Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's almost COOKIE DAY!!

By the way, if anyone has been printing out cookie recipes, you should know that I made an error in the Cinnamon Sugar Cookies. I omitted the flour in the list of ingredients. One of my baking gals pointed it out for me, so I just went back and edited it. The recipe needs 2 1/2 cups of flour. It wasn't omitted in the directions, I guess I just skipped a line. It's all fixed now but I wanted to note it in case anyone had printed it. I hope no one made cookie soup because of me! Hmmm....well, if you did, let me know how it turned out...sounds kind of good! lol

I'm taking a one week break from Baking GALS...except necessities...I am concentrating this week on three things: COOKIE DAY, getting my house back in order (I put in three new windows last window treatments yet...neighbors might be sick of the show!), and catching up on some homework (I'm a part-time student in addition to the other craziness...I had been taking a break recently but the college harassed me into returning and taking two classes...problem is I didn't sign up til the class was already in session so I started two weeks I have lots of homework I need to get done!).
BUT, for the next couple days, COOKIES is my focus. I only do this once a year and I don't want to disappoint anyone by not being a cookie freak. Did I mention I made matching aprons for my bakers? lol...yep, I'm nuts!

Randy and I spent pretty much this entire weekend at my parents house. Randy lost his job a few months ago so he decided to catch himself a freezer full of meat...and my dad being the ultimate sportsman taught him to hunt. Anyway, they spent the weekend traipsing through the woods and my mom and I went shopping....good weekend, but not a ton got accomplished at my house. At least I got a little Christmas shopping done but I still have a ton to do.

I think I mentioned before that my mom is the one who's always pressuring me to cut back the cookie bake, then whenever she sees me she's showing me more recipes! Well, spending the entire weekend at her house, our cookie list has grown. We are now up to 29 types of cookies for this year, and I'm very much considering adding a No-Bake recipe if I can find one I like...maybe I'm a little OCD, but I like nice round numbers! (and if anyone has a really great no-bake cookie recipe they can share, I would love to have it!)
I doubt I'm going to have time to post all the new recipes before next weekend (pesky homework!), although I will post them eventually. Instead, I'll just explain to you all how I do the schedules. It's pretty simple really, I gather up all the recipes I want to use and then narrow it down to the number mom allows me (lol). Once I have all the recipes together, I start adding up all the ingredients we need. I divide the ingredients by the number of people participating in the cookie bake (six this year). In our case, I give my mom all the little spices and flavorings that we only need a little bit of, since she's got it all at her house already and there's no sense in someone buying a big jar or bottle of something we only need a teaspoon of. I also give her anything that might be a pain to transport for the others. Then I add to my list anything that is unusual or hard to find or that I think someone might not get the right one for the recipe so we don't have any nasty cookie day surprises. After that, I divide up the rest of the ingredients so all six lists come up equal. Mom and I try to estimate how much the ingredients cost on each list so everyone ends up spending around the same amount. This year, the estimate for each list was about $25. And we give out the lists early so that everyone can try to buy most of their things on sale. I also always make sure to get some of the basics on my list and mom's because we've been known to get up in the wee hours and get started (usually mixing dough that needs refrigeration).
After I get the ingredients divided, it's time to start the schedules. First, I read through each recipe to take note of which ones need to be mixed and refrigerated for a certain amount of time. Then I pile the recipes in front of me, divided by baking temp. I either start with the 300 degree recipes (as is the case this year) or the 400 degree ones and work my way up or down from there so we're not constantly adjusting the oven temp. I usually decide who goes first by looking at the piles...if a recipe in one or the other pile has icing or gets dipped in chocolate or something that has to set, etc, I do that end of the spectrum first so they have time to set longer before we divvy them up.
So once the cookies are in order by baking temp, I arrange them within the temp range. I try to arrange them with a lower prep one mixed with a higher prep to give us time to keep up with the oven. If I'm doing one bar cookie, I try to bake it with something else that I know we'll have three trays to bake, so the oven always has both racks full of cookies. So, then I start filling the cookies into a baking time chart....this year, it starts at 9am with the Cinnamon Sugar Cookies. I always allow for the maximum baking time and round up (if I have two ovens-full of cookies baking for 12 minutes each, I round up to 25 mins for the total...I know, generous, huh? lol). It always works out because most of the cookies don't take the max time to bake, especially when the oven is on all day, so we're usually ahead of schedule by a few minutes.
After the baking schedule, I do the "forming schedule" and the "mixing schedule" at the same time. It's pretty easy to figure out; you just look at the baking schedule and make sure the next cookie to bake is ready on time. I usually have two people mixing, two people forming (rolling out, cutting, forming balls, filling cookie trays). The other two people are baking and finishing the cookies (dipping in toppings, rolling in powdered sugar, etc.
I start the mixers with the first cookie to go in the oven, so they can send the batch to the forming table to be put on trays, then I have them work on the recipes that have to be refrigerated, starting with the one that needs the longest and going down the list. I usually schedule the cookies to be formed about 15 minutes before they bake, just in case we get ahead on the oven a little.
This year, my mom and I are going to bake the sugar cookies ahead so they have time to cool completely before we ice and decorate them. In previous years, we've baked part of them, or none at all beforehand, and that works too, but this year we're going to try to save our bakers by cutting 2 hours out of the baking schedule (we make eight batches!). All six of us will decorate them together at mid-day; the rest of the day everyone will be mostly at her station. The baker keeps the oven going...with so many cookies coming and going, it's important to have one person focused on them...the last thing we want is burned cookies! The finisher takes over where the baker ends, topping some cookies with chocolate bars and coconut (Chocolate Oat Chewies), swirling some in chocolate and nuts (Almond Chocolate Chippers), rolling some in powdered sugar (Sandies), etc...just all that fun little stuff that makes the cookies look so pretty and done.
Everyone gets a detailed list of their station's duties, along with the right tools to do the job and instructions about when to pass the recipe on to the next station. There are a few recipes that go straight from mixing to oven (bar cookies mostly) and some go to the fridge before's all really pretty simple. And there's always someone available to help one person get on track if they need it. The baker usually has some time while cookies are baking to do up a few dishes or help out with mixing, etc. No one is really over-worked, although it does tend to be a long day.
After all the baking, the finisher arranges the final cookies on the tables in the family room. We all go out there and admire our hard work, then we sit and have a cup of tea...maybe sample a cookie if we want to, or have a little snack. We sit and talk for a while, then everyone gets out her trays or containers and we walk around the tables filling them. I always have a list of who I'm giving trays to so I can tailor the tray to the recipients. I wrap them up airtight and put a removable tag on each one with the name and date I plan to give it out, then they go straight into a freezer until it's time to hand them out. I always bring a big tray to work the next day and that eats up most of my cookies. My mom likes to freezer hers all by type, then make trays up right out of the freezer when she wants one.
So, that's it...if anyone wants to plan a cookie bake, it's really not that hard, just a bit time really have to check the recipes twice to make sure you allow time for all the steps. I usually finish my schedules, then I take each recipe one at a time and read the steps, making sure they're all scheduled to be done. I've done any where from 25-42 cookies each year and most people come back for more cookie bake the next year!
And now, I'm off....gotta re-write my schedules now that we've added new recipes....I'll try to post again soon but it might not be til next week.

By the way, Baking GALS next round is going to be from December 5-18, so keep those baking supplies close by!


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