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Tips and Tricks for Better Holiday Baking

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A plate of Christmas cookies. (Photo: Getty Images)

On your marks, get set, bake! It’s the holidays, which for many people is the season to bake! Whether you’re looking to step up your cookie decorating game or you’re a Great British Bake Off fan who wants to wow your guests with a showstopper, we have a panel of bakers on hand to offer their advice. Tell us: what are your baking quandaries and questions this holiday season?

Related Links:
Holiday Recipes from Bay Area Bites

Alice Medrich, pastry chef, teacher and author most recently of “Gluten-Free Flavor Flours”
Jen Musty, owner and founder,Batter Bakery
Joyce Teng, founder, owner, chief baking officer, La Chinoiserie Bakeshop
Charles Farrier, owner and baker, Crumble & Whisk

Recipes from Our Guests:

Linzer Cookies


Excerpted from The Artisanal Kitchen: Holiday Cookies by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books).
Copyright © 2010, 2013, 2017.

Makes about twenty 3½-inch cookies Hearts or stars or scalloped squares—use your imagination with shapes and try different kinds of preserves. Personal favorites are blackberry, raspberry, and apricot. My version of these classic sandwich cookies borrows flavors from the traditional linzer torte: almonds and/or hazelnuts with cinnamon, cloves, and a touch of citrus.

2¼ cups (10.125 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (5 ounces) almonds and/or hazelnuts ½ cup
(3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest or ¼ teaspoon orange extract Strained or pureed
good-quality preserves or fruit spread
Powdered sugar for dusting Equipment Cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper or ungreased
Food processor
Large and small cookie cutters of the same or two different shapes, such as a 3-inch square and a 1¼-inch square

Combine the flour, nuts, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the butter (cut into several pieces if firm). Pulse until the mixture looks damp and crumbly. Add the almond extract and the lemon and orange zests or extracts and pulse until the mixture begins to clump up around the blade. Remove the dough, press it into a ball, and knead it a few times to be sure all of the dry ingredients are blended into the dough. Form the dough into 2 flat patties. Wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight or up to 3 days. The dough may be frozen for up to 3 months. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

To roll and cut cookies: Remove 1 patty from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature until supple enough to roll but still quite firm. It will continue to soften as you work. Roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch between two sheets of wax paper or between heavy plastic sheets cut from a resealable plastic bag. Turn the dough over once or twice while you are rolling it out to check for deep wrinkles; if necessary, peel off and smooth the paper or plastic over the dough before continuing to roll it. When the dough is thin enough, peel off the top sheet of paper or plastic and keep it in front of you. Invert the dough onto that sheet and peel off the second sheet. Cut as many large shapes as possible. Dip the edges of the cookie cutters in flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut a smaller shape from the center of half of the large shapes. Use the point of a paring knife to lift and remove scraps as you transfer the cookies to the lined or ungreased pans. Place large cookies at least 1½ inches apart on the cookie sheets. If the dough gets too soft at any time—while you’re rolling, cutting, removing scraps between cookies, or transferring cookies—slide a cookie sheet underneath the paper or plastic and refrigerate the dough for a few minutes, until firm. Repeat with the second patty of dough. Gently press all of the dough scraps together (don’t overwork them with too much kneading) and reroll. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are just beginning to color at the edges. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. (The small shapes may be baked for 8 to 10 minutes on a separate cookie sheet to make miniature cookies, or the dough may be combined with other dough scraps to be rerolled and cut.) Let the cookies firm up on the pan for 1 to 2 minutes. For lined pans, set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool; for unlined pans, use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to racks. Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. The cookies are delicious fresh but even better the next day. They may be kept in an airtight container for a month or more. To assemble, shortly before serving, spread each solid cookie with a thin layer of preserves. Sift powdered sugar over the cookies with cutouts. Place a sugared cutout cookie on top of each preserve-covered cookie. Leftover cookies can be stored in an airtight container, but the moisture from the preserves will soften them. Upgrade Nibby Buckwheat Linzer Hearts: Make the batter for Basic Butter Cookies (page 25), using only 1¼ cups (5.625 ounces) all-purpose flour and mixing it with ¾ cup (3 ounces) buckwheat flour. Mix 1/3 cup (1.33 ounces) roasted cacao nibs and 1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped walnuts into the batter right before the flour. Cut out the cookies using a 3½-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter and a 1½- or 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Fill with ½ cup good-quality blackberry or black raspberry preserves.

Decadent Sipping Chocolate
By Joyce Tang, Founder, Owner, Chief Baking Officer, La Chinoiserie Bakeshop

Holidays call for hot chocolate -the real stuff with real chocolate and real milk- I hate the powder out of the packet (although I will sometimes drink it if it’s all that is available). I have a personal preference for Valrhona and Straus milk. This is a decadent, sipping chocolate perfect for holiday gatherings.

4.5 ounces of small pieces or chopped dark chocolate
1.5 cups milk
1.5 cups heavy cream
Candy cane to stir and garnish

Heat up your milk and cream to boiling
Pour milk on chocolate
Wait for 1-2 minutes
Whisk the mixture gently until the chocolate is fully incorporated
Candy cane optional for a mintier hot chocolate, whipped cream and alcohol also optional.


Keep warm in a thermos until you enjoy it!

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