Great Gifts for a Baker

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in: Cooking

If there’s one thing I enjoy as much as making cookies during the holidays, it’s shopping for high-quality, well-designed, useful baking tools. No gingerbread house kits, chocolate temperers or novelty cake pans for me (although this one my sister just gave me is awesome). I want equipment and ingredients I’m going to use more than once or twice a year. The following list includes many items I already own (some given to me as gifts, some I generously gave to myself) and couldn’t live without. There are also a few that are still on my wish list (Brown Bag shortbread pan, hint, hint). As a bonus, you’ll find a favorite holiday recipe from my new book, “Cookie Swap!,” which can certainly be made without a cookie scoop, high carbon steel biscuit cutter or a Silpat but is a pleasure to make with these relatively inexpensive but highly functional tools.

1. Cookie scoops: Spring-loaded stainless scoops from OXO are a must for anyone who is serious about cookies. Cookie scoops allow you to portion out drop cookie dough (and muffin batter) uniformly, so every one of your cookies bakes at the same rate. And they help keep your hands clean while you’re working. A set of three — large, medium, and small — makes a very nice gift.

2. Handmade copper cookie cutters: Copper Gifts manufactures copper cookie cutters in hundreds of shapes and sizes, and if they don’t have what you want, they’ll fabricate one to your own design specifications. In the past year, I’ve purchased a poodle (to make cookies that look just like my own dog), a whale (our school mascot), and New York State (I decorate those cookies with Yankee stripes). Buy the baker one or several of these handmade cutters and you will be giving an heirloom, for a very reasonable price.

3. Stainless steel offset icing spatulas: Constructed of high-carbon stainless steel, these spatulas are light but strong, with flexible blades that easily help spread the thickest batters and icings. The regular size (13 inches long) is great for smoothing brownie batter into an even layer, for icing bar cookies and for transferring hot, delicate cookies to wire racks. The mini size (7 inches long) is small enough to neatly ice tiny cookies.

4. Heavy-duty biscuit cutters: These biscuit cutters have razor-sharp edges, and are essential for cutting cookie dough into rounds. (If four cutters isn’t enough, check out Sur la Table’s professional bakeware shop for a set of 12.) If this gift seems too skimpy, throw in a pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron skillet, and your recipient will have just the right equipment to make great pot pies and cobblers.

5. Brown Bag shortbread pans: Every time I see one of these pretty stoneware pans in a catalog or online, I have the urge to begin a massive collection. If the baker you are shopping for is also a collector, start him or her off here.

6. Glass canisters: I store my flour and sugar in airtight plastic containers, but I like these retro canisters (in production since the 1940s) to store pretty homemade cookies on my counter-top.

7. Blanched hazelnuts: This will sound completely crazy, but one of the best gifts I ever received was a five-pound bag of blanched hazelnuts from Nuts Online. I was in heaven. Hazelnuts are my favorites, but the idea of skinning them often sends me straight to the nearest bag of pecans. So to have a large store of ready-to-use nuts was a convenience I fully appreciated. If hazelnuts aren’t quite the thing, this website has bulk quantities of all sorts of luxury ingredients (organic dried fruit, praline and pistachio pastes, organic cacao nibs) that make excellent gifts for the cookie baker.

8. Silpat: A no-brainer if your baker friend does not already own one. Packaged along with a heavy-duty rimmed half sheet pan and wire cooling rack, this gift is a nice upgrade for the novice.

9. Digital scale: I used to use my digital scale primarily to weigh out ingredients for bread dough. But now I find myself using it more and more for cookie- and cake-baking. Newer baking books, acknowledging the importance of accuracy in getting consistent results, often give weight as well as volume measurements. Cookie recipes from Internet-accessible British sources (Dan Lepard’s column in the Guardian is a favorite) are simple to prepare using volume measurements. This OXO scale has all of the features that a baker requires: A large (11-pound) capacity, a pull-out display for easy reading, a tare function, and measurement in 1/8-ounce and 1-gram increments.

12. Pizzelle maker: When I saw this machine in Pittsburgh’s premier kitchen shop during my “Cookie Swap!” book tour, I dreamed of owning it. But it was just too heavy to drag through airport security! When I got home and read about Pittsburgh legend Carmen Palmieri, the founder of Palmer Manufacturing (makers of the only domestic pizzelle irons on the market), I had to have one. Luckily, In the Kitchen has them in stock and ready to ship anywhere in the U.S.

Chocolate-Mint Sandwich Cookies

Makes 32 cookies

When I set out to make these cookies, I started with the idea that I would just sandwich a peppermint patty between two warm chocolate rounds and leave it at that. But my dough spread in the oven, and when I made my sandwiches the candies were lost inside the cookies instead of becoming a filling visible at the edges. What to do? I got out a biscuit cutter and pressed it down on the warm cookie sandwiches, cutting away the excess around the edges and sealing the candy inside. The creamy peppermint was now a hidden surpise. Fabulous!

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cup (2½) sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined.
  3. Use a cookie scoop to portion out rounded tablespoonfuls of dough on parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheets (alternatively, roll scant tablespoonfuls of dough between the palms of your hand to form small balls), leaving 3 inches between each cookie. Bake the cookies until they are dry on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Let them stand on the baking sheet for 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. Working quickly, and while the cookies are still warm, sandwich a peppermint patty between two cookies and transfer to a wire rack to cool. After you’ve made the sandwiches and while the cookies are still pretty soft, place each cookie on a cutting board and use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to press down on each sandwich, cutting away the edges and sealing the peppermint patty inside. Chocolate-Mint Sandwich Cookies will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Zester Daily contributor Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated and The New York Times. She is the author of 14 books, most recently “Cake Keeper Cakes” (Taunton, 2009) and “Cookie Swap!” (Workman, 2010).

Photo: Biscuit cutters.

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