Lucy Cook, founder and co-owner of Magnolia Foods, learns the art of cookie baking—which comes in particularly handy around the holidays— from Amherst local Mary Hansen.
Look Who’s Cooking in Central Virginia:
Cookie Baker Extraordinaire
By Lucy Cook
Mary Hansen is a woman on the run! As the regional council director for the “Girls on the Run” program, she coordinates programs at 14 sites, coaching young girls about character development using running as the starting point. As the mother of three girls, she knows about the issues they face as middle school approaches.
Mary is also an avid cook and baker. Growing up as one of nine children, she learned the art of cooking from her mother, who made everything from scratch. “Every one of us is a good cook—even my brothers know how to bake biscuits and brownies!” says Hansen. Growing up in a household that valued “homemade” has special meaning for her family. Even with threeyoung girls and a busy schedule, Mary does her best to provide
homemade meals. In the summer, they eat fresh, quick meals based around vegetables from their own garden; in the colder months, the family depends more on the freezer. “If I take the time to make a casserole or soup, I always make two and put one in the freezer.”
One of Mary’s favorite family holiday traditions is “cookie baking weekend.” During the fall, Mary collects ingredients and makes cookie dough for the freezer. Then, on a designated weekend, the entire family gathers for production time—rolling, cutting, baking and decorating the cookies to give as gifts to friends, neighbors and teachers. Mary and her family take great care to use creative, unique packaging for the cookies—just the right touch to show the recipients that they are in for a treat. Mary has generously shared a few of her favorite baking hints and cookie recipes for you to add to your family’s favorites.
Mary’s Cookie Hints
• Use great ingredients—don’t economize here!
• Try new recipes on your family—when you have room for mistakes!
• Use shiny, light-colored cookie sheets of good quality aluminum for best results; dark cookie sheets encourage
cookies to bake darker, especially on the bottom.
• Timing is everything; even a few seconds can affect the result of a cookie. Use a timer and know your oven well!
• Substitutions can sometimes be made, but will affect the outcome; know your recipe well before substituting an ingredient.
• Many cookie doughs can be prepared well in advance and refrigerated or frozen until baked. Store the dough in airtight containers. Many baked cookies freeze well, but it can depend on your freezer. For best results, pack carefully in freezer containers with sheets of waxed paper between the layers and store carefully in a clean, spacious freezer. Cookies should not be iced until just prior to serving or sharing.
• When making many different types of cookies or large quantities, work in stages. This is especially helpful when you have small children that require your attention. Spend an hour here and there mixing the doughs to their refrigerator stages, and then baking on the weekend when Dad is home to help. With busy schedules, it’s helpful to pencil in the “baking day” when everyone can be home to help.
Lacy Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches
A crisp candy-like cookie.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup rolled oats (regular oatmeal) finely chopped (but not ground to a powder) in the food processor
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange juice, strained
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled, for sandwiching the cookies
3 or 4 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with buttered foil or parchment paper
Set the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Pour the melted butter into a bowl; one at a time, stir in the remaining ingredients, except the chocolate, stirring smooth after each addition.
Use a 1/2-teaspoon measure to drop the batter on the prepared pans. Space the cookies about 3 inches apart in all directions, to allow room for them to spread. Bake the cookies for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until they have spread and are brown around the edges and lighter toward the center. Slide the paper or foil onto racks to cool the cookies.
When the cookies are completely cool, peel them off the foil and arrange half of them bottom-side-up on a pan. Use a small offset spatula to spread about 1/2 teaspoon of chocolate on each inverted cookie. Top with another cookie, bottom to bottom. Store the finished cookies between sheets of parchment or waxed paper in a tin or
plastic container with a tight-fitting cover. Makes 30 sandwiches.
Hint: This can be a time-consuming cookie, but one that’s worth the effort and sure to impress! If time is limited, try to do this cookie in stages: (1) prepare your ingredients, (2) bake the cookies and store for
no more than a day, and (3) sandwich the cookies with chocolate.
A subtle shortbread-type cookie.
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/4 cups butter, softened (no substitutions)
3 cups all-purpose or cake flour
1/4 cup cocoa (to be used in half the recipe)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix powdered sugar, butter and egg. Mix in flour and salt. Divide the dough into halves. Mix cocoa into one half. Refrigerate both halves for at least one hour. Roll the chocolate dough into a rectangle, 16 by 9 inches, between two sheets of waxed paper, or on a lightly floured board. Roll the plain dough the same size;
place on the chocolate dough. Roll the combined dough to 3/16 inch thick. Roll up tightly, beginning at wide side. Wrap the roll and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Heat oven to 400°. Cut roll into 1/8 inch slices. (If dough
crumbles while cutting, let warm slightly.) Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until set, about 8 minutes; do not let edges brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet; cool and store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Makes about 8 dozen.
Hint: It’s easy to double this recipe: simply mix two batches of dough, omitting the cocoa from the first batch and doubling it for the second batch. Separate the plain dough into two rounds and the chocolate into two rounds and proceed as directed above.
A homey, soft cookie that reminds you of Grandma.
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix brown sugar, shortening, molasses and egg. Mix in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into balls (this is a great job for small hands!). Dip tops in granulated sugar. Place balls sugared sides up about 3 inches
apart on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake just until set, 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet and cool. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.