Simple Cookies: Christmas is the time of year for easy-made sweets

December 8, 2017

Baking cookies is a holiday tradition for many families. Come the holiday season, many homes are filled with the inviting scents of vanilla, cinnamon and melting chocolate.

Baking cookies can be a social occasion in which family members and friends gather to create recipes passed down through generations. Or baking can be a solitary venture in which cookies are prepared and packaged as holiday gifts. Either way, people who bake during the holiday season understand that making Christmas cookies can be a time-consuming, yet rewarding, process.

This year, holiday bakers can embrace a number of time-saving tips and tricks to reduce the amount of time they spend in the kitchen and possibly even improve on existing recipes.

n USE A COOKIE MIX. Who says you have to toil and make cookies from scratch? It’s the thought that counts, and any number of creative recipes can begin by utilizing a premade baking mix. These mixes already have most of the dry cookie ingredients sifted together, including flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. All you have to do is add the wet ingredients and any extra embellishments to make the mix your own.

If mixes are too much work, purchase refrigerated or frozen cookie dough. Include your own add-ins, such as nuts, white chocolate chips, bits of dried fruit, or crumbled candy canes, to give the premade dough a unique flavor.

n PREPARE AHEAD — Many cookie dough recipes can be made and stored for later use. In fact, refrigerating a log of cookie dough can make it easier to cut or handle later on. Spread out the bulk of your baking over two days and you might feel less taxed.

n TRY A NO-BAKE RECIPE — Creative culinary experts continually reveal their clever tricks, and many of these include no-bake versions of favorite desserts. No bake cookies come together in a matter of minutes, but still employ a host of delicious ingredients. Recipes frequently feature similar ingredients to traditional cookies, but rely on chocolate, honey or peanut butter as the setting agent to keep them together. Bakers may also like not having to turn on their ovens.

n RECYCLE LEFTOVER COOKIES — If you have a fair amount of cookies remaining or several that broke apart or do not look good enough to serve, never fear. Such cookies can be used as part of another delicious dessert. Grind cookies into crumbs that can serve as a pie crust for pudding pies or no-bake cheesecakes, or mix cookie crumbs with cake frosting or a nut butter and roll into balls. Dunk the balls into melted chocolate, add a lollipop stick and make delicious cookie pops.

Cookies may be holiday traditions, but there are ways to reduce the amount of work and time required of holiday baking.

The Dark Side

Many people enjoy baking come the holiday season and perhaps no dish is more synonymous with holiday baking than cookies. Children leave cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, while adults may indulge and enjoy an extra cookie or two at family gatherings or holiday office parties.

Cookies come in all shapes and sizes, so bakers have an array of options at their disposal when planning their holiday menus. Chocolate chip cookies may be among the most popular types of cookies, and bakers who want to capitalize on that popularity while giving loved ones something a little different may want to try the recipe for “Double Chocolate Chip Cookies” from Maxine Clark’s “Chocolate: Deliciously Indulgent Recipes for Chocolate Lovers,” published by Ryland, Peters and Small.

Bake Healthier Treats

Cut calories, fat and sugar from baked goods with some simple and healthy substitutions.

Baking can be a relaxing and rewarding pastime that parents can share with their children. Baking promotes a variety of skills, including the ability to follow instructions and make measurements. Baking also employs mathematics, making baking a rather delicious science experiment.

Perhaps one of the few pitfalls of baking is indulging in too many sweet treats when taste testing and then enjoying the fruits of your labors. But bakers concerned about their health can substitute healthy ingredients when recipes call for foods bakers would prefer to avoid.

The following ingredients can make healthy additions to baked-good recipes without sacrificing flavor.

n WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR — Flour is at the heart of many baking recipes, including those for cakes, cookies and pies. Refined white flour may not be the healthiest ingredient, so try whole wheat flour, which is full of nutrients and an extra dose of fiber. Fiber can help lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Try slightly less than one cup of whole wheat flour for regular flour as a swap if a recipe calls for one cup of flour.

nFRUIT PUREE — When a recipe calls for oil, margarine, butter or shortening, consider replacing such ingredients with fruit purees, which often add moisture and texture just as well but without the same amount of calories. Applesauce and prunes can be helpful in chocolate dishes. Pumpkin or sweet potato are other purees that can add a nutritional boost as well.

nGreek yogurt: Greek yogurt is a powerhouse of protein and flavor with relatively few calories per serving. It can make a super substitution in recipes for things like sour cream, buttermilk or even cream cheese.

nApplesauce: Believe it or not, unsweetened applesauce also can replace some or all of the sugar in a recipe. When doing a 1:1 ratio swap, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.

nMarshmallow or meringue: Ever check the nutritional information for many store-bought cake frostings? They pack a considerable amount of calories, sugar and fat. Some also are made with hydrogenated oils. Consider using a marshmallow fluff or homemade meringue to top cupcakes or decorate cookies.

nStevia: Stevia is an herbal plant that grows primarily in South America. Stevia has a long history as a sweetener in that area, and now has become a popular sugar substitute elsewhere. Stevia is an all-natural, no-calorie, no-carbohydrate sweetener. The FDA approved only the purified form of stevia, called stevioside. Remember to check each brand’s sugar-to-stevia ratio to make sure you get the right measurements for your recipe.

nEGG WHITES — Replace a whole egg in a recipe with two egg whites or 1/4 cup of egg substitute.

nCHOCOLATE NIBS — Nibs are processed morsels that do not have the same amount of added sugar as many chocolate chips. Dark chocolate nibs can provide a healthy dose of antioxidants as well.

nEVAPORATED SKIM MILK — Try evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream to make whipped cream for a low-fat option.

Baking brings family together, and the treats prepare can make an enjoyable finale to a great meal. With healthy substitutions, any recipe can be altered for the better.

Learning to Bake Cookies

Baking cookies has been a part of the Branton household as long as I can remember. The kinds of cookies and reasons for baking have changed through the years, but still, the crunchy or chewy treats remain a stable for Christmas celebrating.

In the 1970s, baking M&M cookies was a new fad fully embraced by Vicky Branton. They were such a hit because rarely had anyone eatten them. Now, they are commonplace, but enjoyable just the same. So the recipe is provided as a reminder of good eats.

Whatever you bake at Christmas, remember the homemade gifts are the best. Everybody loves them in all shapes, sizes and packaging. Time to get baking.