Giving ‘tasteful’ gifts

Seasoned bakers offer tips on giving homemade goodies

-Messenger photo by Dawn Bliss
KAREN DEWINTER, left, and Phyllis Michaelson say the act of giving cookies as holiday gifts carries a more personal meaning because of the time and effort they require.

Sometimes a box of baked goods can express warm and fuzzy holiday feelings better than a big ticket retail purchase.

“It’s a personal thing,” said Phyllis Michaelson, of Fort Dodge. “It really touches people to know someone took the time to make it.”

Karen DeWinter, an avid baker, agreed, adding putting together a box of cookies is a very practical approach to gift-giving.

“A lot of people either don’t like to bake or don’t have the time,” she said, “but they still love the cookies. It’s a good thing to give.”

Sharing baked goods and homemade candies is something in which the two women are experienced. They both organize and participate in the annual Cookie Walk at First Congregational United Church of Christ. Additionally, DeWinter makes cookies once a week to give to her son-in-law.

-Messenger photo by Dawn Bliss
Holiday cookies are nestled in a box ready to be given as a gift this season.

“I call him Cookie Monster,” she said. “He just loves cookies.”

While DeWinter practices her baking skills weekly, trying different recipes each time, Michaelson said she tends to put most of her effort into the treats she makes for the bake sale at the church, making candies and sweet treats rather than baked goods. Dirty Snowballs, Oreo and cream cheese balls dipped in chocolate, are her personal favorites, but she also makes dipped pretzel rods with sprinkles. Michaelson never got into the routine of making cookies for the holidays because her mother only made cut-out sugar cookies once.

“She said she put all that work into them — making the dough, cutting them out, frosting them – and then my dad ate them all in half an hour,” Michaelson said.

DeWinter, on the other hand, grew up in a family of holiday bakers.

A favorite cookie of hers, Fairy Cookies, comes from a recipe her sister gave her, and cream wafers will forever be tied to memories of her grandmother. Cream wafers are circular cookies with a texture similar to a pie crust. An almond paste is then sandwiched between two of the cookie disks.

-Messenger photo by Dawn Bliss
Phyllis Michaelson shows off a frosted sugar cookie she decorated with sprinkles.

“They’re a lot of work,” DeWinter said, “but they just melt in your mouth.”

Regardless of their past experiences, both women, agree when it comes to giving gifts of homemade baked goods.

Whether sweet treats or cookies, the time and effort is worth it and the meaning behind the tasteful gift is heartfelt.

Basic cookie baking tips:

• Use butter.

• Don’t overmix the dough.

• Try to keep the cookies uniform.

• Preheat oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

• Use nonstick spray for greasing the cookie sheet, and do not use dark pans.

• Bake one pan at a time so if something goes wrong, only the one pan is affected.

• Let cookies and pan cool for one or two minutes. If it says to cool them two minutes before taking them off the sheet, cool them two minutes. DeWinter said. If you can’t get them off the sheet, put them back in the oven for a minute, then take them out and give it a try.

• Check the cookies at least one minute before the time they are suppose to be done.

• Follow the directions for the recipe and accurately measure ingredients. Use the proper measuring spoons and measuring cups.

Packaging tips:

• Cookies can pick up flavors from one another. Keep that in mind when considering what types of cookies to put together for the gift. For instance, sugar cookies can take on a minty flavor if packed with mint cookies.

• Crispy cookies can also absorb moisture from soft cookies, drying the soft kinds and making the crispy ones soggy.

• Good varieties to pair together are mild flavors such as shortbread cookies, butter cookies and sugar cookies.

Stronger spiced varieties such as gingerbread and snickerdoodle go together well, and moist varieties such as oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies pair well.

• A good amount of cookies to include in a gift box are about two dozen, DeWinter said. That way the cookies won’t go stale before people can eat them all.

• Also, keep in mind possible allergies. Separate boxes for peanut butter or nut-based recipes are one way to handle the issue.

• Goodies can be packaged in simple gift boxes made festive by attaching an ornament or present topper.

Also, an easy and quick option is a resealable plastic baggie with a sheet of holiday wrapping paper as a backdrop under the cookies.