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Baking cookies isn't a piece of cake

Planning and reading recipe ensure your success


by: REVIEW PHOTO: BARB RANDALL - Barb Randall recently had a cookie baking marathon. She made more than 13 dozen cookies to be shared over the holiday season. Pictured are the Chocolate-Black Pepper cookies, the recipe for which is shared today.
When I was growing up our Christmas traditions called for a baking marathon. At least one day would be devoted to baking batches of many different cookies: shortbread, sugar cookie cut outs, gingerbread men, cream wafers plus fudge, divinity, peanut brittle, popcorn balls and more sweet treats. With my own family I continued the tradition, though over the years I’ve scaled the quantity down to a single batch of fudge and sugar cookies.

This year we have several events on the calendar that call for homemade treats, so I decided to hold a baking marathon to prepare everything that would hopefully get us through the holiday season.

My experience reminded me that baking isn’t simply “a piece of cake,” as the saying goes. There are several things you can do to ensure the quality of your baked goods.

First off, plan what you will bake and read your recipes, even those you’ve made several times.

Make a complete list of ingredients and quantities you need. If baking cookies and cakes from scratch is something you do just once a year, take this opportunity to replace spices, baking powder and baking soda. Spices lose potency; if you can’t smell a spice it is safe to assume it won’t have much flavor either.

Make dough for all your recipes before baking. This is just more efficient use of your tools and space. Most recipes call for chilling the dough before baking, so prepare a recipe, wrap it and refrigerate it. It can be chilling while you make the next dough.

To lighten the load, you can make dough one day and then bake cookies the next. Be careful to store it away from foods that give off aromas, such as onions.

Use parchment paper lined bake sheets. This keeps your baking sheets clean so you can quickly slide baked cookies off onto cooling racks and then reload the bake sheet with cookies to bake.

Bake at the correct temperature. Not all cookie recipes are baked at the same temperature. Start baking those at the lowest temperature first and then adjust the temperature up as you work through the recipes. Baking at the right temperature is very important to the quality of your cookie. Baking at too low a temperature may warp the cookie shape, and of course, baking at too high a temperature will cause them to burn.

Use a timer. It is really easy to forget that something is in the oven if you are multi-tasking or even just visiting with your baking helpers.

Cool cookies as directed. Some recipes have you remove the cookies from the pan to a wire rack immediately; some are cooled for a period on the bake sheet. Allow your bake sheets to cool at least slightly, too, so that dough doesn’t melt when it hits the hot bake sheet.

Give yourself space to decorate. You need elbow room to decorate the cookies and space to lay them out while they dry, if you are icing and using sanding sugars.

Store the cookies as directed. Airtight containers are best, but don’t store cookies until the icing is dry.

I lost count, but figure I baked and decorated more than 13 dozen cookies during my marathon. My most valuable tip for successful baking would be to enlist friends and family to help, so you can spread the joy.

There are two shops you should visit before you begin your own baking marathon, regardless of how many dozens of cookies you plan to make.

The first would be to Savory Spice Shop at 7857 SE 13th Ave. in Sellwood. They carry any spice you can imagine. Ask them about their unique Black Onyx Dutch process cocoa powder and be sure to take several deep whiffs of the many different cinnamons. You will find spices for baking, and cooking meats, curries, barbeque, etc. This is a shop you will go back to time and time again.

The second field trip I recommend is to The Decorette Shop, 11945 SW Pacific Hwy., suite 109, in Tigard. This shop carries oodles of sanding sugars, decorating sugars, food coloring gels, tools, cookie cutters and more.

One of the recipes I made during my marathon was for Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies. It calls for instant espresso powder; I used finely ground coffee instead with great results. Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx cocoa powder and one of their special cinnamons would be wonderful in these!

Bon Appetite! Eat something wonderful!

Chocolate-Black Pepper Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/4 teaspoon finely ground pepper, plus more for sprinkling

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon good quality instant espresso powder or finely ground coffee

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Course sanding sugar for rolling

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, pepper, espresso powder and cinnamon in a large bowl and set aside.

Put butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, mix until just combined.

Turn out dough onto a piece of parchment paper and roll into a 2-inch diameter log. Roll log in the parchment. Refrigerate at least for 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove log from parchment paper. Let soften slightly at room temperature, about 5 minutes. Roll log in sanding sugar, gently pressing down to adhere sugar to dough. Transfer log to a cutting board, and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

Bake cookies until there is slight resistance when you lightly touch centers, about 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to two days.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, November 1998

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 101, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




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