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."
Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough
This is the vanilla counterpart of the Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough. Like its chocolate partner, the dough is good on its own, endlessly adaptable and exceedingly easy to work with. Singly, each one is great; together, they’re the Batman and Robin of baking for a crowd, capable of making you look like the host who does it all effortlessly.
While I know you’ll find bunches of ways to use this dough — its full vanilla flavor and mix of crisp and sandy texture are chameleon-like in their capacity to welcome other flavors and shapes — there are four recipes in this collection to start your imagination spinning: White Chocolate and Poppy Seed Cookie; Double Ginger Crumb Cookies; Vanilla Polka Dots; and Christmas Spice Cookies.
If you’d like to ice the cookies, do it when the cookies have cooled completely.
Makes about 80 cookies
1 pound (454 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
1⅓ cups (262 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups (544 grams) all-purpose flour
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in the egg whites, followed by the vanilla. The dough might curdle, butit will smooth out with mixing and the addition of the flour. Still working on low speed, add the flour in 3 or 4 additions, beating only until it is almost incorporated each time before adding more; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times as you work and then continue to mix until the flour has disappeared into the dough.
The dough is ready to be divided, flavored (if needed) and scooped or rolled. See the recipes mentioned above for some suggestions.
Or, if you’d like to make plain cookies, divide the dough into quarters and shape each piece into a disk. Working with one disk at a time, place the dough between pieces of parchment paper and roll it to a thickness of ¼ inch. Slide the dough, still between the paper, onto a baking sheet — you can stack the slabs — and freeze for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Getting ready to bake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Working with one disk at a time, peel away the paper on both sides of the dough and return the dough to one piece of paper. Use a 2-inch-diameter cookie cutter (choose your shape, and change the size, if you’d like, knowing that the yield will change with it) to cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined baking sheets about 1½ inches apart. Gather the scraps together, then combine with scraps from the other pieces of dough, re-roll and chill before cutting and baking. If you’d like to sprinkle the cutouts with sanding sugar, now’s the time.
Bake the cookies for 19 to 21 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back and top to bottom after 10 minutes, or until they are golden around the edges and on the bottom. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring them to racks to cool completely.
Repeat with the remaining dough, using cool baking sheets.
Wrapped airtight, the rolled-out dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Cut and bake directly from the freezer. The baked cookies can be kept in a container at room temperature for about 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.