The holidays always involve baking. All holidays. The items to be baked may change, but baking seems to be required in order to have a successful festival. I blame this on my family and Lutheran upbringing. Anytime two or more are gathered together there must be food, and usually lots of it. A Jello salad is not a required item, but often shows up.

This year I have added a new variable. I have always used Gold Medal flour. Always. Costco doesn’t carry Gold Medal, and I seem to do most of my shopping there. I have tried the big bag (30 pounds I think) of “commercial bakery” flour and that was a flop. My baked goods tended to be tougher than they should have been, and there were many more lumps. Not good, and 30 pounds was kind of hard to store. So enter the new kid in the flour department. Eagle Mills. It is supposed to have more good stuff in there, according to the label. Things like double fiber, and ultragrain flour for more whole grain goodness. I just wanted to know if it would bake like Gold Medal. I tried it out over the summer and I have been very pleased. It comes in two 10 pound bags, very handy as my bulk flour containers each hold about 9.5 pounds. They are rated for 10, but never seem to quite hold that last half of a pound. So that goes into the canister on the counter for gravies and such.

We tried out a family recipe for sugar cookies. I kind of messed it up. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of shortening – part butter. So when I doubled the batch I used half butter and half shortening. Wrong! Apparently “part” isn’t half. I am guessing that “part” will be no more than 1/3 of the fat as butter. They taste fine, and I imagine that if it hadn’t been pushing 75 degrees plus in the kitchen, I may not have had the dough trying to melt before I could get it rolled out and cut.

It has started out cold and foggy in the morning, so my sweet husband built a fire in the woodstove. The fog burned off and the sun came shining through the kitchen windows all lovely and warm. Then I fired up the oven at 400 degrees. Tropical was the word to describe the atmosphere.

We did get the dough rolled and cut. It required the use of the icing spatulas to remove the cut-outs from the counter and transfer them to the cookie sheet. This took some serious concentration from the Junior Baker. She did pretty well for her first real experience with roll-out cookies. She lasted through about two roll-outs and was off to do something else.

We had to come up with some creative solutions to keep the trimmed off parts from melting. I put an ice pack under the tub to keep the dough chilled enough to work with. I have also heard that you can get one, maybe two successful roll-outs of dough before the dough becomes too tough to be tasty. So we combined the leftover bits into a log, wrapped it in waxed paper and chilled it. Then we sliced that into rounds, added a few sprinkles, and baked those up. That has kept the family satisfied with sugar cookies while we wait to decorate the others.

The only other sanity saving tip I have for your cookie baking this year is Parchment Paper! For under $3 at most grocery stores (the store brand is great) you can buy a roll that is about 30 feet long. It really keeps your cookies from sticking, no matter what recipe. I have also found that the cookies brown much more evenly. You can get multiple batches of cookies over a couple of days out of a single sheet. I have even wiped it with a barely damp rag to get chocolate or wild sugar sprinkles cleared off before the next batch with no problems.

I do love my Silpat, but since I only have one, I still have to use the paper. I can’t say I like one more than the other. Since I get way more than one use out of the sheet of parchment paper I don’t think it is a completely un-green option. Especially since I still have to wash the Silpat before putting it away, and that uses resources. Pretty much a tie for me.

I do have another silicone baking sheet. It is made by ROSHCO and is that rubbery type of silicone. It lies flat when cool, but wants to buckle up around whatever is on the sheet as it gets warmed up. It also has a nasty habit of absorbing flavors and smells. I only use it for dinner items now. Fish sticks, nuggets, and other things I don’t want to have to scrape off of my cookie sheets. It is not completely useless, just not ideal for baking.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, and for my friends celebrating the Festival of Lights, Happy Hanukkah!