Is this the year you've decided to downsize your Christmas holiday routine? If so, you'll probably want to bake some cookies for family and friends rather than shop, wrap and give gifts that nobody really needs or wants.
If you've never baked before — or want to keep your baking simple and streamlined — we've got you covered. With help from local baking experts, we've gathered a group of foolproof recipes for Christmas cookies that are easy and accessible, yet elegant enough to give as gifts.
From classics like Chocolate Crinkles and Star Twinkles to trailblazers like Lemon Rosemary Shortbread and Gingerbread Biscotti, there's a cookie here for everyone on your list. So clear off those counters and check your cabinets for all the ingredients and equipment. And don't forget to crank up the Christmas tunes and invite over a close friend or two, to help roll and slice.
We asked baker Shelly Kaldunski of Santa Rosa to give a few pointers for those who want to avoid burning the cookies or pushing the panic button. Kaldunski's latest cookbook, "The Art of the Cookie," was just released by Weldon Owen Publishing and is available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma stores.
Here are 10 top tips from our local cookie expert:
1. Use a stand-up mixer, if possible.
"The cookie doughs are hard with the hand mixers," she said. "You can do it by hand, but it takes a little more muscle power to cream the butter and sugar."
2. Invest in some heavy-duty cookie sheets.
Most home chefs use thin baking sheets that warp really easily in the oven, making it hard to get cookies that are evenly browned.
Kaldunski suggests purchasing some heavy baking sheets from a restaurant supply store. "They're not very expensive," she noted.
3. Make sure you've got plenty of parchment paper.
"I'm a huge proponent of parchment paper," she said. "It's really important to bake cookies on it."
In addition, when you roll the dough into a log for slice-and-bake cookies, wrap the dough with parchment paper, twist the ends, then refrigerate it.
"It holds the texture of the cookie together better than plastic wrap," she said.
4. Make sure you get all the ingredients out and measured before you begin.
"Be real meticulous about getting all your ingredients in order before you start mixing," she said.
After all, you don't want to discover halfway through the process that you've run out of something crucial, like butter or eggs.
5. Remember to let the cookie dough chill out, especially for shaped cookies.
Most cookies need to be chilled before you bake them, or they will lose their shape, she said.
"A lot of recipes just say cut and bake — and they don't say to chill them," Kaldunski said. "Freeze them for 10 minutes or overnight. That way, your Santa will actually look like a Santa instead of a rock."
And don't be afraid to freeze your dough for baking later. Or if you run out of time, you can buy frozen cookie dough from a good bakery.
"The Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg is selling frozen dough," she said. "Almost every cookie dough freezes very well."
6. Don't be afraid to use a timer.