‘Tis the season for sharing home-baked treats! This year we partnered with some of our favorite bakers to create the ultimate holiday cookie swap. See them all here, then follow along and show us your own holiday cookies on Instagram @williamssonoma with the hashtag #wscookieswap.
Meet Joanne Chang, a Harvard grad and former management consultant who left her career to pursue another passion — as a professional baker. Now, she’s the pastry chef and owner at Flour Bakery and Café in Boston, where she and her team make fresh pastries, breads, cakes, cookies and tarts, along with sandwiches, soups and salads. She is also the author two cookbooks: Flour, Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe and Flour Too, Indispensible Recipes for the Cafe’s Most Loved Sweets and Savories. Here, we ask Joanne all about her holiday cookie traditions — find her tips, and try her Snickerdoodle recipe!
What are some of your favorite holiday baking traditions?
Before I opened Flour I made decorated sugar cookies every holiday. I spread out a few sheets in my living room and baked and decorated for a few nights in a row and then packaged bells, sleighs, Santas, stars and candy canes into little packages with a bow. I made dozens and dozens of cookie bags to hand out to friends and co-workers. It was one of my very favorite traditions! Even after Flour opened, for the first few years I borrowed the commercial ovens and all of the professional equipment and carried all of the baked cookies to my apartment and continued to make my own homemade bags. Now we make so many of these at the bakery that I don’t have time to make them on my own anymore. But I still gather up the ones we make as a team to pass out to friends and family.
What flavors are best for baking this time of year?
Definitely all of the warm fall spices! Nutmeg, allspice, mace, ginger, cinnamon, clove. Oranges and citrus; walnuts and pecans. Lots of maple and molasses. Apples and pear and quince. And cranberries! I love the holidays!
Let’s talk cookies. What are your top 3 tips for making the best batch every time?
- Chill the dough first! So many people make cookie dough and then bake it immediately and I find that most dough needs at least 4 to 6 hours, if not overnight, to fully hydrate and firm up for best baking.
- Don’t scrimp on ingredients. Use grade A butter, the best chocolate you can, superfine sugar, fresh flour (yes I know some of you have flour in bins that has been sitting on your counter for months and months — get fresh flour!), high quality jams, etc.
- Finally, SCRAPE WELL. When making batter be sure to scrape well to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients together so that they bake evenly.
Any creative cookie decorating ideas?
A fun cookie to make and decorate is a big rectangle of gingerbread cookie that you then cut up into various shapes and pieces like a puzzle. Bake the cookies separated, trim them when they come out of the oven so they all fit like a puzzle, decorate the whole puzzle as one thing- santa, candy cane, xmas tree, whatever- and then separate and let dry.
Using colored sugar is quick and easy and very pretty as well — you can either buy it or make it with some sugar and food coloring. It will stick to royal icing when you pipe it and dry up glittery and glimmery. Finally, we love making peppermint kisses: big meringue cookies tinted with a streak of red and pink and piped with a big round tip. They dry out into crispy, light, festive cookies.
When it comes to holiday cookies, do you stick to tradition or go experimental?
I tend to stick with tradition. I didn’t grow up with traditional holiday foods, so what might seem old hat to some is still relatively novel to me. Nothing beats a spicy gingerbread cookie or a peppermint brownie in my book.
Have you had any memorable cookie-baking disasters?
I’ll never forget the year I had all of my cookies laid out on my living room floor and I literally fell onto them. I’m klutzy by nature, and that night my fatigue got the best of me (that’s what staying up three nights in a row will do to you) and I just slipped and landed on a whole slew of cookies. I put them in bags and gave them away anyway …to my closest friends who still loved them!
What’s in your ideal holiday cookie tin?
I like a wrapped Pringles tin! It keeps cookies fresh, and you can decorate with ribbon and bows and markers.
What fun presentation/wrapping ideas have you seen or tried for gifting cookies?
We have traditional take out Chinese food containers that make nifty and fun containers for wrapping up cookies. I love the idea of a stack of cookies in a large mug with some teabags as a set.
Tell us about the Snickerdoodles recipe. What was your inspiration? What’s special about the recipe?
I used to read about Snickerdoodles as a kid and I loved the story of how the cinnamon sugar bakes into the cookie and creates a crackly appearance — similar to the man on the moon. I loved trying to find the man on the moon when making these cookies, and eating these reminds me of how happy I was as a kid, studying the face of the cookie.
Any tips for people making these cookies? Creative twists or other ideas?
Use other spices besides cinnamon! Cinnamon is classic but I love nutmeg and ginger and a touch of clove.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?
I like them best as an ice cream sandwich: take two cookies, put some vanilla bean or ginger ice cream in between, sandwich, freeze. The cookie freezes but it’s still soft and delicious.
Joanne Chang headshot courtesy of Colin Clark