When it’s cold outside, it’s time to light the fireplace, bundle up in your favorite sweatshirt, and bake. Baking is a great way to warm up your space and make it smell good at the same time. This time of year, with company parties, community get-togethers, and family festivities to attend, making plenty of cookies serves two purposes: it warms up your apartment and you have a nice selection of offerings to take to your host/hostess.
The best part about baking cookies? You don’t have to be a great cook to pull it off. Even if you never bake and can barely boil water, cookies are perfect for beginners. They are done in batches, so if one batch doesn’t turn out, you still have several more chances to get them right. Unlike cakes or other baked goods, you can sample one to make sure they taste okay and no one will ever know. And, they are fun!
The easiest cookie to make is a basic sugar cookie. It is just six basic ingredients: butter, sugar, baking soda, flour, egg, and vanilla. If you plan to do cut-outs, mix it up and put it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Keeping your dough cold will make it easier to work with, so chill it if necessary between cuttings.
If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can use the opening of a small drinking glass or make your own out of an aluminum pan (be sure to wear gloves to avoid nicks and cuts). Keep it simple – just one or two simple designs to start with – or you may find yourself overwhelmed with floury cookie cutters and scraps of unused dough.
More experienced bakers can tackle other types of cookies. One of my favorites this time of year is gingerbread. An actual gingerbread house is a huge undertaking, but you can make cut-out houses, gingerbread men, and other shapes in a weekend. Make the dough ahead of time and let it rest in the fridge overnight. If you don’t have a gingerbread man or a house-shaped cookie cutter, make your own design out of cardboard. Cut the shape out, lay it on the dough, and cut around it. (This is also the best way to design an actual gingerbread house – build it first from cardboard, then lay the cardboard pieces on the dough and cut them out. After they cool, “glue” the walls and roof together with royal icing.)
If you like the idea of cookies but not the whole rolling, cutting, and decorating part, try a drop cookie recipe, such as chocolate chip. Or if you want something a little out of the ordinary, try some of these festive cookies.
Once you have several batches of cookies, organize a cookie exchange! Host it in the clubhouse or in your apartment. Invite your neighbors, friends, family – and ask everyone to bring two dozen cookies – one dozen for the party and another dozen for the exchange – and a large container. Ask each guest to fill their container with a mix of the cookies to take home with them. You may want to leave a sign-up sheet for e-mail addresses at the cookie table so recipes can be swapped after the party. This is not only fun, but you’ll end up with a wide variety of cookies (and new recipes!) to last through the holidays. Happy baking!