For the next several weeks, I will be featuring Holiday recipes from Quilting and Needlework Professionals!I am incredibly excited about it and can tell you that the recipes LOOK scrumptious! Each recipe is accompanied by a reminiscence about the recipe and information about the contributor. I think that you will find this a wonderful way to add to your recipe collection and learn more about your favorite professional Quilters and Needleworkers! To get started, my good friend Teresa Wentzler has written a guide to having a Bake Along. For many years she and her girlfriends have gotten togther and spent a weekend baking Holiday Cookies. This year, they decided to tackle Gingerbread Houses. At my insistence, Teresa is taking along a camera and will report back to us about their Gingerbread House adventures! *********** Teresa Wentzler's Arcane Secrets to a Successful Bake Along Tips for a Successful/Productive Cookie Bake Organization is key. Careful planning ahead of time will insure that your Bake will go as smoothly as possible. When I bake cookies with my friends, it's an annual 2-1/2 day event, (aptly named The Great Cookie Bake) so I'm also mentioning things that you can easily ignore if your Bake is of shorter duration. Also be aware that we make a ridiculous amount of cookies, so efficiency is imperative for us. We push hard to reach our goals, but we also have loads of fun...which is, after all, the most important thing!!! Before the Bake: 1. Use only recipes that *you* (or a member of the baking group) have tried and tested. It will be challenging enough to keep everything running smoothly without dealing with untested recipes. 2. If you will be packing the cookies for transport, choose only cookie types that will travel well. You don't want a cookie gift to arrive at it's destination as crumbs! 3. Choose a range of types: some drop cookies, some more time/labor-intensive rolled or shaped cookies. In order to keep the baking process moving along at an optimally productive rate, you'll need to intersperse batches of quick-to-do drop cookies with those that require more prep time. (You'll also go bananas baking too many "labor-intensive" cookies! Trust me on this.) 4. After choosing all of your cookie recipes, whittle them down to what is realistically do-able within your baking time-frame! Estimate roughly an hour and a half for each *single* batch of cookies/per oven. This is going to vary significantly depending on the types of cookies you bake, but it's a good way to estimate whether or not you're being realistic. This part gets easier with practice; you learn how much you can accomplish by doing. 5. Now is a good time to enter your cookie ingredients by recipe into an Excel spreadsheet (if you know how to do that...sorry, I can't give any pointers there!), or into a recipe software program such as "Now You're Cooking" (http://www.ffts.com/). For many years, we simply compiled the ingredients from all of the cookie recipes we were planning to use for that year, into a master list. The major disadvantage to this is if you want to make more than single batches of some cookies, you need to remember to adjust the list *just* for those cookies. We got pretty good at it, but we usually wound up making a run to a grocery store for the missed/underestimated ingredients. We eventually decided to use "Now You're Cooking". All of our recipes were entered into the software, which formed a database of ingredients. Then, we could choose which recipes we wanted to make that year, decide how many batches of each cookie, and print out a master shopping list. 6. Since we divided the cookies baked evenly 3 ways, we simply then divided up the shopping list to fairly disperse costs. We generally found that if the "host" for that year would take care of the eggs, butter, and any other ingredients that required refrigeration, it worked quite well. (We all live 2 hours apart from each other and rotate host location each year.) 7. I will mention another thing that contributes to the smooth flow of our Bake: making meals ahead of time. One of the cardinal rules of the Bake: don't tie up cookie-baking time with meal preparation! We make and bring along casseroles, soup, and have sandwich makings on hand so that minimal time is spent away from baking. I realize this is a bit over-the-top, but when we bake cookies, WE BAKE COOKIES! LOL If you are baking for just an afternoon, obviously, this isn't a big concern. ;-) 8. Also, vital to the success of your Bake is having enough baking equipment on hand to handle the volume of cookie-mixing you'll be dealing with. All participants should bring along bowls, mixing and measuring spoons, measuring cups, cookie sheets, special baking pans, etc. You should also each bring along containers for your baked cookies. You'll notice that all of this has taken place *before* getting together for the actual Bake! At the Bake: 1. It's great it you have lots of open table top and/or countertop space. You'll each need a mixing/working area. Set up extra tables if you can: cooling multiple batches of cookies requires lots of space. 2. Place all ingredients not requiring refrigeration on a table together so that everyone knows where everything is. Being able to lay your hands on ingredients without searching for them is a big time-saver. 3. Turn on the oven. Decide on the order: which cookies you'll bake when. If you're baking for entire days, it's a good idea to intersperse simple cookies with those requiring more effort. To get things started, one of us generally mixes up a drop cookie so we can start baking immediately. A couple cookies that require chilling of the dough are then mixed and the dough goes in the fridge. And we're off and running! Our baking days usually run from @8:00 AM to 5:00 or 6:00 PM. 4. Finally: a few general tips we've found to be indispensable: 1. Follow the recipes *exactly*. No improvising. 2. If a recipe calls for butter, USE BUTTER. 3. Make all of the cookies on a sheet as close to the same size as possible; they will all bake to the same degree of done-ness. 4. Once it's pre-heated, don't allow the oven to be empty! Have another sheet of cookies ready to go in as soon as you take one out. Believe it or not, one oven, utilized efficiently, is sufficient. (If you are fortunate enough to have two ovens: good luck keeping them both full constantly! Cookie-baking fiends that we are, we were hard-pressed to keep two ovens fully occupied for an entire Bake. On the up-side, though, we did finish baking early!) 5. If using dark baking sheets, reduce the oven temperature by 15 degrees at least. Put the oven rack as close to the center of the oven as possible: too close to the top or bottom of the oven will result in unevenly baked cookies. 6. Bake one cookie sheet in the oven at a time. Seriously. It doesn't save time to try to bake two sheets at a time because you have to re-arrange the sheets at least once during baking, which messes up the oven temperature and well...you get the idea. 7. Whoever invented parchment paper should be Sainted. It saves so much time and effort it's incredible. I'll admit: we take our cookie-baking seriously. We make a tremendous amount of cookies in a relatively short period of time. But we have a lot of fun doing it. The above tips are what we've learned during the course of 20+ Bakes... I hope you'll find some pointers you can use to help make your Bake a successful one! *************** In addition to being a SERIOUS Holiday Baker, Teresa Wentzler is an incredibly talented artist and designer. Well known in Needlework circles for her lyric and intricate Counted Cross Stitch designs, she has recently begun to commit her images to paper. Her Fantasy Art is available now as fine art quality gicleé prints. Her designs and artwork can be seen at TWDesignworks.com ***** Don't you wish you could take part in one of Teresa's Cookie Bakes? I sure do! Until I start posting the Quilting and Needlework Holiday Bake Along Recipes, here are some Norwegian Christmas Cookie Recipes from one of my Quilting friends, Ann Anderson of QuiltWoman.com Tink *When I dream, I cook and bake like an artist…*

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