If you're reading this, chances are you're already aware that Buddy Valastro, aka TLC's Cake Boss, is a master craftsman in the world of cake designers. His cakes are so beautiful and richly detailed they could easily be considered edible works of art. However, as the managing baker of Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., Buddy has also made his fair share of cookies. In fact, he's as much a boss of cookies as he is of cakes.
Cookies are a hot item at Carlo's Bakery. During the holiday season, Buddy and the crew crank out multiple varieties of delicious holiday cookies for a seemingly endless stream of hungry customers.
Since it's the season of giving and sharing, the Cake Boss has agreed to divulge his top 10 tips for making the perfect Christmas cookie. Up first, Buddy explains a surefire way to find (or create) the perfect holiday cookie recipe.
10: Don't Be Afraid to Experiment
Finding the perfect recipe for Christmas cookies (or anything else) is often a process of trial and error. When asked what tips he has for novice cookie bakers, Buddy said in his now-famous New Jersey accent, "Don't be afraid to experiment. Get different recipes -- try them out. You know, see how you like them."
That's sound advice. Start with a few recipes that look promising and start cooking. If the finished product isn't quite what you're looking for, tweak the ingredients and refine the process until you get the results you want. With enough persistence and dedication, you'll eventually invent or discover your own version of the perfect Christmas cookie.
9: Gimme Some Sugar, Baby!
Regardless what recipe you're using or what kind of cookie you're making, sugar is likely one of the primary ingredients. Sugar helps define a cookie's taste and its texture, so choosing which kind of sweetener to use can be a daunting challenge.
According to the Cake Boss, the type of sugar used for each batch of cookies at Carlo's Bakery changes "depending on the recipe." Buddy and the crew often combine different types of sugars to make cookies taste their best. He says, "Some recipes call for granulated; some call for a powdered sugar, but we mostly use [a combination of] granulated and powdered sugar."
Of course, just because Buddy Valastro and the crew at Carlo's Bakery use two sugars in most of their holiday treats doesn't mean this sweet combination will solve any of your Christmas cookie woes. If you've been rubbed raw by turbinado sugar, or your experience with brown sugar is making you see red, you may want to give one -- or both -- of Buddy's recommended sweeteners a try.
8: It Pays to Buy the Best
Let's face it, we can't all purchase front row tickets to a concert or drive luxury cars, and we certainly can't all cook with the priciest, most high-end ingredients. However, when it comes to baking holiday treats, sometimes it pays to splurge.
It might be expensive, but the higher-end version of a single, extra-tasty ingredient can transform a mundane cookie from "oh" to "whoa!" When we asked the Cake Boss which cookie recipe has been the most consistently popular, he said, "Over the years, our pignoli cookies [have been] one of our top sellers, and I think it's due to the fact that we buy Spanish pignoli nuts. They're a lot more expensive, but they have a much nicer shape and color, and they just have a better flavor than the [nuts our competitors use]."
When asked if Carlo's shells out for specific brands or expensive versions of everyday ingredients, such as flour and sugar, Buddy said the bakery doesn't because, "it's all pretty much the same."
7: Use a Secret Ingredient
It works for Coca-Cola, Colonel Sanders and even Buddy Valastro. Secret ingredients give some of our favorite consumable goods a unique and distinctive flavor that pushes them ahead of their competitors. These undisclosed enhancements are typically known to only a few people and are guarded with the utmost secrecy.
Of course, the special ingredient in your Christmas cookies doesn't have to be a carefully guarded trade secret. It could be something as simple as adding a pinch of raw sugar to the top of your holiday treats or sneaking in a few cups of crushed cornflakes for some deliciously crunchy chocolate chip cookies.
So what is the Cake Boss' top-secret holiday ingredient? "I'd have to kill you if I told you that!" was all he would say. We decided not to press the issue.
6: Know the Difference Between Gooey and Crunchy
Even if you manage to get the right ingredients and find the perfect recipe, you still have to bake the cookies. It may sound easy, but cooking times vary, and what's undercooked for one cookie may be well-done for another. Buddy puts it another way. He says, "A chocolate chip cookie has gotta be more soft, gooey and chewy. But if you['re] … making a butter cookie, it should be stiff and crunchy in your mouth."
How do you prevent burning your chocolate chip holiday masterpieces or turning your Christmas butter cookies into piles of gelatinous goo? Simple: Underestimate the cooking times. You can keep cooking a gooey butter cookie, but you won't be able to salvage a scorched chocolate chip one.
5: Cooling vs. Burning
You may have prevented your cookies from overcooking, but they're not out of the fire yet -- even if you've already turned off the oven. Buddy Valastro explains: "Sometimes when you take a cookie out of the oven it might seem raw, but the cookie is going to continue to cook on the pan." According to Buddy, your cookies will keep cooking "until the pan cools down."
Of course, you can't count on a hot pan to bake all your uncooked dough. Raw cookies aren't going magically transform into hardened holiday squares after a few minutes on a warm baking sheet. If you take your cookies out after they're fully formed, but still slightly soft in the center, they should be perfect once they've finished cooling.
4: Regular Recipes Make Fantastic Holiday Treats
There's nothing wrong with making a batch of regular cookies, such as peanut butter or chocolate chip, for Christmas. Just because these treats are popular throughout the year doesn't mean they shouldn't be seen (or tasted) during the holidays. However, it doesn't take much to elevate a traditional cookie recipe to a special holiday treat.
When asked how he and the rest of the crew at Carlo's Bakery craft the majority of their Christmas cookies, Buddy said, "They're more like traditional cookies … we try to be more festive with the sugars and stuff that we put on them."
It's easy to add a distinctive Christmas twist to just about any cookie recipe -- you often don't even have to change any ingredients. For example, you could use just red and green candies when making M&M cookies, or you could add a few drops of food coloring to sugar cookie dough for a holiday hue. Even a pinch or two of festive sprinkles can transform a plate of cookies.
3: Break out the Cookie Cutters and Icing
Sprinkles and food coloring are great, but if you want to make truly festive holiday cookies, you sometimes have take them to the next level. This doesn't require creating multilayered treats with exotic decorations (like the kind of pastries Buddy Valastro has staked his reputation on). In fact, all you need is some cookie cutters and a few tubes of icing.
When Buddy spoke to us about the different versions of Christmas cookies they make at Carlo's Bakery, he said, "We make a lot of different cookies for … [in many] different shapes and colors. We cut them into shapes and then decorate them with icing."
So, given Buddy's talent for crafting luxurious, highly detailed cakes, what is Carlo's best-selling specialty Christmas cookie? It's not nearly as exotic as you might expect. When we asked the Cake Boss, he said, "We do some Christmas tree cookies which we decorate, and over the years have become very popular sellers."
2: Use Christmas-centric Ingredients
If cookies covered in icing or sprinkles aren't festive enough for you, bake some specialty cookies that are typically only made during the holidays, or use ingredients that are closely tied to Christmas. When we asked Buddy what type of cookies Carlo's Bakery cooks up during the holiday season, he said, "We make a whole bunch of Christmas and specialty cookies for the holidays. We make a mostaccioli, which is an Italian cookie, rococo … fig-stuffed cookies. There's so many different things we do for Christmas time."
If you want your holiday cookies to be a hit, it's not a bad idea to take notes from the Cake Boss. If your family doesn't have a traditional holiday treat, try making mostaccioli or another international holiday cookie. Then, there are time-honored recipes. Fig cookies, of course, are perfect for any Christmas-oriented gathering, as figs (most famously in the form of figgy pudding) have long been associated with the Christmas season.
1: If All Else Fails
Sometimes, despite the helpful celebrity chef tips, things simply don't work out. Your attempts at baking Christmas cookies end in disaster, or, at the very least, with a few batches of some unimpressive holiday treats. If all else fails, you can always pick up some prepackaged cookie dough for a fresh batch of guaranteed-tasty Christmas cookies. Hey, even Buddy Valastro has had to do it once or twice.
When comparing homemade and store-bought cookies, the Cake Boss gave us a shocking admission. He said, "Well, I have to be honest with you, I've gone to the store with my kids and bought cookies and made them at home, those store-bought kind, and you know what? If you eat 'em warm, they taste good. … Not as good as Carlo's, but they'll be good."
Don't beat yourself up if your cookies don't turn out well. Perhaps the oven temperature your recipe called for was too hot, or maybe the ingredients just weren't mixing right. Tasty Christmas cookies are as close as your nearest grocery store, and besides, there's always next year.
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- Cook, Joan D. "A La Carte: raw Sugar is Cleaned to Remove Mold, Fibers." Reading Eagle. Oct. 15, 2009. (Nov. 1, 2009).http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=161256
- Mushet, Cindy. "Secret-Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies." The View from the Bay. 2009. (Nov. 1, 2009).http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=view_from_the_bay/food_wine&id=7056607
- Valastro, Buddy. Personal interview conducted by Chris Obenschain. (Oct. 29, 2009.)