I’m discovering that I suck at taking photos. I just get so involved in the baking that I don’t even think about it until we’ve eaten (or in this case given away) all of it and I go to post on the blog! I do apologize.
In the interest of saving my marriage, let me set the record straight. Adele is the one who started and has maintained the tradition of Christmas baking plates for the past many years. This is the first year that I got involved, mainly because I was home most of December. The credit is 100% hers :)
This was the first time that I tried to bake so much on a fixed, short time line. (We wanted to get everything baked, plated, and delivered within a week.) I learned a few lessons.
- Everything takes longer than you think. I know this, and I thought I planned enough give in the schedule, but I was very wrong. The original plan was five different types of cookies, but three was all we had time for ultimately. The bulk of the baking took four 8-hour days to complete. Just delivering the plates (which we did all at once) took almost six hours.
- But in the process I also learned how to maximize my oven use. By the end I was able to make and bake two different types of cookie with almost no oven downtime. My kitchen is still too small, though. I had cooling racks and baking sheets all over the main floor of the house.
- Never plan to make a first-time recipe for an important event. This is a no-brainer, and I’ve learned the lesson a couple of times now, but I just can’t resist a new and delicious-sounding recipe. This was another reason we dropped to three cookies instead of five. The one batch (biscotti) was less than acceptable.
- The corollary to this is “know thy recipes.” What types of baked goods will keep for at least a week? Which freeze well? What doughs can you make in advance and which ones don’t do well in the fridge for too long?
And finally, here is what we put in our plates this year. I’m afraid I can’t include many of the recipes. They are family secrets. I had to marry Adele to get at them and instead of a pre-nup, I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (Ok. That might be a slight hyperbole.)
This is Adele’s closest-held secret. We love soft gingersnaps, and that’s what sets this recipe apart. One secret for softer cookies with more spread (when desired) is to use pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour. It really does make a huge difference. This year I did two batches with pastry flour and the other three with regular flour. Some plates may have gotten both types of cookies. The pastry flour ones are flatter and larger, whereas the regular flour ones are thicker but smaller.
I’ve made these before. Here’s the recipe. These seemed to be an overall favourite. The dough stays soft in the fridge for long periods of time and the cookies only get better for at least the first week if stored properly. That makes them a great choice for this kind of project. They are fiddly to make and took the longest of everything we made, but they are certainly delicious!
Butter Cookies / Shortbread
This is another recipe I’ve made before. This dough did not chill well. It had to sit out on the counter for like 10 hours before I could do anything with it. Ultimately I pressed the dough into 8×8 pans, baked them, and then sliced them into 1-inch squares. This is apparently the traditional way to do shortbread. The Gisslen book has other shortbread recipes that I’ll try next time. If you want to make cookies, you really have to roll the dough out after just a few minutes in the fridge.
This is actually two secret recipes. We did half one recipe and half the other. The only hiccup was my candy thermometer: it reads hotter than it should. This meant that all my caramels, except the very first batch, were too soft. They still taste great, and some people love super soft caramels, but I like them a little harder. Next year I’ll have to compensate.
This is one of my favourite recipes of all time. I make this a lot. Torta caprese is a flour-less chocolate cake with ground hazelnuts and almonds. It freezes so well. In fact, I freeze the cake before I cut it. That gives the cleanest slices. I’m afraid not everyone got torta in their plates. It’s by far the most expensive of the recipes I bake ($12+ per 16 slices, if you use the Paneangeli and high-quality chocolate), so we only have so many pieces to share. (We have one celiac friend, so much of the cake goes to her.) It’s not hard to make, so give it a try. You won’t regret it.
That’s it for this year! Merry Christmas!!