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2 cookie pros share their tips to bake the best Christmas cookies

Cookie connoisseurs from Grandma's Cookies and Tony's share tips on how to make your next batch the best it can be, and it's not always about the ingredients.
Credit: Instagram

ST. LOUIS — Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, sometimes you need to take a moment to treat yourself. Bust open the tin, peel back the red and green plastic wrap or sneak some off Santa’s platter and take a bite of the sweetest holiday tradition: cookies.

Cookies are one of the classic ways to spread holiday cheer. They’re gifted in tins and serve as the centerpiece of cookie swap parties.

The Abby Eats St. Louis podcast team spoke with two cookie connoisseurs – Theresa Rubio from Grandma’s Cookies, the institution on historic Main Street St. Charles, and longtime Tony’s pastry chef Helen Fletcher – about how they bake the holidays better.

They offered four main tips to make your next batch the best it can be.

Try something new

Fletcher just literally wrote the book on whipping up the perfect batch.

“It's a lot of work,” she said of creating and designing her book “Craving Cookies.”

“What I wanted to do was pass something on to people to enjoy. It's the ability to pass on something that I think people would enjoy and to have it live for a long, long time.”

While the book includes classic recipes that span her three-decade career, Fletcher suggested branching out to try something new for the holidays. Mix in ingredients you normally wouldn’t consider.

“One of my favorites is the cardamom black pepper snaps. Cardamom is a Swedish spice. It's wonderful. And then you get just a little bit of black pepper and some crispy sugar, some crackly sugar. And they're beautiful and they really taste good,” she explained.

Credit: Instagram: @helensfletcher

Don’t forget your technique

It’s not just finding the right flavors for your dough, but what you do with it once it’s all mixed together. Fletcher said technique is a huge part of baking up the perfect cookie; it’s so important, she included devoted a whole section in her book to help at-home bakers succeed.

One tip that could be handy: roll out your cookies between two pieces of wax paper instead of using flour.

“That’s especially good for sugar cookies, shortbreads,” she said.

Credit: Instagram: @helensfletcher

As for keeping the shape to your cookie-cutter cookies, try putting them in the freezer before baking.

“The thing that you do a lot with them is you pop them in and out of the freezer because when you roll them and cut them, what do they do when you try to put them on the cookie sheet? They stretch, they get out of shape, so you just cut them all out, put them in the freezer and then they just pop right out and they're perfect,” Fletcher advised.

And once they’re on the pan and ready to bake, the last thing you want to do is overbake the bottoms while still trying to bake the top. She gave this genius and simple tip to avoid burnt cookies.

“You put them on two pans and that stops the heat from burning the bottom while the rest of the cookie gets baked,” she said, referring to the technique as “double panning.” “Use two pans to double the thickness of the pans and then it slows down the heat.”

She said that tip is especially helpful for anything that has brown sugar, chocolate, molasses or honey.

Create a tradition

Fletcher still has her mother’s copy of “The Joy of Cooking” because part of the joy of cooking, she said, is tradition.

That’s something Grandma’s Cookies in St. Charles has baked into the recipe for three generations now. They specialize in homestyle cookies. Some of them look like scoops of ice cream. They’re big, lumpy, doughy, chewy and soft, all while also being crisp and crumbly.

And they’re a trip down memory lane for so many families in the St. Louis area.

“I feel like we are like a tradition,” said owner Theresa Rubio. “We are a lot of people's memories of when they grew up in their childhood and their parents bringing them in here when they were little and talking to grandma when she was here. It's just fun to be a part of.”

Credit: Instagram: @grandmascookiesonmain

Rubio grew up in the bakery herself, first pitching in when she was about 10 years old. “Grandma” was Charlotte Thompson, who was her aunt’s mom.

“I felt like she was my grandma because she was around everywhere,” she explained.

The dress-shop-turned-cookie-shop now bakes up thousands of cookies in a given day and thousands more this time of year. Rubio said their not-so-cookie-cutter style is what keeps customers coming back for more.

“I want just your general run-of-the-mill homestyle cookie,” she said of one of their regulars who was in the store buying up his next batch during our interview. “I think that's what so many other people love is that we hold true to who we are and what we've always been.”

Most importantly, have fun

When asked what her top tip was for the at-home bakers this season, Rubio simply said, “have fun.”

“Make it your own special memory and kind of hopefully that will turn out, you know, the cookie will turn out to be something spectacular,” she said. “You can do it, you know, year after year and their kids will have that memory like, ‘Oh my gosh, that's what my mom and I used to make, or that's what we do.’”

“More to me is memories. You know that the whole tradition of it is more important to me than what you necessarily make or do,” she said.

Back in Fletcher’s kitchen, she weighed in by adding that it could all be a mess at the end, and still be OK. The memory of making cookies with your loved ones will stick with you forever, calorie-free.

“Baking should be enjoyable. It’s so rewarding, and the house smells delicious,” she said with a laugh.

You can hear more of this story on the Abby Eats St. Louis episode titled "Not so cookie-cutter Christmas.” The Abby Eats podcast is available for free on all major podcast platforms.

About Abby Eats St. Louis

Abby Llorico tells the story of St. Louis based on what’s on the table. From the hunger for local ingredients, to the booming brunch scene and the craving for creative cocktails, Abby dives into the nitty-gritty of how St. Louis grew to become the foodie town that it is.

Abby Eats St. Louis is available for free on all podcast apps. Take a listen to our latest episodes in the audio player above. We’ve also included links to some of the most popular podcast platforms below.

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