Loaves and Dishes

Wendi Spraker

Have you ever decided to spend the afternoon experimenting with Christmas cookies instead of doing what you should be doing? In September? Yeah, me too! We are procrastibakers! I knew we had a lot in common!

It is fortunate for me that my procrastibaking has purpose (good excuses, you know?), the holidays are coming and I write a food column and a food blog. It’s officially research! Right? Perhaps some of you are doing a little rev up for the coming holidays too.

At the risk of seeming like I might actually have a social life, I’ll admit that as a food writer, I am asked a number of food questions at parties. Twice this past week, I’ve been asked questions about baking – so, we will start there and I’ll just let you wonder about how I ended up at two parties this week! (One was book club, which is not a party – at least that is what we tell our husbands). <wink>

In preparation for the holidays, let’s investigate these party questions from my new friend Larry and my old friend Leslie (Leslie is not old, I’ve simply known her much longer). We can delve into oven preheating, sifting, sheet pans and how to cook two sheet pans of cookies at once.

If this seems just way too cooking nerdy to you, please scan through to the bottom – where there is important info about ways you can help in your community.

Larry had a burning question about sifting. “Is sifting really necessary? I see why my mother did it, the flour she used in her day was full of clumps, but ours is perfect, I see no reason to sift”.

Initially, my answer to Larry was, I store my flour in the freezer for the first week I have it, (if not indefinitely) (see my recent article on pantry moths). The freezer, I’ve noticed does cause the flour to clump somewhat, so I always sift.

Additionally, sifting helps to combine dry ingredients very well. Frankly, who wants a clump of cocoa or espresso powder in their chocolate cake? Ewe!

That said, I turned to one of my favorite kitchen authorities, Epicurious, who recommends simply whisking instead. The purpose of sifting is to add air and fluff back to flour that becomes packed down during travel to the store and to your home. Light airy flour is the idea and this can be accomplished with a whisk.

If you put your flour in an airtight container when you arrive home, you can whisk it in the container and then you don’t have to whisk it for each recipe.

“What about when you are baking a large number of cookies and you need to bake two cookie sheets at once? How should they be spaced?”, asks Leslie who baked the most delicious pecan cookies I’ve ever tasted!

The answer, look at the rack holders in your oven and space them out as evenly as possible (divide your oven into thirds). Place a cookie sheet on each one. Half way through the baking time, have the cookie sheets change place and also turn the sheets around back to front. This answer was collaborated with my good friend Carolyn Parese (a sensational cook) as well as the good folks over at Quaker Oats!

How important is preheating the oven? Super Important! Cooks Illustrated online offers a great explanation of this with photos and everything, but the basics are that your cookies or cake item will get a blast of heat when the oven comes on if the oven isn’t preheated. The outside will burn before the inside cooks through.

If you try to bake cookies in an unwarmed oven, they will spread out too far before they set and then will burn.

The kind of sheet pan you use is also important. Darker colored pans will give a darker color to your baked item. Personally, I do all of my baking on a rimmed baking sheet. My favorite ones I bought at Sam’s club (affordable, lightweight, shiny and easy to clean). I use them for baking cookies, roasting veggies and many other kitchen jobs!

I hope these tips help you with your upcoming holiday baking (or your procrastibaking – which I encourage – it’s great for your mental health.

And while you are in the holiday spirit, I thought I would tell you about one more thing. Do you know about the Blessing Box in Walnut Cove? A Blessing Box is a little covered box that sits outside near the street for easy use. It is managed and kept up by The Times of Refreshing at The Well Church at 201 East Second Street in Walnut Cove.

If you are in need of food, stop by and pick up something that will bless you. Perhaps you are a little short on funds until payday and just need enough to hold you through. That is the purpose of the blessing box.

Would you like to leave something in the Blessing Box to bless others? Boxed and canned food items are appreciated, you don’t need any special permission, just stop by and put your donation in the box. This is for food or personal care items only. Reading material of any kind is not appropriate for the box.

I am not aware of any other such Blessing Boxes in our county, I am hopeful that if there are others that you will drop me a line at wendi@loavesanddishes.net and let me know. If there are others, I’ll be sure to add that info to a future column. You can also visit me online at www.loavesanddishes.net for recipes and cooking tips – I would love to see you stop by!


Wendi Spraker