! I can just imagine the discussions in the neighborhood. “Are you still on the cookie list?”, “You better go and help Cathy or we will be off the cookie list.” “Who cares about making the Forbes List? We are on Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s cookie list.” Bravo!

  5. Jayne

    Cathy, I LOVE this blog post! Love the story, the pictures, the lists (love a list!) but most of all love the cookie tin! Oh to be the recipient of one of those tins! You must be everyones favorite relative, neighbor, friend and customer! You truly are an inspiration!

  6. Rick F.

    So.. Since you bake so many cookies, just how do you get them to not spread out too thin? I’ve found that if I use a Silpat baking mat the problem is worse.. Is parchment paper the thing to use to keep those sugar cookies thicker (not super thin)? Any other suggestions would be appreciated! I aspire to your baking greatness!!

    • Cathy

      Hi Rick – It’s all a matter of keeping your dough chilled. After rolling out your cookies, put the sheet pan in the freezer for 20 minutes before baking. No more spread! Happy Cookie-making. – Cathy

  7. Julia

    You are totally out of control. In the very best way possible. Wow! What a box of cookies! And your effort is totally appreciated. I love organization.

  8. Teresa

    When I was a kid, my mother and I would start baking in the beginning of December. We’d begin with recipes that freeze well and save the more frangible varieties for the last minute. On Christmas Day, we’d arrange huge platters full of these treats. The whole extended family would come over for Christmas and no matter how full everyone was from dinner, the cookies platters were always empty by the time everyone left. It’s been years since we’ve done this and we were never so organized as you!

    I’ve got a cookie swap coming up next week and you’ve given me a lot of inspiration.

  9. Cathy/ShowFoodChef

    New to your blog, I know, what took me, huh? LOVE this post and your generosity in showing your process. My tiny office is filled with notebooks, filed recipes (I do testing and development) so you made me feel SO normal – if there is such a thing. Happiest Holidays to you and yours.

  10. Holly

    Cathy! My goodness…
    The baking, mailing, packing, planning part of the blog gave me anxiety. 😉
    But your effort and thoughtfulness made me smile. I thought I was good by cataloging my recipes in a little book… then I saw your binders. I’ve got a long way to go!
    Looking forward to seeing you soon.

  11. Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle

    Oh how I wish we were closer; I do something similar for my family and friends and have every year I can remember, would be great fun to do with you! When my kids were little and I was married I remember even hand quilting a pot holder for those gift baskets. Now I ‘just’ make cookies, breads and candy. I mix it up a bit with candles, herb sachets from my garden and last year, cranberry liqueur. This year will be quite a shock to everyone’s system; there is simply no way I’m going to be able to hobble fast enough to get as much done so I’m thinking of some of my most favorite treats ever to appease the masses. Cinnamon rum caramel sauce by the pint…do you think that will work?

    It all looks soooo beautiful and no ones appreciates the effort you make for your friends and family than someone who has done it…give yourself a big pat on the back, OK?

  12. Eris

    I can never be like you Cathy, EVER!! As much as I try. But I think you’ve inspired me to make cookies and Kim has inspired me to take the kids and pass out to our neighbors. Thx again:))

  13. Ginger

    I’m ready to make as many of these as I can muster! A questions though, what do you think of freezing the apricot/coconut candies (or other recipes on your list). I have a fear that they might kind of ferment in the next couple of weeks. What do ya think? And by the way, thanks for the inspiration and the great recipes!

    • Cathy

      Hi Ginger – The apricot cookies last at least a month if kept in a cool spot. I keep all the finished candies and cookies on a table in the garage – about 35° at this time of year. Also, the garage is down a set of stairs and through three doors, so it keeps me out of the cookie boxes. 🙂

      • Ginger

        Thanks, Cathy, mine are delicious and out in the garage as well, our garage temp is about 50 (we live in N. Calif.) but I think that will be ok. Only one door separating us from the cookies, so we’ll just have to use will power! I’m working on day two of the candied orange rind now.

  14. melanie

    120 dozen? nutty? not in the least. The part I find nutty is that you actually possess the strength of will and discipline to cull your cookie list as you add new ones. And where’s the biscotti–that’s my holiday favorite. Martha Stewart does have great recipes, I love one she has for spicy chocolate cookies combined with sugar cookies for “appliques”. I have to confess, this recipe makes me curse, however. That chocolate dough is so stiff and rich I can always smell the motor of my poor mixer burning!



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