WASHINGTON — It’s the time of year when counters are covered in flour, fridges are full of butter, and a plate of cookies totally counts as a complete meal.
Baking season is in full swing, and if you’re looking to pick up a few pointers before you start up the stand mixer, Tiffany MacIsaac is here to help.
From hassle-free entertaining, to avoiding disasters, MacIsaac, owner and chef of D.C.’s Buttercream Bakeshop, shares some of her best baking tips — plus a holiday cookie recipe to work into your repertoire.
Tip 1: Pre-measure your ingredients
MacIsaac is the ideal house guest. When she visits friends and family, she wakes up every morning and bakes muffins, scones or biscuits — all without ransacking the host’s kitchen.
Her trick? Pre-measured ingredients.
“I literally go with Ziploc bags of pre-measured flour and stuff in my suitcase, so I can just do it real quick; it’s super easy,” said MacIsaac, who added that you can do the same thing at home ahead of a party, or when guests are staying with you to make the whole baking process easier.
“I’m all about finding ways to not be chained to the kitchen when you want to have something fresh, but, you know, want to also be able to enjoy company.”
Tip 2: Keep dough in the freezer
Another technique for keeping things simple, especially when entertaining, is to make your cookie dough ahead of time. Scoop the dough into the shape you want and freeze the raw cookies. Right before guests come over, take out what you need and bake the cookies from frozen.
“You can be a total kitchen boss. You can look like you always have fresh cookies. You kind of do, but not really, because you made them before and put them in the freezer,” MacIsaac said.
Tip 3: Bite off what you can chew
A lot of bakers get bogged down with baking several different types of cookies during the season. And while MacIsaac isn’t against variety, she said only take on what you can handle.
“People put a lot of pressure on themselves, and it’s better to just take on what you think you can do realistically than to try to take on too much and be paralyzed with fear and not even do it,” she said.
Plus, fresher is better.
“So it’s better to do just a couple of kinds of cookies, but know that you’re going to bake them fresh when you’re serving them, rather than starting two weeks before and you have things in Tupperware.”
Tip 4: Never trust a recipe
All ovens are different, MacIsaac said, which is why it’s important to rely on other tools during the baking process.
“I always tell people the best way to train yourself to cook is not only by recipes, but it’s to touch, taste and see everything you’re cooking,” MacIsaac said.
“Simple is actually difficult. People think, ‘Oh, it’s so easy, it’s just a cookie,’ but cookies are one minute away from glory to total destruction.”
Which carries into her final piece of advice …
Tip 5: Use a timer
Crunchier cookies will soften if topped with a filling and turned into a cream pie, but there is no expert trick to revive a burnt cookie. That is why MacIsaac said in addition to relying on your senses, use a timer.
“Never be a person who’s like, ‘I’m not going to forget’ because you’re totally going to forget. A minute is really fast,” MacIsaac said.
“You can’t really go back in time, so cookies are hard to fix.”
Video shot and edited by Ginger Whitaker.
Ginger Molasses Cookie Cream Pies
Courtesy, Tiffany MacIsaac, owner and chef, Buttercream Bakeshop
Yield: 18 sandwich cookies
For the cookie dough:
- 2 sticks butter, room temperatures
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 Cup + 1 Tablespoon molasses
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 Tablespoons cinnamon, ground
- 6 Tablespoons ginger, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- To garnish (1/2 cup) sugar, or raw sugar for garnishing
Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high for three-to-four minutes until the mixture is creamed thoroughly and slightly lightened. Alternatively, you can use electric hand beaters. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl well and mix another 30 seconds to combine.
With the mixer running on medium add the eggs, vanilla, and molasses. Add one egg at a time, mixing to combine completely and scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is combined evenly.
In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Add to the creamed butter mixture and mix to combine, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula at least once or twice until there are no streaks of butter remaining.
Preheat the oven to 325-degrees Fahrenheit in a convection oven for 350-degrees still. Divide the dough into 1 1/2 tablespoon-size balls. Roll in the granulated or raw sugar and place 12 on each baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Press flat so that each is 2-inches in diameter. Bake for 10-12 minutes, checking after eight minutes.
Cookies will be set on the edge but soft in the center. The final cooking time will vary based on the ovens internal heat and convection strength. Cool to room temperature.
While the cookies cool, make the filling. Then fill and store in the refrigerator. For the filling, use a piping bag with a round or star tip or use a knife or spatula to spread on a thick layer of cream cheese buttercream. Wrap and keep in the refrigerator overnight.
Serve chilled within 72 hours of finishing. If the cookies turn out a bit firm/over baked just let it sit filled, wrapped, and refrigerated for 48 hours instead of 24 hours before serving. The filling will soften the cookies.
For the filling:
- 1 pound cream cheese, cold, cut into 8 pieces per 1/2 pound piece
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, measured then sifted
- 2 sticks butter, softened at room temperature overnight
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until the sugar is combined. Then turn to medium-high speed for two-to-three minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula every minute until the mixture is creamed thoroughly. Alternatively, electric hand beaters can be used.
Next, with the mixer running, add the butter in three increments, allowing it to combine before the next addition. The butter should be soft so that it is spreadable, but not melted. If it feels firm, microwave on five-second increments until it is soft. Once is it combined, scrape the sides. Add the vanilla and salt and mix to combine. Use right away or store in the refrigerator up to one week. There may be a little left after filling the cookies; this can be used to top cupcakes or cinnamon rolls as well.