The first weekend in December finds me trading in my computer and calculator for my stand mixer and double ovens. 20 years ago I got the bright idea that it would be fun to bake homemade cookies for all of my clients. Since I only had about five clients and a ton of extra time on my hands, this seemed like a reasonable pursuit on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Through the years my business grew and my children developed friends and teachers and team mates that they insisted should be included in the cookie giving tradition. I went from making a few hundred cookies to making close to 12,000 during the peak grade school, middle school, high school years. Thankfully, now that the kids are all out of college and I am no longer subsidizing the cookie needs of most of the children in Murfreesboro, I have scaled back to about 5,000 cookies and candies all made in a single weekend.
Things have certainly gotten easier and faster since I first started my cookie baking adventure. Instead of spending hours figuring out how much flour, sugar etc. to buy I built a spreadsheet to figure out my baking supply needs based on the number of tins I am planning to give away. I just plug in my number and my spreadsheet calculates how much of each item to purchase and prints out my shopping list broken down between what I purchase at Sam’s and what I get at the grocery store. Instead of spending hours going up and down the aisle at Sam’s, I just go on line and order my supplies in about 10 minutes. The little packaging fairies at Sam’s put my order together and all I do is go in, find my cart and check out. The only part that is still random in the equation is the chocolate. I just never seem to get the right amount to dip all the candies I make. Luckily I live a block away from Jr’s (our neighborhood grocery store) so David is more than happy to go clean out their Hershey’s stash for me.
A few years ago, we moved our kitchen from one side of our house to the other. We took down the wall between our family room and Christi’s bedroom. The old family room became the new kitchen and the bedroom became our new family room. Not that I told David during the construction, but the entire kitchen was designed around Cookie Baking Weekend. At one end of the kitchen is a buffet that was designed with two plugs in the side columns so that I can plug in two stand mixers and use this as my mixing station. Once the dough is mixed I turn around and stand at the end of the 9 foot island. Here I can dip 15 cookie sheets with 15 to 20 cookies each and line them up three wide taking up half the depth of the island. My favorite part of the new kitchen is the two trivection wall ovens. Not only can I cook 6 sheets of cookies at the same time but with the trivection technology a 12-minute cookie only takes about 6 minutes.
Stage two of cookie baking weekend is candy making. I make peppermint patties, peanut butter cups, coconut cups, chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered pretzels and chocolate covered raisins. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a faster way to dip chocolate. The filling is easy enough to make but putting the filling in the chocolate is where my system breaks down. Last year I made the peanut butter and coconut into small bite sized balls. Rolling a thousand or more little balls hurt my shoulder so bad that I wasn’t able to bowl for a month. This did not make me very happy. This year, I tried putting the peanut butter and coconut in little candy cups. First I melted chocolate and used a paint brush to “paint” it on the bottom and sides of all the little cups. Now, I’ve seen other people’s homemade candy cups and they are just adorable. Mine on the other hand look like an accountant took the day off work and decided it would be fun to try something new. They are delicious but somewhat misshapen.
The guest bedroom becomes the cookie storage area. Two long tables are set up to hold the numerous bins of cookies and a bread rack is set up to hold the drying chocolates. Monday morning it’s all hands on deck. We set up all the bins of cookies around the island. Mom and Dad are in charge of getting the cellophane wrap in the bottom of each tin. Matt, David, Justin and I are in charge of loading exactly three cookies of each kind and two candies of each kind into each tin. Since Barbara doesn’t like getting the chocolate on her hands, she is in charge of putting the lids on each tin securely.
75 tins and 30 decorative quart sized bags later, cookie baking weekend is officially over for another year. I put my recipe book away and place my 25 cookie sheets back in the cabinet. The last of the flour is wiped from the buffet and there is nothing left to remind us of the chaos of cookie baking weekend except a guest bedroom full of drying misshapen chocolate candies, a couple wayward chocolate chips hanging out by the baseboards and a nagging pain in my right shoulder every time I try to lift my arm.