It's officially baking season! I'm usually baking a wide variety of different holiday cookies during this time for parties, cocktail hours, and/or small gifts. It's such a busy time of year, and holiday baking can be overwhelming, so I've compiled a few tips and tricks to help ease the stress and be prepared!
1. Choose the right baking sheet pans.
When it comes to baking in general, I recommend purchasing the silver heavy aluminum baking sheets without coating. Darker sheet materials like nonstick baking pans can cause the bottoms of your cookies to brown too much. Why? It's because materials like anodized aluminum or cast aluminum tend to absorb and hold on to heat more than uncoated aluminum. Insulated baking sheets were designed for even baking using air circulation, but they often require slightly longer baking times. I suggest going with the pans the professionals use, which are plain silver heavy uncoated aluminum. You can then use pan spray or parchment paper to address any sticking concerns.
2. Don't overcrowd the oven.
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to baking. Make sure not to rush the baking process by cramming as many cookies on a sheet as you can or loading up baking sheets into the oven. The best method to yield evenly browned and perfect cookies is to bake one sheet of cookies in the oven at a time. And when laying your cookies on the sheet pan, make sure to space them out appropriately so they don't spread and touch each other. This will prevent the "my dozen cookies have turned into one big cookie blob" issue! And finally, it's best to bake one sheet of cookies at a time on the middle rack, because it will ensure even browning.
3. Make sure to bake on COOLED and CLEANED baking sheet pans.
It's important to allow the baking sheet pans to cool down in between baking cookie batches to avoid laying down raw cookie dough onto a hot sheet pan. If not, you may end up with unevenly baked and shaped holiday cookies. I also recommend wiping down your sheet pans in between batches to remove residual grease or fat from the last batch of cookies. You can also use parchment paper and simply change it out between batches as necessary. Paying attention to these small details will result in beautifully baked cookies.
Don't be afraid to experiment! Traditions are wonderful during the holidays, but it's also a great time to have fun and experiment with your recipes. You might come away with a new tradition or two. Baking is a science, but for those risk takers out there, you'd be surprised at how easily you can customize a traditional recipe by just swapping out one single ingredient. If that's too daring, the easiest way to customize a cookie recipe is to swap out the add ins. For example, here is Chef Thomas Keller's mother's Pecan Sandie Cookie recipe. Instead of the chopped pecans, you can easily replace that ingredient with something different like chopped candy canes or one of your favorite ingredients. Another way to experiment with this recipe would be to spread salted-caramel frosting on top of the baked cookies then sprinkle the pecans on top, rather than folding them into the dough. With one simple change to a recipe, you can make it your very own. So go ahead, be creative and have some fun experimenting this holiday season.