Free Range on Food: It's all about cookies this week!

Dec 04, 2019

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Happy cookie day, friends!

As you can guess, we've got cookies on the mind, with our 15th(!) annual special section in print TODAY. I had such a blast putting together this year's collection of cookies from around the country. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

Other related content:

- my taste test on non-chocolate baking chips

- Erin McDowell's wonderful primer on cookie glazes that are naturally colored and flavored

- the Voraciously gift guide on next-level kitchen gifts

- and be sure to check out our Holiday Cookie Generator for all your cookie searching needs!

We'll be talking about all that and more. Joining us today are Erin (ask her about pie, too! she has a new book she's working on!) and Anne Byrn, one of my sources for the cookie piece and author of the great book, "American Cookie."

As usual, we'll pick a winner or two for some prizes. Expect baking-related books!

Now let's get started.

I have a problem every year making Linzer cookies. I make the dough, refrigerate it until it’s very firm, take it out to roll, flour the board liberally, roll it to cut and it starts sticking to the board and cutter. Very frustrating. Any suggestions other than buying a marble cutting board that I can refrigerate but can’t afford....

Try rolling out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper! You can still use flour as needed, but this method is super helpful in preventing the dough from sticking. Place the dough between two pieces, and start to roll. Occasionally, peel the top piece of parchment off, then return it to the surface of the dough, and flip the packet of dough over - peeling the parchment away occasionally helps keep the dough moving and unstuck to the parchment!

Love Erin’s reply. I would also add to chill in between rolling in parchment. I lay out the rolled dough onto a sheet pan and chill in fridge until firm. You can chill again after cutting into shapes before baking for perfect shape with a high fat dough.

If you're rolling on the counter, you can chill it by putting a sheet pan full of ice on there for a few minutes. That can help, too.

I just moved into a very eco-friendly neighborhood. I'd like to give my neighbors cookies for the holidays, but I'm stumped on how to deliver them in eco-friendly packaging. I don't want to give them anything that they'd feel obliged to return. And I don't want to use plastic. Maybe small cardboard boxes? I'm just not even sure where to look. Glass jars seem great but not very practical for cookies. Any ideas? Thanks!

Small cardboard boxes is a good idea! You can grab those at craft stores like Michael's or AC Moore, and you could tie them with twine. Could also use butcher's paper (compostable, but not recyclable), to give it a very rustic look. 

I plan to freeze batches of drop cookies so I can bake as needed this Dec. Does it affect the texture if I bake from frozen, or should I allow to come up to room temp before baking?

It can depend on the recipe, but some cookie varieties (like classic drop cookies, chocolate chip/sugar cookies/etc.) can be baked directly from frozen - though this often means they will require a longer bake time (and sometimes I turn the bake temp down by 25 degrees to compensate for this increased time). You can also thaw the cookies on trays in the fridge and then bake as the recipe directs.

I love to bake and eat cookies. I don't even have any questions on this subject. I'm just going to hop on the cookie train and enjoy the ride. Next stop: Cuccidati!

Choo choo!

Hate to have to miss chat today, but love, love all the cookie recipes! So many to make! I also love that several can be made ahead and I am hoping to make the rugelach this week with some grapefruit jam/syrup I made from two pints home-canned grapefruit my son never ate. Tastes just sharp enough, but I am wondering what dried fruit or nut to combine it with. I have dried peaches, apples, asian pears, raisins, and mango. I have all the usual nuts plus black walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds, even some poppyseeds, but nothing strikes me in particular. Please help?

Cherry-Pecan Rugelach

RECIPE: Cherry-Pecan Rugelach

Hm! I like the pistachio idea. And I think mango would be nice. Keeps that bright citrusy flavor, and mango/pistachio are a great flavor combo (see Indian desserts).

Can you suggest any cookies or treats that can be made 10 days to 2 weeks ahead of time? Your recipes usually advise making a week ahead at most. We'll be traveling around before visiting family. My usual go-to is spiced nuts, which last pretty well, but I'd like to branch out.

The fortune cookies in today's section would hold up well. But just about any cookie can be made 2 weeks ahead as long as you just pop them in the freezer.

Fortune Cookies

RECIPE: Fortune Cookies

Not a directly cookie-related question, but I was hoping you could give me some advice about my cast-iron pan. I got it about a year ago and to season it I placed it over a burner on high and coated it with olive oil and let it smoke off several times. This seemed to produce a seasoning that was smoother in the center, but it didn't worry me until a few weeks ago, when the seasoning around the circumference of the pan started flaking off. I realize I probably should have seasoned the pan in the oven to avoid this, but my question is, as I try to reseason these parts - do I have to scrape off the good seasoning in the center of the pan (and the remaining less-good seasoning in the rest of the pan) before redoing everything? Or can I just try to reseason it as-is and hope for the best?

Great question and it’s one I get often on Skillet Love tour! You can take up the seasons without scraping if you dedicate yourself to some oil and heat cooking - frying chicken or veggies? Searing and cooking fatty steaks on the grill? It’s the combo of heat and oil that create a polymer which is the natural non-stick coating. Give up the olive oil and save it for salads. Use a grape seed, flaxseed, cottonseed (Crisco) oil instead. If you do scrape off the bits and start fresh, use the same regimen. Remember high heat - 400 or higher, and a light smoke-tolerant oil. Good luck!

I'm making sugar cookies for an office party this week, but only want to bake half the dough. I'm fine with freezing the other half for later in the season, right? Should I do the cut outs before freezing? Put the frozen dough in the fridge the night before and then roll out? Thanks!

Form your extra dough into a disk about 1 inch thick and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. Thaw the dough overnight in your fridge before using!

Hi Free Rangers, I wrote in a couple of weeks ago about my mother, who likes her turkey DRIED OUT. Like, turkey jerky. My cousin's husband ended up cooking the turkey with the Bon Appetit recipe from this year and it was the best turkey any of us had ever had. So, success. However, in the holiday spirit, I have to report some parental kitchen horrors. 1. They had knives for years and years that were so old the blades had CHUNKS out of them. They continued to use these knives. Their current knives are so dull that you're hacking at whatever you're trying to cut. My mother says, "But if my knife is sharp I'll cut myself!" :( 2. They have had cast iron skillets for years. Old ones. Potentially beautiful ones. BUT. They scrub the h*ck out of them and you can literally see the iron underneath. It would make you weep. 3. Perhaps the most horrifying discovery for me: My mother is doing the whole low-carb thing and is now eating regular mayo instead of Miracle Whip. I was happy until I discovered that she adds SUGAR TO THE MAYO. And then I found out that it's not actually sugar, it's EQUAL. I MEAN. Anyway, my parents are extremely lovely people in most other aspects, and my mother does make the best sugar cookies in the whole world, so there's that. Thanks for listening. :)

Hahaha. Yes, sometimes cooking with or for other people or at other people's houses is like an amazing mashup of Chopped, Survivor and Oprah all rolled into one. An adventure.

I tried your variation of the new Libby's pumpkin pie recipe, and it was a split decision. On the one hand, I loved the smoother texture, but, I also thought that the dulce de leche flavor (which I love) kind of overwhelmed the pumpkin. The cardamom was a great addition, it's a spice that is underappreciated. Totally different topic, I have a new electric cookie press, what are some of your favorite Christmas cookie recipes for it?

Well, thanks for trying the pie! I love that caramel edge from the dulce de leche, but that doesn't mean everyone has to. If you like the texture, go for the regular sweetened condensed milk next time, which will definitely be more subtle.

Libby's New-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie With Dulce de Leche and Cardamom

RECIPE: Libby's New-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie With Dulce de Leche and Cardamom

I've never used an electric cookie press, so I'm hoping one of our guests or other chatters can chime in.

The Joe Frogger Cookies look delicious! I’d like to make them for a gluten-free, vegan friend. Would they work with vegan “butter” and a gluten-free flour substitute? I really appreciate your always sound advice on these kind of substitutions!

Joe Froggers

RECIPE: Joe Froggers

Oooh, hard to say without having tested that way. But if you were to, I'd go with an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend (such as Cup for Cup or King Arthur Flour) and coconut oil.

i accidentally added a 1 teaspoon of baking powder instead of baking soda to dry ingredients for a batch of buttermilk pancakes. Should I proceed with making the pancakes? Should I add the baking soda? Start over?

Don’t worry because pancakes are very forgiving! Proceed and spoon a test pancake onto the griddle. If it doesn’t bubble up with those cute little pancake bubbles, then add 1/2 teaspoon more soda, whisk and try again!

This is kind of a long shot, but I've been toying with the idea of carving my own springerle molds. If it works, I'd like to give hand-carved molds and the dough ingredients/recipe as gifts. Do you happen to know of any resources (books, blogs, YouTube, whatever) that might have some tips or instructions? Most of what I can find that goes into depth is, perhaps unsurprisingly, in German. If not, what would you look for in a mold (depth, shapes, size, etc.) that I might be able to replicate when carving?

Have you thought about contacting a museum that might have a Springerle mold collection? I am thinking the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia would be a good start. They have some old Gingerbread molds, and they might lead you down the right path. And then look for cookbooks and authors who have specialized in German baking. 

Can you clarify the following? "Recipe notes: As written, the recipe is gluten-free, with cornstarch as a binder. You can also more closely follow the Gottlieb’s model by substituting 2 tablespoons of flour." are the 2 tablespoons of flour substituted for the 1 tbs of cornstarch?

yes! Gottlieb’s always used flour, and yet this cookie is such a part of the Jewish Passover food culture where a flour substitute is used. It works great with either 1 tablespoon cornstarch or 2 tablespoons flour.

I have cookies covered but like to make something relatively simple for Christmas dinner dessert. Prior years have been pavlovas and cherries jubilee. Happy to to those again but would love some new ideas.

The any-nut tart I shared from my cookbook is a great holiday dessert. The crust is made from spiced layers of store-bought phyllo, which makes a crisp crust that's also super simple. You can use any combination of nuts, then they get drowned in a honey custard. I like it topped with whipped cream and/or brandied cherries! Find the recipe here.

From the recipes and comments, I got the impression that tahini is thick and gloppy, like peanut butter, I imagined. I ordered some organic from Amazon and it is thin and quite runny. Did I get the right stuff? Does being organic make a difference? Or was my assumption just wrong?

Tahini is quite thin and runny - that's normal! Be sure to stir it well before using it, but by nature it is a much looser/more liquid product than nut butter!

Hi Joe, I believe you have talked in the past about a particular festive vegetarian entree, I think with mushrooms and filo dough. Can you share that? And without knowing what I'm talking about (trying to help a friend), can it be made vegan? Thanks for your help!

Is it this Roasted Portobello Mushroomm, Pecan and Chestnut Wellington? It can be made vegan with a vegan puff pastry and vegan cream and having made/eaten it, you should absolutely have it on your table!

 

 

I want to try a duplicate a molasses spice cookie from a bakery that is now out of business. The joe frogger recipe looks promising but the bakery’s cookies was I think thicker and was crinkly/craggy on the top with I think a sprinkling of turbinado sugar. The cookie was soft/chewy. Could the difference be eggs or leaving?

My guess is that if the bakery cookie was thicker it might have used vegetable shortening, which creates a loftier and springier cookie than butter. That should help the cookies keep a more rounded shape, and you can substitute a little butter back in for flavor. True to bakery production, they might have used a scoop and that would make the top craggily and could have rolled in sugar before baking.

Do you have a recipe for cutout cookies that can be decorated but aren't crispy, but a little bit softer?

Hi! I like to bake, but I prefer the non-fussy stuff that doesn't take very long. So I was happy to find an easy blondie recipe that calls for 1 stick of butter, 1 egg, 1 cup brown sugar sugar, 1 cup flour. However, after adding mini m&ms or chocolate chips, the end product was somewhat too sweet. Do you think I could omit some of the sugar (i.e. add only 3/4 cup or even 1/2 cup) without altering the end product's moistness and chewiness?

Keep the brown sugar for chewiness but reduce slightly - by a couple tablespoons. You do not mention salt, which this recipe needs. Is the butter salted? If not, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. And if all else fails, select a 60 percent cacao chocolate chip (bittersweet) instead of M&Ms, which have a lot of sugar.

My sis and bro-in-law frequently cater large-ish events, mostly dinners, sometimes buffets, receptions, etc. (for friends as favors, not for income). They seem to have everything. EVERYTHING. Bro-in-law is crazy about buying new cooking toys - he gave so many sous vides as gifts he got blocked by Amazon - they thought he was reselling them. True. So any ideas? Of course, I never got a sous vide, but wow do they deliver amazing results

Happy to answer this one as someone who is on the other side of this equation (I have so many tools)! Sometimes the key to great gifting for the gadget obsessed is to go with a more classic choice. No cook can have too many high quality knives, for example - a set of beautiful steak knives or a unique chef's knife will send someone over the moon! But one suggestion for a gadget he would love and may not have that is all sorts of fun - this smoking gun!

Christmas always meant the original Brer Rabbit Molasses Cookie Dolls and those buttery cookie press cookies. I've had problems with a press. Once I was so frustrated, I threw it across the room. Do you have any tips for cookie press success?

The dough has got to be stiff enough to not stick in the press. So I definitely use an unbleached flour. And I am careful about eggs in a lot of old cookie recipes because our eggs today are larger than they used to be - 2 ounces vs 1 ounce. Keep moisture in mind and try again?

The Container Store has some nice treat packaging options--boxes, bags, twine, labels, etc.

On Thanksgiving I cooked dinner with my sister in law. I volunteered to slice Brussel sprouts with a mandoline. I wore some cut proof gloves which were useless but made me feel better. Anyway, I didn't cut myself so yay me! All digits are intact.

My office is having its holiday party next week at the end of a workday. Cold storage is limited and reheating tools almost nonexistent, so I think the potluck table is going to be a lot of dips and cookies. I'd like to bring something savory that would hold at room temperature for several hours before serving. Do you think the potato knishes you published in September would work?

potato knishes

ARTICLE: A lighter and prettier potato knish for your holiday table — and beyond

Knishes would be a great choice - they don't need to be served warm and would hold well! I would recommend making them as close to serving as possible so they taste their freshest!

Being from the South, we love our ham or smoked turkey on biscuits during the holidays. You can get small soft potato rolls or bake biscuits. Spread with a good mustard and layer on sliced meat then something sweet and tangy, like good pickle. In the same vein, try a Nashville Hot Chicken biscuit, adding fried chicken, a spicy mayo, and the pickle.

My SO is leaving on a business trip next week - normally I cook for two on weekends with leftovers and occasional dinners in between. Could you recommend cooking for one recipes? Something that has leftovers for another dinner is welcome.

Make soup! The weather is perfect for it. You’ve got endless meals, and soup freezes well in portions for one or two. Some of my favorites are a turkey chili, a chicken, spinach, and tortellini soup, or butternut squash. 

Also check out our Cooking for One recipe archives!

For the short on time I buy sugar cookie mixes and make: Peanut butter cookies Pumpkin spice cookies. Chocolate chip, Peanut butter Typically I add an extra egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, dark brown sugar then decide on peanut butter, pumpkin spice & molasses or chocolate chips. It's not an exact science but it works. Now I might make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

Sounds like you have good plan! Usually with cookie recipes and when using mixes, you are deadline with ratios of wet to dry. Once you get that right, you can mix up the fats. Since peanut butter counts as a fat, it’s a perfect add-in and makes crispy cookies. Have you tried lemon? Grated lemon zest in the dough. Once cool, drizzle with melted dark chocolate.

Is there somewhere in DC (or nearby) that you'd recommend to shop for tinned seafood (caviar, sardines, etc.)? I'd like to get my dad a small assortment for Christmas, but I really have no idea what I'm doing. I'd appreciate it if you could direct me to somewhere where I could speak to someone knowledgeable. Thank you!

I would check out BlackSalt. I just checked and they have those types of items.

I was eagerly anticipating trying Cathy’s recipe until I got to the ingredient list and saw that the first ingredient was butter—I had thought from her introductory description that it would be dairy free. It looks like the butter is only used to grease the parchment paper—is there any work-around for this? Silpat? A neutral-flavored oil?

nougat

ARTICLE: The perfect holiday gift: delicious, pantry-friendly nougat

You could definitely use a neutral oil or even nonstick spray to grease the parchment for this recipe!

I’m definitely planning to try this one. But I always wonder, when a recipe says “Serve right away,” whether the quality will suffer somehow if you don’t serve right away. Seems doubtful, since you suggest doubling or tripling the recipe. Does it indeed keep well, as long as you reserve some of the garnishes to freshen it up?

Yeah, it'll be fine :)

Today’s food section was outstanding in every respect! Great variety of cookies, not one but two collections of helpful reviews by Becky, and an eye-catching centerfold with photos of all those glazes! Can’t wait to start baking!

This makes me so happy, thanks. :)

My partner and I have hosted a holiday cookie exchange party for several years now, and we were excited to see the cookie issue this morning just in time for this weekend's edition! Of the new recipes, are there any that you recommend for an exchange? Ideally, they would stand out from the crowd and could hold up for a few days post-party. The Salty Nutella Thumbprints are a favorite from past years!

The Benne Seed Crisps were my favorite and hold up wonderfully--they can be frozen too, without changing the texture at all. I'd never had them before and they reminded me so much of an Indian sesame brittle called chikki. 

As I begin my holiday shopping, I've noticed that Instant Pot, Ninja Foodi, and other manufacturers are pushing new versions of their products with features such as air frying, sous vide, and the like. Will your staff be checking out and reporting on whether these changes are worth the added cost this month? Also, are there any must have accessories or cookbooks? My friends and I enjoy and frequently use our devices, so any advice is welcomed!

We don't have any immediate plans for this month. Honestly, I don't see myself wanting more than what I have in my current Instant Pot. Mostly I use it for pressure cooking, and I'm not dying to get into air frying or sous vide at the moment.

As far as cookbooks, I really like Melissa Clark's two Instant Pot books ("Dinner in an Instant," "Comfort in an Instant"), as well as the America's Test Kitchen multicooker book.

Steamer basket is a key accessory for me. I really like the Oxo one you'll find in the gift guide I linked to in my intro.

I see wonderful-looking British baking recipes that invariably say you must use Bramley apples. Easy for them to say since Bramleys are apparently the most sold apple in the UK, but they are not available here. Can you suggest a few U.S. apple varieties that are fairly widely available (I'm not in a metro area) that would work as reasonable alternatives? This is for pies, crumbles, apple cakes, and such. Thanks!

Granny Smith are one of the most common U.S. apple varieties recommended for baking, because they stay firm-crisp even when cooked in longer applications, like pies. I think they're a little lacking in flavor, but they are reliable and readily available! Honeycrisp apples are one of my favorite and are now very commonly available. I also like Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, and Jonagolds - though some of those varieties can be harder to track down. If you're making an apple preparation where it's ok for the apples to break down (like applesauce or apple butter), softer varieties like Mcintosh, work great!

Will be making some sweet/spicy snack mix as holiday gifts but also would like to make a baked good of some sort. I bring the snickerdoodle blondies to most functions (they are very popular) so want to change it up a little. With 2 small kids, I need something that can be made a few days in advance (weekend before) and isn't too complicated/time consuming! Does such a thing exist?

What about a peanut butter cookie bar baked and then drizzled with melted bittersweet chocolate? Or if not peanut butter, what about a jam bar? That’s easy and you can make and freeze ahead. You could use raspberry jam for a festive feel. There is always the biggest cheat of all - caramel sauce from Trader Joe’s poured into an iron skillet on top of pecans, and then brownie batter poured on top of that. Bring it warm to the party. Or baked ahead, slice, and freeze for gifts!

I am just *not* a sweets person...never have been. I used to come home from Halloween and just give my bag of goodies to my mom (whose sweet tooth was legendary). When it comes to cookies, I like a snap-and-crumble-type texture, but I pretty much pass them up as a rule because they're all soooo sweet for my taste. Help! Any suggestions?

Seems like a shortbread or thin spiced cookie would be up your alley. Check out your options in the cookie generator I shared in the intro. Two things come to mind off the top of my head:

Three-Pepper Spice Cookies

RECIPE: Three-Pepper Spice Cookies

Savory Pecan, Parmesan and Thyme Shortbread

RECIPE: Savory Pecan, Parmesan and Thyme Shortbread

I was also that kid on Halloween! We're kindred spirits!

Today's Food section looks great! And I appreciate getting introduced to some regional treats that are new to me, plus some inspiration with the piece on glazes.

Sending you a virtual hug, thank you!

As usual, it was a great team effort. For the look, you can also thank photographer Tom McCorkle, food stylist Lisa Cherkasky, art directors Amanda Soto and Lizzie Hart, photo editor Jennifer Beeson Gregory and prop supplier Limonata Creative. We love them all!

I'm considering red wine poached pears. You get some sweetness, but not an overwhelming amount because of the red wine instead of white. I like them as a finish to what can often be a heavy, rich meal.

The wide-mouth mason jars are the right size for many cookies. They are pretty inexpensive but also reusable. You can layer with squares of parchment paper in between cookies if they might stick. If you need to leave them at doors, you can slide into brown paper gift bags (biodegradable) with handles and hang from door knobs. I suppose some people might be compelled to return a jar, but I've found most people keep them.

I just got this! What I'd really like to make is no-knead, stovetop bread. Do you think that's possible? And, if not, what should i make first? Thanks!

It can be tricky to make any kind of loaf 100% on the stovetop (though you can make a whole host of flatbreads that way!) because they really need constant, surrounding heat source. However, your new Dutch oven will work great to make a number of delicious no-knead loaves with the help of your oven - like this one, or this one!

Per recent article recommending thermometers, it was noted that my thermometer can be calibrated but I’m very nervous about my testing its accuracy. There are differing recommendations as to how to do this. Any ideas? Thanks!

I would go with whatever the manufacturer suggests! I think ThermoWorks is a safe bet when it comes to instructions.

I've always rinsed a bunch of grapes under running water just before serving or eating. But I came across a post insisting that they should be washed individually (!) or at least shaken in a combo of baking soda and salt. It also claims that a bitter taste is the result of residues that could be removed -- which makes me wonder if I've mistakenly thought grapes weren't ready (ripe) when in fact they were dirty. What say you to the instructions pasted in below? And do you think a bitter tasting grape might be sweet if better-washed? First, remove the grapes from the stem, give them a quick rinse, and place them in a wide, shallow bowl. Then sprinkle about 1-2 teaspoons of salt on the grapes. Sprinkle another 1-2 teaspoons of baking soda on there. Then grab the bowl and shake it vigorously from side to side and front to back, for about 30 seconds to a minute...Finally, rinse very well under cold water. Lightly rub your hand over the top to help with the rinsing to remove all traces of salt. https://naturesnurtureblog.com/how-to-wash-grapes-the-right-way/

Fascinating! I would take that question to your local farmer. Grapes are grown in all areas of our country, and your local farmers will know what practices are used and much about flavor. 

Bottom line, there is a reason the original recipe called for red potatoes. The russets turned out ok, but not "Oh my God dad, you have to make these again" good. I made them last night with red potatoes just to make sure that I wasn't imagining things.

Potato Roasties

ARTICLE: The best thing I got from my divorce: A recipe for crispy roasted potatoes

Yes, russets are high starch and fluffier, while reds are lower starch, so I think the texture would be better, yes?

potatoes

ARTICLE: You can’t go wrong with potatoes, but here’s how to pick the right ones

Hi gang! Love your chats. I hope Carrie is going to be on today because this question is about cocktails not cookies. Which cocktails are conducive to batching or premixing for a medium-skilled home bartender to make for about 8-10 people during the winter? Base liquors could be gin, vodka, rye, bourbon or tequila. Drinks could be cold, room temp, or even hot. I live in the DC area, so getting good ingredients is not a burden. Thanks! PS - Not to be snarky, but That Other Newspaper’s Food section has a cocktail writer who is actually just a food stylist. Remember when they had Biff Grimes writing about drinks? Thank goodness we have Carrie!

(Disclaimer: I’m not Carrie) A great holiday cocktail is eggnog which can be easily batched and kept cold! If you’re batching a cocktail that has citrus juice in the recipe, just keep that separate until you’re ready to mix and serve. Once citrus has been added, it should last a day or two in the fridge. Cheers!

Thanks to Becky for the fortune cookie recipe! I've long replaced the pre-fab fortunes with ones I write, using a tweezer to remove the old fortune and insert the new one. This became much more difficult when the boxes of loose fortune cookies I used to buy disappeared from the grocery and I had to buy smaller boxes of individually-sealed cookies like the ones included in Chinese restaurant food deliveries. Now I'll have much more time to dream up appropriate fortunes!

Wow, that was dedication! I think you're going to have fun with this recipe. They're really beautiful and delicious.

Thank you for the great cookies section. There are so many I want to try! I have a question about the chocolate chip cookie recipe. I love Levain cookies and when I was searching for a similar recipe a while back, many of the one I came across said to bake the cookies at a higher heat - - 425 degrees - - to avoid having the cookies spread. What do you think of this?

Hm, I think actually at a higher temp you risk the outside getting dark before the inside is done because these are HUGE. I can tell you that this recipe is airtight since we've tested it and it comes from Stella Parks at Serious Eats, so if you want to make them, go with what we have. The texture was amazing, especially while warm!!

Super-Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies

RECIPE: Super-Thick Chocolate Chip Cookies

Trying to be extra eco-conscious this holiday season. How would one compost butcher paper? I backyard compost all food that I can - would it just go in the bins, shredded? Is regular brown wrapping paper recyclable? Thought it was. All suggestions welcome.

Here's what I found on butcher paper: https://www.hunker.com/13421479/how-to-recycle-butcher-paper

Unsure about brown wrapping paper! You'll have to check if the brand adds any coating to the paper. Though technically any wrapping paper is recyclable if you unwrap carefully and use it again.

I'm looking for inspiration for my Christmas dessert. I like to do something impressive, but not too heavy. I've made a croquembouche, buche de noel, crepe cake, but it doesn't have to be French! No pies, no nuts. Any ideas??? Thanks!

Have you tried Baked Alaska? Or something flambeed? I am thinking the fire might provide the impressive drama! Love Cherries Jubilee or New Orleans’ style Bananas Foster over really good ice cream. One of my favorite cakes is one our family created for Christmas Eve. We call it the Perfect Chocolate Cake. Make layers of your favorite chocolate cake and when baked and cooled, layer with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Chill. Make Chocolate Ganache. Spread the entire cake with Ganache, then cover the top with shavings of white chocolate and crushed peppermint. It’s perfect!

I have an awful time with pie crust. I've tried (and usually failedwith) many recipes. The crust bakes dry and is just yuck. My grandmother and mother used Crisco, which I prefer to avoid, but even that isn't working for me. Confession - I've resorted to Pillsbury crust (which I can't tell any other bakers in the family). Even did a blind taste test with family, and they like the Pillsbury crust better. Depressing. Seems so easy for many.

Oh no! I'm 100% here to help with this. A dry crust likely means one of two problems: you're under-hydrating the dough, or the fat isn't properly coated with flour inside the dough. You'll know if your dough is under-hydrated because it will feel dry, it might even look crumbly and it is difficult to roll it out without cracking. For this issue (a very common problem!!!), just try adding a little more water to the dough next time.

The other issue of improperly mixing in the fat sounds even more likely - since you're saying you're having issues even when you use shortening, which is a little more user friendly because it has a higher melting point that butter or lard. When you're making your pie dough, be sure to toss the cubed fat with the flour before you start to rub the fat in. Every time you handle a piece of butter, continue to toss it into the flour. The goal is to have each piece fully coated in flour in the finished dough. Fat coated with a "protective" layer of flour will create steam in the oven, creating a tender, flaky crust. Fat that's not coated in flour is likely to melt in the oven, which makes crusts brittle and hard.

Please share how you were able to achieve such clean cuts on your pralines. My edges on any bars I make are never that sharp even when I cool them first. 

Creole Pecan Praline Bars

RECIPE: Creole Pecan Praline Bars

I believe we cut those almost straight out of the freezer! Took some arm strength, but Lisa managed it. :)

Dipping the knife in warm water and then wiping it dry in between each cut can also help. If things are really sticky, you can also try spraying the knife with nonstick spray. I do that when cutting marshmallows.

I made about 3 cups of cranberry...goop, let's say (a failed pie filling that resembles a coulis or jam rather than filling). Any ideas for what to do with it? I'm thinking cheesecake topping or thumbprint cookies, but it's 3 cups worth!

As someone who regularly ends up with extra goop (aka pie filling), I've got a couple ideas! You could use come to make a large-batch holiday spritzer (with sparkling water, cider, or wine!), you can freeze a portion of the mixture as is and use it for future baking projects - it should freeze well! You could also continue to cook the mixture down to make it thicker - you'll want to do this in a large pot over medium low heat and stir frequently to prevent it sticking at the bottom. The thicker stuff can be used any number of ways, too!

This is exactly what cookie tins are for! Your eco-friendly neighbors might not appreciate a cardboard box, since they're a throw-away item (even if they can be recycled, which they possibly can't). Cookie tins are cheap enough that no one feels like they are expected to return them, and they are reusable.

I'm a firm believer that if you're gifted a tin of cookies, you're then meant to fill that tin with cookies and pass it on to someone else! The best form of recycling!

Favorite brand discuss!

Sweet Baby Rays. 

I wanted to say THANK YOU for the recipe for bone-in turkey breast in a slow-cooker. The family agreed it was some of the best turkey ever. Will be doing it again for the foreseeable future!

Awesome! Glad it worked out for you.

Two things -- Does anyone on this chat have some good suggestions for topical fortunes to include in the cookies we make with Becky's recipe? And does anyone remember what the fortune in Jack Lemmon's fortune cookie says in the movie The Fortune Cookie?

Throwing both of these out to the chatters!

How can I keep ice cream frozen during transport? This past weekend, I put it between two ice packs, in an insulated bag, that was then put in a second insulated bag. Melted, even though the ice packs were still solid. Over the summer, it was in a cooler surrounded by ice. Melted. I can't use dry ice. Is it just hopeless to take ice cream without a portable freezer (if such a thing exists)?

Transporting ice cream will always be tricky, even in the depths of winter. Baking author Rose Levy Beranbaum once brought some of her homemade ice cream to my house (which is over 1 hour from hers!) and it was still frozen. She had it in a cooler, fully surrounded by ice packs - but the real key was that the ice cream was still frozen in the ice cream machine container, which added extra insulation. She put that inside an insulated bag, then put the bag inside the cooler with tons and tons of ice packs. It made the journey, but it was a harrowing one, to say the least!

Long shot, but, does anyone here know where I can buy a cutter for Icelandic Christmas bread, Laufabrauð? The only ones I've been able to find online are at nammi, and are pretty pricey. I can use a sharp knife, if need be, but, one of the actual cutters would be more fun. Cookie tie-in, I first learned about baking ammonia, when trying an Icelandic cookie recipe. Very bizarre to smell them when they start to bake, although it cooks off, and you don't taste it.

No idea, but I'm so intrigued by this bread! Email me the recipe please??? kari.sonde@washpost.com

Maybe go to the House of Sweden bazaar this weekend? Someone there might be able to help.

Or try reaching out to the Icelandic Association of D.C.

I wrote in last week about your otherwise delicious Maple Cake with Buttercream Frosting that rose far too quickly, cracking and sticking to the tinfoil. One of your chatters suggested checking my oven temperature, and they were right - it was a whopping 25 degrees too hot! (Which explains other cooking disasters, ahem.) Anyway, thank you chatter, and YOU for this chat! I look forward to it each week and learn so much.

There you go! Happy to have helped you figure it out.

So after 15 years of making apple pies for thanksgiving someone said why don't we ever have pumpkin; my answer - well none of you like it. 12 people said they did so now I have to make it for Christmas-. Will Libby's or other fillings be available then? Can I cover the top with whipped cream when I inevitably overcook it since it's my first time baking pumpkin pie?

Oh, yeah, you can get canned pumpkin year-round, no problem. Of course you can do as much whipped cream as you want, but at least if you're using my recipe, just follow the instructions and visual cues and you'll be ok! You want it to look set around the outside with just a bit of a wobble in the middle. It will finish setting as it cools.

I have a great family recipe for strawberry pie that requires two crusts, which are crimped together, and baked with not much besides the fruit, butter, and a touch of flour. The problem I always have (not much of a baker) is that the bottom crust always comes out soggy. I don't think I can pre-bake it as it needs to crimp together with the top crust. An egg wash on the bottom didn't have much effect. Any advice?

It is actually possible to par-bake a pie crust for a double crust pie (more on that below), but first I'll recommend how you can achieve a crisper crust without that method, which can be a bit limiting. Pies like to be baked at a very hot temperature (425 degrees Fahrenheit), but double crust pies can benefit from it being a little lower (more like 400 degrees) for a longer period of time. 90% of the time people end up with a soggy bottom, they just haven't baked the pie long enough and the top crust looks brown but it just needs more oven time. Cover the top crust with foil if needed and continue to bake the pie until it's deeply golden brown - and you want to see the filling bubbling up out of the vents (if it doesn't bubble, it hasn't reached it's maximum thickening capacity!). I also recommend baking pies on the lowest rack of the oven, preferably with a baking steel or baking stone set on the bottom rack - this helps retain heat and direct it towards the base specifically, helping to yield a browner bottom crust.

 

To par-bake a crust for a double crust pie - start by rolling out the dough a little wider - you're aiming for about 1 inch of excess all the way around the outside edge. Dock the dough all over, place a piece of parchment paper on top, and fill to the top edge of the dough with pie weights. Par-bake as you usually would for a single-crust pie, then remove the weights and return to the oven for 1-2 minutes more to dry out the base. When you remove the crust from the oven, immediately use scissors to trim the excess dough away so that the edge of the crust is flush with the side of the pan. Cool completely, then fill the pie and place the top crust on. Use a little egg wash around the outside edge of the base crust to help the top crust adhere, and press the top crust firmly to the bottom crust with a fork all the way around to seal. Bake as you would normally - the crust will be sure to be properly baked and not soggy!

What a fantastic idea. How do I get on your gift list? I've seen them in antique stores way back when. Anyone on Etsy - maybe you could buy one to use as a model? Sure the molds will be the best gift recipients receive this year.

I am so excited for cookie-baking season and to try this year's recipes. What are the cookie recipes you all return to year after year? Which new ones are you most excited to try?

Great question! Every year we turn to decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread and some sort of thumbprint cookie. Plus, no cookie platter in our family would be complete without my mother’s toffee! A great crunchy addition to any cookie spread.

As far as something new, I like to try recipes from another region of the country. I’m looking forward to trying Peppernuts with ground almonds this year. I also enjoy the Forgotten Chocolate Meringue Cookies because they have big, bold flavors I wasn’t raised around in the Southeast.

Unlike many baked items, cookies are relatively quick to make. They are also very adaptable. If you don’t like a first-batch, you can easily modify the recipe to fit your taste preferences. (My daughter likes flaky sea salt on everything!)

Oh definitely using your recipe Becky :) But I don't generally bake custardy things so I'm anticipating failure!

You can do it! As far as custardy things go, this is pretty good entry-level stuff. :)

My husband bought 2 dozen Jumbo eggs. I am reluctant to use them in baking because they are a LOT bigger than regular-sized ones. I fear they would add too much liquid. Should we save the Jumbos for breakfast, and go buy regular sized ones for baking?

Jumbo eggs can weigh around 2.5 ounces each, where a large egg (what I use most in my baking recipes) is only 2 ounces. You can still use the jumbo eggs in baking, but you'd want to use a scale to measure the eggs by weight to ensure accuracy in the recipe. Or, just eat those jumbo eggs for breakfast!

for Christmas eve/day/new years/ any special occasion: BAKED Brie! Buy a large wheel of brie, wrap in puff pastry (or if you are my mother, Pillsbury crescent dough), bake in the over for 20-30 minutes at 350, and pour warm cranberry goop on top. heavenly.

YES.

I don't make cookies or cakes often enough to justify purchasing a stand mixer. But when I do bake, mixing the dough makes my arm ache from carpal tunnel syndrome that is otherwise quiescent. Please suggest how I can become a happy baker again! Also, since this happened to me last week when I was part-way through a banana muffin recipe, please tell me it's okay to use the week-old refrigerated mix of sugar, butter and bananas!!

Do you have at least a handheld mixer? You really can do a lot with those. They're inexpensive to pick up.

Honestly, I wouldn't risk it with the old muffin mix. Sorry! Not sure the flavors will be great at this point, and if there are any leaveners in there, I suspect they won't do their job.

Welp, you've done it again! I have to buy extra copies of today's Post so I can gift the food section to my out-of-town cookie-making friends! I bet lots of others also do this. You might point this out if you ever feel under-appreciated by the bosses. (You'll never be underappreciated by us!)

*tears of joy*

Thanks, I was so nervous taking this on for the first time!!

Just sharing that, for those of you who like to be mesmerized, there are a TON of Instagrammers who share clips of themselves decorating cookies. Also excellent middle-of-the-night entertainment if you are nursing a newborn (ask me how I know).

Haha, I know that middle-of-the-night routine.

Do you have an easy recipe for bourbon balls? Any suggestions for kid-friendly versions? Thanks!

My book, American Cookie, has a great recipe for Kentucky Bourbon Balls. You soak the pecans in bourbon, then set them aside. Beat butter and confectioners sugar then fold in your soaked pecans. From there, you just chill the dough, roll into balls and dip in melted chocolate. (A pecan placed on top provides that photo-worthy touch!)

I'm heading to a cookie swap this weekend with a dilemma and need outside thoughts option 1 - old reliable, have the ingredients and know exactly how it turns out option 2- new adventure! fun for me in theory but likely stressful, have exactly none of the ingredients beyond flour sugar butter help!

I love trying out new recipes, so I go with option 2! Preferably from our issue lol. They're tested so you know they're safe! Look, even if the results aren't perfect, they're cookies. People will be happy no matter what. Anyway, if for some reason your new recipes flops, you can always do your old reliable as a back up, if you have the ingredients.

Try Rodmans. They have lots of international foods, so you will have many choices. Might not always know exactly what type of fish is on the inside if it is not a brand that is specifically made for US distribution.

Ah, yes, great thought.

What about those old fashioned metal tins that are reusable?

After years of dreading the use of my hand slicer and grater, I ordered some NoCut gloves you mentioned in a previous week. The only ones I ever saw in stores were way too large for my very small hands. Well I got the gloves and used them in my Thanksgiving food prep. They worked beautifully. Thank you so much for such practical and helpful suggestions in cooking and all the related topics.

You are welcome! Glad to have helped protect your precious hands!

Thanks for the tip on this. I want one to use on Anaheim peppers after I skin them. Yep, that's the ticket.

Your recent video about flaky v. mealy crust was revolutionary. I only make a few pies a year, and hadn't wrapped my mind around different crusts for different pie types. I went pea-sized with my butter for my custard pies last week and they were great!

Happy to help! So often with baking, it's these tiny little adjustments that can make a huge difference in the end result!!!

Do you have a go-to meal that you eat on Christmas, similar to Thanksgiving? I'm hoping to give my family's Christmas food a bit of an upgrade this year.

My family doesn't really do Christmas, but my partner's family smokes a salmon every year, someone brings bacon-wrapped scallops and someone else brings littleneck clams.

I have had my eye on a couple of skillet cookies from your archive and others; I wondered: what is the magic to baking them the skillet? Would you make any modifications if I were to bake in a 9" springform or cake pan, for example?

The main advantage of a skillet cookie is that the cookie gets chewy on the outside, but stays sort of soft in the center in that gooey, delightful way! The other reason some are made in skillets is that the metal skillet conducts heat really well, making a crisper exterior. You can definitely make most skillet cookie recipes in a greased cake pan (I'd maybe suggest a regular cake pan over a springform) - it may require a more watchful eye to ensure it's browned properly, and the timing may be different. Oh, and uing a darker cake pan would be better to give more similar results to a skillet!

They just debuted a new Apple from Washington State called the Cosmic Crisp. It's a hybrid developed by WSU (Go Cougs) to have a good flavor, crispness and shelf life including months in controlled storage. I'd say they hit a home run on taste and crispness. I bought four of them at $2.99 a pound at our local market and that worked out to $1.65 per apple. To expensive for me but it is a great apple. One happy side affect is Honeycrisp apples have dropped to $1.99 a pound out here and I'll just buy them.

Miss bramleys in cooking ... and coxs and pippins (along with the hybrid) and my absolute favorite - those beautiful gold russets - sigh. On top of that - my husband eats 15lbs (yes that's right) of RED DELICIOUS a week. What's a Brit to do?

Hi! My husband (who is vegetarian) and I love that you always have at least one "show-stopper" vegetarian recipe for the holidays. This year, due to illness and family travel, we are having our Christmas dinner catered. I would love to pass along one of your recipes for the caterer to make. I see that the portobello, pecan and chestnut wellington can be made three days ahead -- any other recipes that fit the bill? That one is delicious but I'd love to have some other options as well. Thank you!

Check out our vegetarian holiday mains roundup here. The parts for the Stuffed Squash Roast can be made a week ahead of time and then reheated together!


Stella Parks has been vocal about her hatred of the silpat and says they mess up browning and other traits in her cookies. I trust Bravetart implicitly, but... aren't there some cookie types which lend themselves to the slower heat? perhaps Russian Tea Cakes or other non-browning types? Your expert opinions please!

I am so glad not to be alone in my dislike (hatred!) of Silpat -- I thought I was alone in this! I am always team parchment!

Maybe for cookies that are less butter-heavy? 

When I give something to my neighbors, I used a clean take-out plastic container, so they don't have to return anything to me.

My dad always used to say, "Don't practice on your final product." I'd go with option 1.

Fair!

I've made the Post's pumpkin apple dapple cake twice (SO GOOD!) but cannot get the glaze to set. I tried cooking it longer the second time i made it but after i poured it on the cake, it never set. It is still delicious and I like how it sort of sinks into the cake but it never "set" like it said in the instructions. Thoughts? Am happy to continue to enjoy it as is.

I will let the Post folks weigh in as well on this question, as they know the recipe. My experience with cakes and glazes and getting a glaze to “set,” has a lot to do with the type of sugar used. For example, a wet sugar like honey doesn’t set in a glaze like a little powdered sugar will. Wonder if it’s the cornstarch in that powdered sugar that causes a glaze or icing to set?

These are my favorite. You can see how the bottom crust is doing, and they do a great job.

One thing I have learned about cookie presses is they wont work on parchment paper or I suspect baking mats. They need to stick to the cookie sheet but they come off easily after baking.

I save up those Costco black plastic salad containers (from the food court) and use them to gift cookies. Perfect size.

Excellent advice. Basically what I shared with my dad this year when he said he wanted to spatchcock the turkey for Thanksgiving but a) had never done it before and b) thought he would use a SAW to cut out the backbone!

First, love the name. Second, it will work for two people on my list, and I'm rather sure neither has a smoking gun (at least not the kind you recommended).

Could chopped dried or maraschino cherries be added to these, along with the nuts?

Maybe dried, but I think maraschinos would be too wet for the dough.

This year my family would like to do our all-out, fancy dinner on Christmas Eve. That way, Christmas day can be spent enjoying one another's company and feasting on leftovers. What are some dishes that make a Christmas Eve menu special but re-heat well the next day? No meat, please.

Scroll through some of our veggie mains here--I think the biryani in the Biryani Stuffed Pumpkins will reheat nicely.

As for other veggie things, check out these sides. The Sweet Potato Salad With Orange-Maple Dressing is delicious and you won't even need to reheat it! Tastes great room temp. '

 

Thanks for being here! What a busy, sweet day it's been. As to the winners today, we'll send along a copy of Erin's book, "The Fearless Baker," to the person who asked about their sticky dough. And the person who asked about freezing sugar cookie dough will get a copy of Anne's "American Cookie." Please send your name and contact info to Kari, and we'll make sure those books get out to you.

Come on back next week. In the meantime, happy baking and eating!

In This Chat
Becky Krystal
Becky is the lead writer for Voraciously.
Erin McDowell
Erin is the recipe editor for PureWow and baking consultant at large for Food52. She is the author of "The Fearless Baker."
Olga Massov
Olga is a food editor at The Post.
Kari Sonde
Kari is the food editorial aide.
Emily Heil
Emily is a staff food writer at The Post.
Carrie Allan
Carrie is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Anne Byrn
Anne Byrn is a cookbook author and the former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Tennessean. She is the author of "American Cookie."
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