Christmas without cookies wouldn’t be Christmas. That’s a sentiment many share with St. Louis’ own cookie guru, Julia Usher, author of the award winning cookbook, “Ultimate Cookies and Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year” (published by Gibbs Smith).
Usher, who began commercially baking cookies and other sweet delights after relocating to St. Louis, made the decision to close her confection company to focus on writing cookbooks and demonstrating the art of cookie baking. Since making that decision, she has become a leading authority on how to bake and decorate the perfect cookie.
With the ultimate cookie baking season now in full swing, Usher was asked what advice she could give to the home baker.
“Use a tested recipe you can trust,” Usher said. “Also choose your recipes wisely that will fit the time you have to bake. For example if you if don’t have a lot of time consider baking drop cookies – they’re pretty (easy to) expedite.”
When baking drop cookies Usher uses ice cream scoops of various sizes. The reason: ice cream scoops are neater and faster to use than spoons.
Topping her list of baking tips is to take the time to read through the entire recipe before beginning to bake. Also use dry measures for dry ingredients and liquid measures for wet ingredients. There is a difference between the two that can affect the outcome of any recipe.
An unusual baking tip Usher shared was baking upside down – on the backside of the pan when using sided cookie sheets such as a jelly roll pans. The metal sides acts as a heat conductor and those cookies placed close to the edge can overbake because they bake faster than those placed in the middle of the baking sheet. Baking on the bottom of the pan can help prevent this from happening.
Roberta Duyff, food and nutrition consultant and author of the American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, suggests being mindful of food safety and advocates using pasteurized eggs, which eliminates the risk of Salmonella bacteria and viruses like Avian influenza. Pasteurization is an all-natural process, involving only heat without chemicals or irradiation. Eggs go through a series of warm water baths to eliminate bacteria.
“Consumers have many choices today when buying whole shell eggs. Pasteurized eggs provide a healthy and unique option for all consumers, including children, pregnant women, and others who need be especially concerned about food safety,” Duyff said, noting that pasteurized eggs are stamped with a red circle P, which sets them apart from unpasteurized shell eggs.
There is plenty of time to gather ingredients and bake your family’s favorite cookie treats. Just follow the tips Usher and Duyff recommend for cookie baking and consider baking a holiday classic such as Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs, courtesy of the American Egg Board (www.IncredibleEgg.org).
Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs
Makes 4 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter,
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons meringue powder
4 tablespoons water
Combine butter, granulated sugar and vanilla in mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and egg yolks; beat on low speed until blended. Gradually add flour and salt, beating just until blended. Refrigerate dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Work with 1/2 of dough at a time, keeping remaining dough refrigerated. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookies using cookie cutters; place 1 inch apart on parchment paper-lined or ungreased baking sheets.
Bake in oven until edges are lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.
For icing, combine powdered sugar, meringue powder and water in mixer bowl. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 6-8 minutes. If icing is too thick, thin with small amount of additional water.
Decorate as desired.