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I previously said Thanksgiving was my Olympics, but I may redact that claim and say that Holiday Baking is. For the past two years, I have sold cookie tins through Facebook to my town in New Jersey, amounting to over 2,100 cookies in those two years, soon to add another 1,800 to that growing tally. By day two of baking and rolling out the dough, I will forget why I insisted on doing it again. My forearms will be covered in bruises from pressing them into the rolling pin–I find it easier than using my hands to do this. Last year, I shed a few tears of frustration because my royal icing continued to clog the tiny hole in my piping bag, resulting in hideous snowflakes. The tears blocked all rational thinking and hid the enjoyment I thought I would find in this endeavor. My hands cramped while holding the plating tongs I used to place tiny pearls. The motion of washing my stand mixer bowl started to haunt me. 

For these past two years, I alternate studying for final exams with scaling 10 different cookie recipes and compiling a market list–I need 20 pounds of unsalted butter this year. The excitement and fear for what is to come distract me from emailing professors for extensions. I watch cookie-decorating videos in between Crash Course videos, confusing YouTube as to what they should recommend to me next. Chewy gingerbread, checkerboard shortbread, brownie cookies, Italian rainbow, and peppermint sugar cookies all take over my waking thoughts. 

However, making all these cookies has taught me valuable lessons. 

  • Use a recipe for royal icing, do not just try to make it on a whim.

As an avid watcher of cookie-decorating videos, I never understood how cookie artists could make such incredible details, and why they looked so much better than my own–besides my lack of artistic talent. Turns out, royal icing requires time, effort, and a stand mixer. It is not just mixing frothy egg whites and powdered sugar in a small pyrex bowl. To create a rainbow of colors, gel food coloring is the only way. Gel coloring is far more concentrated, meaning less is needed to create rich colors. And always, started with the smallest amounts and mix thoroughly before adding more color to the icing. It will always be easier to make the icing more vibrant than to later dilute it…

  • It is not your mom’s fault that she cannot decorate cookies to your liking.

Just let her decorate five, she won’t even want to do more after that, (probably because you made royal icing poorly and it hurts your hand to decorate more than five). Don’t be mean to her, either. Nothing worse than having a fight over poorly decorated sugar cookies. 

  • Buy pre-cut parchment sheets. 

Trust me, it is worth it. Do not waste time trimming parchment to fit your trays. Even better though, invest in a Silpat or two! 

  • Try your best to include people with allergies. 

As a person who is gluten-free, just being thought of is always a thrill. I make gluten-free and nut-free options and will always get a request for a gluten and nut-free cookie tin. That person is always the kindest, absolutely ecstatic there was an option for them. This is the best gluten-free sugar cookie recipe I have found…

  • You cannot please everyone, so make what you think is the most fun. 

But, making 8 kinds of cookies that require detailed icing will not be fun. Pinwheels on the other hand will always be fun. 

Holiday baking is a sport. But from other bakers I know, it is far less competitive and much more supportive. Exchange cookie tins with anyone that you can. Holidays are a perfect time to learn about other people’s traditions, and dessert is always the best way to do that. 

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