Essential Holiday Cookie Baking Tips
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Home baker Jan Borje says the keys to successful holiday baking are organization and kitchen helpers.
It's no secret that we love to bake cookies. I have a pan of peanut butter cookies baking as I write this. From candles that smell like sugar cookies to an untold number of cookie cookbooks, I don’t think Americans could celebrate the holidays without a cookie in hand.
In fact, 93 percent of us bake holiday cookies, and 61 percent make three or more batches, according to a study (2015) by the folks at Fleishmann Yeast and Karo.
I’ve strong memories of Mom and Grandma “Bubba” baking for weeks leading up to Christmas. The china was barely washed and dried from Thanksgiving when they’d start pulling down the flour, sugar and spices. A lot of the ingredients were simply grouped neatly and kept on the counters so that they could begin the process the next day.
Whether you make one or dozens of batches, you’ll need a plan, and St. Louis home baker Jan Borje has perfected the cookie-baking process. Each year, Jan gathers with her sister Peg Petralia, and sister-in-law, Trish Weber, on the second Saturday of December to bake over 2,000 Christmas cookies over the course of 12 hours. From morning to night, they bake sugar cookie cutouts, almond spritz, chocolate thumbprints, Polvorones (Mexican wedding cookies) and more—plus fudge.
“The night before, we each prepare dough for two different cookie recipes,” Jan said. “We start early in the morning. We have helpers to decorate the cookies, usually older children and a couple of cousins.”
Jan said the cutout cookies are the most popular and also take the longest to make, so they begin the morning with those.
“My sister-in-law makes all the icing for decorating and then proceeds to decorate,” she said.
But everybody has a role to play in this busy kitchen.
“We all have stations,” Jan said. “My sister and I roll the dough and prepare the cookies
for the oven.”
It’s not hard to imagine trays of cookies moving in and out of the oven in factory-like precision before they’re moved to the decorating table. She said it’s helpful to have a large area in which to finish the cookies. They use stacking racks to cool multiple sheet trays at a time, and they use a minimum of 12 cookie sheets in the process.
“We have a spreadsheet with tips on which cookies were most popular, which cookie cutters work best, etc.,” she added.
At the end of the evening, the tired but happy crew evenly divides the approximately 50 pounds of cookies between the three bakers.
“We use the cookies for gifts at school, our parishes, close friends and a special needs school,” Jan said.
What's her favorite cookie?
“The gingerbread cookies. There’s so much detail to put a smile on anyone’s face,” Jan said.
Speaking of cutout cookies, I recently learned there is a National Cookie Cutter Collectors Club and the group’s National Cookie Cutter Historical Museum is in Joplin, Missouri! Patrick Tuttle, director of Visit JoplinMo, said the cookie cutters are one of seven different collections within the Joplin Museum Complex. The exhibit cases contain commemorative cutters, including a special iris-shaped cutter for Joplin’s 150th anniversary that’s coming in 2023 (it’s the city flower). Hundreds of other cutters are from Europe, tinsmiths, and private collections. Archives of advertising materials and newsletters are also hosted at the museum. Visit the Joplin Museum Complex ($5 admission) Tuesday–Saturday. The iris cookie cutter is $10 and is available at the visitors’ center.
Looking for a recipe for cutout cookies (or other holiday baked treats)? The Home Baking Association has a great booklet filled with recipes, tips and cookie trivia. Did you know that the modern-day sugar cookie was originally known as the Nazareth Sugar Cookie, and was made by German Protestants who settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, during the mid-1700s? Download the booklet here.
If you’re using walnuts in your holiday baking, there’s a good chance they came from Hammons Black Walnuts in Stockton, Missouri. Since 1946, Hammons has processed black walnuts from Missouri and several states. You can find their nuts at Sam’s Club, Costco and Walmart, or order from Hammons site.
The recipe for Black Walnut Wedding Cookies comes from the folks at Hammons. I found walnuts to be a nice change from the pecans we usually incorporated into our family’s wedding cookie recipe.
Whatever you’ll bake for the holidays, have fun—whether you’re baking with friends and family or you’re going solo in the kitchen—and remember, the key ingredient always is love.