Holiday cookies are a cherished family tradition for some — but for the novice baker they could be the second coming of sugarcoated hell. Don’t fret. We went to the cookie master of all cookie masters — Dorie Greenspan, hailed “culinary guru” by the New York Times and a James Beard Who’s Who of Food recipient — who also happens to be celebrating her latest book, aptly named “Dorie’s Cookies,” this fall.
“If you’re a new baker, this is not the time that each cookie will be decorated with royal icing and made into a mini wedding cake,” she says. “This a great time for drop cookies and scoop cookies and bar cookies. I think of those as bang-for-your-buck cookies.”
Greenspan is touring with her book and arrives in Boston at the BCAE, Wellesley Books, Harvard Bookstore and Northeastern University’s Xhibition Kitchen, for a series of talks and demos next month. While some events are already sold out (the BCAE event with Joanne Chang of Flour fame was a quickie), the cookie guru shares some of her best advice for not fearing your freezer, not burning down the bake sale and gifting cookies that everyone — and we mean everyone — likes.
The freezer is your friend
To get ahead of the holiday rush, Greenspan recommends you freeze some multi-purpose dough — like her Do-Almost-Anything dough in vanilla or chocolate — to bake on demand.
“Roll the dough out and press it between parchment paper before storing it in the freezer,” she advises. “Then you can just cut out cookies and bake when you need them. Or scoop cookies onto a baking sheet and freeze them uncovered before popping them into a Ziploc bag. Or make logs of dough, and slice and bake when you need them.” The dough keeps for two months and can be defrosted in their wrapping (Greenspan recommend parchment or airtight Ziploc bags) at room temperature. You can also stick your cookies (baked or raw) into a vacuum pack sealer, but Greenspan says it’s not worth the extra machinery and effort.
“I just zip them into a bag, leave a little opening, and suck out the air with a straw,” she says. “In fact, the old-fashioned bags [without zip closures] are even easier, just pull the bag up, grab it by the neck, suck the air out and put a tie around it.”
How to survive allergy season
Gluten — peanut — full-fat cream and butter — everyone has an allergy or a vice these days. So how do you satisfy sweet cravings without causing a ruckus?
“There are really good gluten-free flours out there now — I use a brand called Cup4Cup,” says Greenspan. “And for nuts, well, it’s easy to make cookies without nuts.”
Greenspan says she’s replaced nuts with kasha (or buckwheat groats), a tasty, toasty discovery she encountered when looking for a replacement for rye grits. “They have the crunch of nuts, without being from the nut family,” she explains.
To remove the risk entirely, she also recommends chocolate cornflake haystacks — baked cookie-like sweets made from cornflakes mixed with agave, raisins or dried cherries, and milk chocolate.
Likewise, she points us to the underestimated French favorite — the meringue. “They’re completely gluten free — and can be huge and colored a rainbow of colors,” she adds. “When in doubt, go meringue.”
Pack it up, pack it up
Greenspan’s trick to shipping your parcels of cookies off in the mail is delicious — no, really. “I like to use real popcorn — not the Styrofoam kind — as padding for cookies,” she explains. “You put it in the box the same way you would with packing peanuts. It works the same way the Styrofoam does, cushioning them, so they can survive a postman tossing them into the back of a truck.”
There are other benefits, too: “You can snack on it. It’s ecologically sound, and delicious.”
Greenspan adds that cookies should be packaged according to flavor and texture. “The rules are, don’t pack spice cookies with plain cookies, because they’ll all smell like spice. And don’t pack the soft cookies with crunchy, because they’ll all end up soft.”
The hostess with the mostess
While gifting sweets is a given for Greenspan, she says the best gift for your holiday hostess is to also deliver a frozen log of uncooked dough with your cookie offerings.
"Make the World Peace Cookies — you get two logs of dough — slice and bake one log, and then bring a frozen log of dough to the party," she says. "That way, you have cookies to eat that night and your host has a log of cookies in the freezer for whenever he or she wants to make them."