I realize that not everyone needs this information, and many people could care less about this, but for people who like to bake – this is big stuff. I have baked Christmas cookies for the last 35 years or so. Hundreds of cookies have passed through my AMAZING Wolf ovens in the last couple of weeks. I love to bake. The lion’s share of my year’s baking is done around Christmas. I bake alone and I bake socially. This means I have a friend who I bake with every December, for two full days. We have a pre-established list of cookies that we like to do every year. And every year we learn a little something that makes life easier for us. Probably the very best thing we have ever learned is that life is simpler when you have a large roll of parchment paper on hand and you are not afraid to use it.
The first recipe I tried which called for parchment paper is a recipe for Gingerbread Cookies from Cook’s Illustrated. It is a fabulous recipe – simple to make, handles like a dream and bakes into a delicious cookie. The trick is to use parchment paper and keep the dough chilled. The dough is mixed in the food processor. Then you take it out, knead it a bit, divide it and roll it out. If you roll each piece between two sheets of parchment, you can stack them together, place them on a cookie sheet and pop them into the freezer. Since the paper slides away from you when you roll it, you need to tuck a corner of the paper between you and the counter and lean on it. When the sheets of dough are very cold (or even frozen) you take them out, one at a time. The easiest way to prevent sticking is to put the parchment/dough/parchment on the counter, peel off the top paper. Put it back on, flip everything over, then peel off the top paper and start cutting you cookie shapes. Take those cut shapes and put them on another parchment lined cookie sheet. If at any time the dough gets too soft to handle (which it does quite quickly, especially if it is thin) you simply pop it back into the freezer. When I have a full sheet of cookies cut, I put them into the fridge to chill thoroughly before baking. This may sound like a lot of work, but the results are WELL worth the effort, believe me. Another advantage to this technique is that the scraps of dough can be consolidated and re-rolled numerous times because you aren’t adding flour to prevent sticking, which is what toughens the dough. This recipe does not expand much when baked, so it maintains shapes very well. By varying the thickness of the dough you can create thin crisp cookies, or thick, slightly chewy ones. You get to decide!
My baking partner, Lois, and I have discovered that all the rolled cookies that we make can utilize this layered parchment, freezer technique. The most amazing recipe we tried it with recently is the Betty Crocker recipe for Cream Wafer Cookies. When we’ve baked these in the past, it was next to impossible to keep the cookies perfectly round. Then after they were baked, you needed to stick 2 cookies together with filling. You wasted a lot of time finding 2 cookies that would match in shape. Not necessary if you follow the parchment paper / freezer technique as described above!