Versatile Recipe Streamlines Holiday Baking

When it comes to holiday baking, clever cooks come up with lots of time-saving methods to cut down on the hustle and bustle of the season. While some start their cookie baking early, others turn to tried-and-true recipes that offer plenty of versatility.

For example, Gloria McBride of Payson, Utah relies on one recipe for Basic Cookie Dough, then transforms it into a variety of sweet treats for ladies luncheons, special occasions and holidays.

"I use this recipe in a deli where I'm the baker and cook," she relates. "It's easy to stir up one batch that will make four or five different kinds of cookies," she explains. "I know everyone loves them, because we always sell out. And no one even suspects that one basic dough makes all the cookies."

For best results with Gloria's recipe and most other cookie recipes, keep these baking tips in mind:

  • Measure accurately using standard measuring cups and spoons.
  • Use either butter or regular margarine in recipes, not whipped or reduced-fat margarine or spread. These products contain water, which will change the taste and texture of cookies.
  • Preheat the oven for 10-15 minutes before baking cookies.
  • Place dough on cooled cookie sheets. Using pans that are hot from the oven can cause dough to spread and lose its shape before baking.
  • Leave at least 2 inches around the sides of the baking sheet in the oven. If time allows, bake only one sheet of cookies at a time on the middle rack.
  • To keep cookies from becoming soggy, cool them on wire racks.

With these tips, the following recipes and the helpful pointers for storing your baked goods, you're well on your way to stress-free baking this holiday season!

Keeping Your Goodies Fresh

Many holiday baked goods, including cookies, can be made ahead of time and stored until you're ready to send them or serve to friends and family. If you start your baking early, keep these tips in mind:

Short-Term Storage

  • Cool cookies completely before storing.
  • Store different kinds of cookies in separate containers.
  • Store soft cookies in a container with a tight-fitting lid. To prevent cookies from sticking together, place waxed paper between the layers of cookies. Frosted or filled cookies should be stored in a single layer.
  • Keep crisp cookies in a container with a loose-fitting lid.
  • Some cookies, such as those containing cream cheese or sour cream in the fillings, may need to be refrigerated. Check individual recipes for storage suggestions.

Fresh from the Freezer

  • For longer storage, place baked goods in heavy-duty foil, freezer bags or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids before freezing.
  • Label the container with the type of cookie and date.
  • Cookies can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw them in the container at room temperature. If cookies should be crisp when eaten, remove from the container before thawing.

Mailing Cookies

  • Choose cookies that can withstand the trip. Drop cookies, soft moist cookies and bars travel well.
  • Pack cookies snugly in a cardboard box or metal tin. Line the container with plastic wrap, waxed paper or foil to preserve flavors, then use crumpled waxed paper between cookies and layers for cushion.
  • Wrap the cookie container in bubble wrap or crumpled newspaper, then place it in a sturdy shipping box that's slightly larger than the container.
  • Mark the box "perishable" to encourage careful handling.

Cookie Recipes

Gloria turns everyday ingredients into a Basic Cookie Dough that's the basis for five sensational sweets. "You can bake some cookies right away, then pop the extra dough in the freezer for later," she notes.

  • Sugar Cookies. Use cookie cutters to cut seasonal shapes from a few cups of Gloria's dough. Prepared frosting and colored sugar make it a snap to decorate these classic Christmas cookies.
  • Jelly Sandwich Cookies. Sandwiching jelly between two layers of the basic dough creates these stained glass-like creations. "Your favorite raisin filling is excellent in these cookies, too," Gloria suggests.
  • Chocolate Mallow Cookies. Cocoa, marshmallows and ready-made frosting transform the basic dough into these delightful treats. "I like to top each with a pecan half," Gloria adds.
  • Cherry Surprise Cookies. Gloria tucks a rich chocolate surprise into each of these cute bites. Candied cherries add a colorful finishing touch.
  • Crumb-Topped Date Bars. The basic dough doubles as a shortbread-like crust and crumbly topping for these sweet date bars shared by Gloria.