Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Guest Post - Christmas Cookie Bake

Things have been a little crazy the past few days Chez Ninja - we had some illness in addition to our other Christmas activities that threw the household into a bit of chaos.  But, as promised, and not too late, here is the guest post crafted by CodeNinja himself, to explain the tradition that is his family cookie bake.

Merry Christmas from the Ninja family to yours, and in case you are wondering, yes, I finished the stockings in the nick of time.


And now, I give you, in his own words, CodeNinja and the Great Christmas Cookie Bake.

A Brief History of Cookie Bake

Since time immemorial, we’ve always baked cookies at Christmastime, and given them away as presents.  Growing up, I’d take in a plate to my teacher, GeekBoy (my brother - a self-selected title) would take a plate to his, and CodeMama and CodePapa would take some in to their respective offices.  When young, my brother and I would ‘help’ more than help – Mom wisely incorporated a couple of recipes where the two of us could go off and be ‘productive’.  The mouse cookies were a particular standout – they required hand-rolling and shaping for the body, with licorice tails, chocolate chip eyes, and extra little bits of dough for the ears.  Needless to say, with two young boys doing the shaping, the first tray or two would be relatively plausible – but then our nature would take over, and the mice would become increasingly mutated.  Three eyes, multiple tails, two-headed mice….later trays would not be suitable for inclusion on gift platters.  Aside from that, though, it was a fairly normal thing – we’d bake a few batches of cookies and give most of them away.

Cookie Bake Unleashed

As time went by, cookie bake began to…evolve.  Expand.  Grow.  When we hit high school, there were suddenly a lot more teachers who needed cookies.  And GeekBoy and I were able to actually help more.  By this time, cookie bake consistently involved a dozen or more batches of cookies, expanded from one day to two, and was getting into “this is sort of ridiculous” territory.  In 2001, we added a supplemental chapter to the family cookbook with the recipes we made that year.    Over the last few years, it grew even larger – featuring several days of prep work, multiple stand mixers going concurrently, and extensive use of my parents’ convection oven (which was bought essentially solely for this purpose – the ability to have 3 sheets of cookies in the oven at once.)  The last two years saw Cookie Bake exceeding two thousand cookies.

Cookie Bake: This Year’s Crop

We did end up scaling things back a bit this year – my job has been completely nuts, so my ability to help out with the prep was limited, and the rest of the family is likewise busier than normal.  Mom had to make the entire grocery run herself:
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Things got going around 10 AM, when I showed up at my parents’ place.  First up were David’s Dream Bars - one of my favorites. A full recipe involves more than a pound of high-quality chocolate (milk, white, and dark), along with coconut and pecans. 
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Once those were done, I made the fudge, while my brother started on all of the batches that needed refrigeration:
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(From left to right - hazelnut sandwiches, cranberry shortbread coins, and world peace cookies.  Not shown are the two types of spice cookies, which came along later and also needed a stint in the fridge.)

The last thing we took care of before lunch were the nutmeg logs.  At this point, we could tell we were behind schedule - the table only looked like this:
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Fortified with pizza, we started working on the rest of the cookies – starting with the Russian tea cakes.  (These are one of CodePapa's perennial favorites.)  In the last few years, we've also added a chocolate variety of these - I'd be hard pressed to decide which one I like more.

CodePapa also wound up taking a more active role than usual this year – his normal job is simply chief tasting officer and president of emergency grocery runs, but we actually handed him a cookie scoop and made him lay out the trays of peanut blossoms and molasses cookies.  As it turns out, this eventually lead to a backup that not even three sheets at a time in the oven could keep up with:
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Once we finished up with those, we basically declared ourselves done for the night - except for decorating the nutmeg logs.  These are one of the cookies we’ve been making since forever – a lightly-spiced cookie with icing on the top.  Growing up, my brother and I would spend hours making detailed decorations on a batch – writing holiday words/phrases using jimmies, arranging tree-shaped sprinkles with snowflakes falling down on them, carefully applying colored sugar in diagonal stripes to make candy canes.  We still make these every year, though we make far fewer of the extremely carefully decorated ones than we used to (and even less than normal this year - we were all kind of tired by this point!)

By this time, we were all wiped out and called it a night.  It'd been a long day of baking:
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CodeMama and GeekBoy finished dealing with the roll-‘em-out cookies on Monday, and we packed everything up over the next couple of days.  Basically all of the cookies have been given away by this point - mailed out to friends, taken in to offices, or eaten by us.

Merry Christmas!