I've been baking cookies for some time, and learned some important lessons that I'm happy to pass onto you. Welcome to the 2nd part of Mistakes I've Made so You Don't Have To.
5 - Mistakes can be Good Things
Even if you've done your research and homework, things will go awry. And that's ok. Taste them - try them. Several of my mistakes have landed me some excellent discoveries.
One of my favorites is this peppermint cookie brittle, aka “Peppermint Mistakes,” that looked horrific on the pan (and gave me nightmares before I discovered the joys of silicon pads). It's crunchy, sugary, and unlike anything else I eat around the holidays. (The mistake was before I discovered I'm Just Here for More Food and did not realize that my chocolate would melt like butter, and the sugar from candy-canes would liquefy).
And even if it's not gift-able - or even edible, what did you learn? :)
4 - Don't do the work that technology can do for you (aka Protect your writing assets: your hands & wrists!)
As a writer, I have enough issues in my wrists, hands and fingers from typing too long. The last thing I need is further injuries from baking.
Get a good mixer - both a bowl mixer and a hand mixer. The extra money for quality is worth every cent and more.
Use a food processor for mixing, too. (See prior note about Alton Brown for more info on this.)
Wooden spoons have more strength and stability than plastic ones, so that will also save your wrists, and pastry cutters make short work of what you don't feel comfortable mixing in the food processor or with a mixer. Well, shorter work than just a spoon. (Go with the food processor or mixer whenever possible.)
I've mentioned silicon pads several times. They are wonderful - especially if you are prone to gooey mistakes in the oven. Beyond awesome.
And lastly - spring for good oven mitts! LOTS of them. If you haven't experienced the agony of typing with burned fingers, knuckles, hands, etc., may you be blessed with never having to experience it. Especially when you are on deadline.
3 - Tip the Staff
I mail a lot of stuff. A LOT. Not just during holiday seasons, but all year. (Well, duh, I'm a writer - these manuscripts haven't grown legs yet!) The Post Office knows me by name… Only packages from Utah get lost (though, going to Utah seems ok.).
They realllllly like my cookies. So does the mailman. And the UPS driver.
2 - Helpers… don't really help.
This is one of those really hard lessons to learn. Cooking with kids - be they your own children or someone else's - is a great time to bond and have fun.
It's NOT very productive.
If you're going to invite others into the sanctity of the kitchen, do it for the right reasons. Kids/Youth need supervision with the tools, want to know why with everything, and most of all, want to experiment! This is all wonderful, and I highly recommend baking with kids - but do it for the experience. Not because you think it will get your baking done any faster.
It won't. And if you feel it will, you'll end up getting impatient and losing the magic that comes with baking with kids.
The same goes for friends - even foodie friends. You will likely end up in a food fight (possibly a higher likelihood than with children), you will get in each others' way, you will be postponed by giggle-fits, and you will continually swap aggravating and unsolicited advice on technique, ingredients, and recipes.
Bake with others for fun - not productivity.
1 - Remember, they're just cookies! And it's s'posed to be fun!
Yes, more and more people are cooking and baking - so it's not as unique a gift as it once was. It's still special. No one will make exactly what you make - and if you have included family recipes, it's even more from the heart. Points for creativity and love - even if presentation and flavor aren't Iron Chef levels. It's a gift - not your entrance exam into Johnson and Wales.
And chances are, they'll be eaten and enjoyed within a few days, anyway - without close inspection.