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MARGARET PROUSE: Get ready to get baking

Food columnist Margaret Prouse says now is the time to make plans for baking Christmas cookies.
Food columnist Margaret Prouse says now is the time to make plans for baking Christmas cookies. - 123RF Stock Photo

The advice is to limit contacts and keep gatherings small, especially indoors, this year in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. That will change the way we experience Christmas and the entire holiday season.

What are you doing about Christmas baking? I think that some will do less or even no extra baking at all this year. Others, myself included, will bake some cookies to send in Christmas parcels and give to friends. 

Do you know someone who doesn’t bake much anymore or a busy family that is always pressed for time? If you love baking, you might do them a favour by making a gift of holiday cookies. 

Is it time to start baking? It’s definitely time to bake fruitcakes, and there are some cookies that can be baked and stored in the freezer. 

Now is the time to make plans. What’s to plan? I like to give away homemade cookies to certain relatives and friends. I need to decide on which cookie recipes to use and, prior to that, exactly who will be receiving them. 

Will I be sending the cookies by mail or hand-delivering? Fragile, crumbly cookies such as whipped shortbread are fine if hand-delivered, but may not hold up if they’re jostled while travelling from baker to recipient. Biscotti, gingerbread cookies and thicker Scottish-style shortbread are more likely to arrive intact. 

Decision one, then, is to identify the recipients. 

Next, the mode of delivery.

And third, the recipes.  

Next comes the decision about how many cookies to bake altogether and how many of each kind. Having made that decision, it’s easy to look at the recipes, list ingredients needed and make a shopping list. Dry ingredients, especially, can be bought early.

When does this baking need to be done? Canada Post is encouraging people to send holiday parcels as early as possible this year and says that parcels going to destinations within Canada should be sent by Dec. 9-16. How much time is required for planning, shopping, baking and packaging? How important is it to get things in the mail before Dec. 9? 

I tend, sometimes, to create extra pressure on myself by being too optimistic about how much I can accomplish in a given amount of time. Knowing that, I have to add more time than I think is needed, in the interest of being realistic. 

There are other tasks involved, too, such as finding room in the freezer, if necessary, and assembling containers and wrapping materials. Last year I found some excellent holiday cookie tins at thrift stores. 

These cheddar cookies travel well and are popular with those who prefer savoury flavours over sweet ones. 

Cheddar Loonies

From Sanders, Moira, Loir Elsone with Beth Goslin Maloney: The Harrow Fair Cookbook: Prize-Winning Recipes Inspired by Canada’s Favourite Country Fair, Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 2010.

625 mL (2½ cups) all purpose flour
7 mL (1½ tsp) fine sea salt
0.5 mL (1/8 tsp) cayenne pepper
250 mL (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
500 mL (2 cups) grated sharp Canadian cheddar cheese
10 mL (2 tsp) finely chopped fresh thyme

Sift together the flour, salt and cayenne pepper in a medium-sized bowl. Cream the butter for 2 minutes in a bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the shredded cheese and thyme.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead gently. Form the dough into a disc, then divide in half. Roll each half into a cylinder slightly larger than 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter. (Loonies are 2.65 cm or a little less than 1 1/16 inch, in diameter.) Wrap each cylinder in parchment paper.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice the dough into 6-mm (¼-inch) loonies. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. 

Cool the loonies on a baking rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Storage: Cylinders of the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to three months. Thaw for one hour on a countertop before slicing the dough.

Makes 4 dozen.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, writes this column for The Guardian every Friday. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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