tips & tricks

SMART COOKIES

Baking pros share top holiday cookie hacks.

WRITTEN BY ANN LINDEMANN
PHOTOS BY LOU MANNA

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From left, Kayla Van Every, team leader for the cookie division of Mix in Reno, with owners Mary Allstead and Kris Daters

When it comes to exquisite sugar cookie decoration, Mix Bakeshop co-owner Mary Allstead takes the cake. Her popular Reno bakery is filled with delectable masterpieces of all kinds, and holidays are no exception.

Allstead offers holiday cookie-decorating classes that are wildly popular with the DIY crowd. She encourages her students to enjoy the process and not get hung up on perfection.

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Festive holiday cookies prepared by Mix

“Anything you make is going to look beautiful to your family,” she reminds them. “They’ll still be head over heels, and the cookies will taste delicious. The classes are so fun, and there are always one or two students who I want to hire!”

Allstead offers these pro tips for cookie rookies:

  • Don’t cheap out on vanilla. “There are certain things that make a huge difference in baking, and good vanilla is one of them — especially in frosting,” she says. Her favorite is Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, which is available at Williams-Sonoma or Amazon.
  • Allstead says a Wilton reusable piping bag with a No. 2 tip is the most versatile tool for frosting cookies — a decorating must-have. Smaller tips are nice to have for finer detail work. Stock up on an array of colorful sprinkles and edible glitter. And remember to apply the sprinkles when the frosting still is wet. Decorating kits and supplies are available at Mix Bakeshop, Amazon, and Walmart.
  • When it comes to color, opt for gel food coloring, as it adds less moisture to the frosting.

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Festive holiday cookies prepared by Mix

Holiday cookie logs

As with Mix Bakeshop, the display cases at Sugar Pine Cakery & Café in Tahoe City serve as an edible exhibition of the baker’s expertise. Co-owner Allison Sayles creates beautiful cookies for her customers, but when it comes to gifts for her friends and family, she takes a different route by giving slice-and-bake cookie logs.

Essentially, she makes a large batch of cookie dough and rolls it into foot-long rolls. Sayles wraps the rolls with plastic wrap and then brown paper. She twists the ends with natural twine and ties on a handwritten tag with baking instructions.

“I started this as my every year gift because it represents me in many ways,” Sayles explains. “Of course, people expect yummy treats from me. True to my style of baking, these cookies are indulgent with a bit of healthy thrown in for good measure … Friends and family say they love it (and count on it now) during the holidays. When they need something for parties and houseguests, they can just slice off a few portions and bake.”

Tahoe-based writer Ann Lindemann is looking forward to holiday cookie baking, and this year she resolves to eat just one — OK, maybe two — cookies a day.

 

Sugar Cookies

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Festive holiday cookies prepared by Mix

(courtesy of Mary Allstead, co-owner, Mix Bakeshop in Reno; adapted from a Sweetsugarbelle.com recipe. Yields 2½ dozen)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups confectioner’s sugar

1 egg

2 to 3 teaspoons flavoring extract (almond or vanilla)

2½ to 2¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Cream together softened butter and confectioner’s sugar. Crack egg into separate bowl and add flavoring. Add egg mixture to butter-sugar mixture and combine until egg is thoroughly incorporated.

In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, then add little by little to wet mixture. Dough is ready when most of it sticks to the paddle. When touched, it has a little give but does not stick to fingers.

Roll out on parchment to about ¼ inch thick; use flour for dusting as necessary. Cut and bake at 400 degrees F for 7 to 8 minutes. This version makes 2 to 2½ dozen cookies; doubled, it makes 4 to 5 dozen.

Tips: Dough doesn’t need to be chilled before baking; however, it’s wise to let it rest for a couple minutes before rolling out. These cookies don’t get brown, and they do spread a bit.

Royal Icing

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Festive holiday cookies prepared by Mix

(courtesy of Mary Allstead, co-owner, Mix Bakeshop in Reno; adapted from a Sweetsugarbelle.com recipe. Makes about 5 cups)

2 pounds (1 bag) confectioner's sugar

5 tablespoons meringue powder

2 to 3 teaspoons flavoring extract

½ to ¾ cups warm water

Begin by stirring flavoring extract into half the water. Using a paddle attachment, gently mix sugar and meringue powder. It's not necessary to sift sugar beforehand, but you can if you like.

With mixer on its lowest setting, slowly add water/flavoring mix to dry ingredients. As water is added, icing will become thick and lumpy.

Continue to add remaining water (this may or may not be the entire amount) until mixture reaches a thick, honey-like consistency. At this point, turn mixer to medium speed and whip 2 to 4 minutes until icing is thick and fluffy. Mixing time can vary greatly, so watch carefully and stop mixing when icing is thick enough to form soft peaks.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Logs

(courtesy of Allison Sayles, co-owner, Sugar Pine Cakery & Café in Tahoe City. Makes 65 cookies or 5 good-sized logs)

1 pound room-temperature, unsalted butter

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup caramel (homemade or store bought)

3 room-temperature eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2½ cups all-purpose flour

7 cups rolled oats

1½ cups wheat germ

1½ cups ground flax meal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2½ cups chocolate chips

1½ cups toasted pecans, chopped

1½ cups toasted walnuts, chopped

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl, whisk in flax meal and wheat germ, and set aside.

In working bowl of mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed, add caramel, and continue to cream. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, and add eggs one at a time, scraping down bowl as you go. Add vanilla, then scrape down again.

Add flour mixture in a few separate batches, making sure it’s all incorporated. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips by hand.

Divide dough into several portions of your choice, and roll out into log shape, making sure log is even in size from one end to the other. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze. Before giving the cookie log as a gift, wrap in your holiday paper of choice and tie ends with twine or ribbon.

Include baking instructions on tag: Bake at 350 degrees F, 8 to 12 minutes. Ovens may vary. Bake until edges start to brown and middles are set. If using a convection oven, adjust to 325 degrees F for 8 minutes.

Mix Bakeshop
1117 California Ave., Reno • 775-329-1748 • For holiday cookie class details, visit Mixreno.com

Sugar Pine Cakery & Cafe 
2923 Lake Forest Road, Tahoe City • 530-583-2253 • Sugarpinecakery.com

 

Others: Festive holiday cookies prepared by Mix

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