Monday, December 19, 2005

Half Baked ...

Every year at Christmas, I bake.

Sometimes, I write about baking. One of my freelance clients has dubbed me the Cookie Queen.

I don't bake a few sugar cookies and call it a day, though. I bake volume. This year's cookie list has 13 varieties on it. Some are perennial, others are new additions, attempted for the first time and taste-tested to determine if they'll make the cut again next year.

I don't make chocolate chip anymore, because I think they're too pedestrian for Christmas. But I do make an extra recipe of oatmeal raisin because one whole batch goes to my friend Bill. I used to take an assortment of cookies to his office every year, and he'd immediately rummage around for the oatmeal raisin and keep them for himself. So I started upping the oatmeal-raisin quantity in the assortment. And then, as his staff changed from people I knew to people I didn't know, and time got more and more crunched at this time of year, I started doling out cookie gifts to select people, and it just made sense to skip all the other cookies where Bill was concerned. He's an oatmeal-raisin man to the core.

Usually, though, I start baking just after Thanksgiving or the first week of December. After making double and triple batches of that many kinds of cookies, the tally soars way over 1,000 and almost all of them are formed, not just plopped on a cookie sheet. I'm sure there must be a repetitive-stress injury from rolling cookie dough.

But this year, with Dad having surgery, normal holiday activities got scuttled as I spent time at the hospital, so last week Wednesday, I found myself 11 days from Christmas with nothing baked. Eleven days might sound like plenty of time, but most of the baking I do is for other people, and I have to distribute the loot several days before Christmas, and I still have other things to do, like, oh, shopping and shipping gifts to both coasts.

So as of yesterday morning, I had one cookie completed and in the freezer, and two doughs chilling in the fridge. Last night, when I went to bed, my freezer held eight varieties, all cheerfully crossed off the list.

Twelve hours of baking and washing cookie racks and cookie sheets and measuring spoons and mixing bowls and measuring cups and other gadgets that aren't meant for cookie baking but that have been drafted into service over the years. (A tomato shark is perfect for making the indentations in the chocolate chocolate chip cookies that get filled with raspberry preserves.)

Five more varieties are on deck for today. The butter is already on the counter, coming up to room temperature.

And by the time Christmas gets here, I'll be entirely sick of cookies.

But they're not for me. And the people who will eat them hopefully enjoy them, because, some years, I may bake with haste, but I always bake with love.

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