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Smells like Burnt Gingerbread

Thing 1 and 2 were with their dad for the next two days, Maui and I were alone, so I was able to begin baking gingerbread for the 6th Annual Cookie Exchange, (using, of course, the Dexter Morgan Method of baking cookies.)

In an undertaking of this scale  (3 large batches) it helps to have multiple baking pans, plenty of silpats, gobs of plastic wrap and copious space available in the apartment sized refrigerator.

Making and preparing the dough is one thing.  Baking is another.

My oven SUCKS.  I think it’s from the 1970’s (gauging from the vintage décor in my kitchen)

The broiler doesn’t like to open.  Its inconveniently positioned all the way at the bottom near the floor and it requires a feat of strength to open or close it.

I’m pretty sure the burners are trying to kill me – especially the front right one.  It plays coy when you go to light it, click, click, click, click, then FOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!    Right when you’ve leaned in closer to see what’s the matter.  Fucker – I see your smirk.

It’s temperamental and cooks uneven – the right side being hotter than the middle or left side.  Everything  needs to be centered slightly to the left.  And it’s really difficult to set the temperature.  I use two temperature gauges in the oven and when the average of the two readings is the temperature I want – I cross my fingers and bake.

I was able to get through half of the baking last night and tried to squeeze in a couple racks of cookies this morning.  I set the oven to warm up and made my morning latte.  When the temperature was right on 350, I popped in the trays, set the timer and walked away.  10 minutes later, the smell of burnt cookies reached me in my bedroom.  Opening the door, I discovered that the left side of the cookies were burnt and the temperature had shot up to 500 degrees!  Yet the knob on the oven was still set at 350!  Arrrggghhh!  With still another batch and a half left to bake, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I think I need to start cruising Craigslist for a new oven.

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Dexter Morgan Method of Baking Cookies

Stained Glass Sugar Cookie

Stained Glass Sugar Cookie

Thing 2 needed to bring food to accompany her school Joan of Arc project.  We wanted to do a burned at the stake cupcake but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get 45+ Tootsie rolls in the bigger size.  We decided to go with a stained glass cookie.   As we were rolling out the sugar cookie dough, I started thinking about how Dexter Morgan would approve.  I’ve been asked several times how I make my cookies so perfect.  Anyone who’s attempted to make sugar cookies knows what I’m talking about.  Sugar cookie dough is fraught with challenges.  The dough sticks, its hard to roll out, it cooks uneven – misshaping the cut out design.  A friend of mine recently asked me how my cookies come out so perfect.  So I thought I would readdress the what now shall be referred to as The Dexter Morgan Method of Baking Cookies.

Just like Dexter – I use lots of plastic wrap.  Flour makes the dough tough (and messy but I don’t think Dexter cares about that).  With this method you never have to use bench flour.

Just like Dexter – I have rules that I follow.  And here they are.

Rule #1 – Don’t follow the recipe
This is where every recipe written for rolled out cookies and I deviate.  Ready any recipe – the FIRST thing the recipe instructs you to do, after you’ve made though dough, is to chill it.  This supposedly makes it easier to roll out.  Forget that step.  They’re wrong.  You’ve been lied to.  This just makes it HARDER to roll out.  Yeah, I supposed if you left the cookie dough in for exactly 15 minutes it would roll out nice but if you’ve kids (or a life) it’s going to be too stiff to roll out.  The chilling is supposed to stop it from sticking.  Guess what?  It still sticks – to the rolling pin and counter top or fancy pastry matt gizmo…   The recipe is WRONG.    Rule #1 is ROLL OUT your dough right after you’ve made it.  It’s the perfect consistency.

Rule #2 – Wrap it in plastic
Use two sheets of plastic wrap.  This is the part Dexter and I both love.  First knead the dough lightly on a silpat.  Then place a layer of plastic wrap down, the cookie dough on top, then add a top layer of plastic.  NOW you can roll it out to the perfect thickness.  Slide the plastic wrapped dough onto a thin plastic cutting board or cookie sheet.

Rule #3 – Refrigerate
Stick the cutting board or cookie sheet into the refrigerator.   Don’t worry about how long it’s in there for.  Just leave it covered with the plastic wrap, and when you’re good and ready you can take it out.  If you notice, Dexter doesn’t like to be rushed.  He likes to be able to concentrate his full attention.  I don’t like to be rushed either.

Rule #4 – Cut
Peel off the top layer of plastic and set aside (I’ll re-use it to roll out the scraps – I’m more eco friendly than Dexter).  Then put the right side of the silpat on top of the dough and flip both over.  This puts the silpat on the bottom with the dough on top.  Remove the 2nd piece of plastic wrap.  You may want to lightly roll out any wrinkles (again use the plastic) but if you’re going to frost the cookies – it’s not necessary.  Now cut out your shapes and remove the negative pieces.   The idea is to cut the shape directly on the baking surface – never move the dough.  It’s vital if you are making large shapes that aren’t easily transferable or if the design has intricate shapes.

The Dexter Morgan Method of Baking Cookies

The Dexter Morgan Method

Depending on how long your dough has been out – you may want to refrigerate your dough.  You always want to bake cold dough.  If you’ve just taken it out of the fridge and cut your pieces, you’re good to go.  But if you’ve rolled out your scraps (negative pieces) into a new sheet, get them cold before you bake.  This ensures the shape of the cookie remains just the way you cut it out. Something about warm cookie dough distorts the final shape of the cookie.

For stained glass cookies – bake the cookies for half the time that the recipe calls for.  Then fill with hard candies like Jolly Ranchers.  The complete baking for the remaining time called for.

Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies using Jolly Ranchers

After explaining my method (which is a little fussy) to the interested friend, she remarked that she probably wouldn’t make rolled out cookies.  That’s okay – not everyone is cut out to be a serial baker…..