VIDEO: Chef Jeff and his mom talk baking, Christmas cookiesWhat do you consider yourself — a cook or a baker? For people who do little or no cooking or baking, there’s probably not much difference, simply because both are a chore. And if you asked professionals, the cooks would say those who cannot cook bake and vice versa.
By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald
What do you consider yourself — a cook or a baker?
For people who do little or no cooking or baking, there’s probably not much difference, simply because both are a chore.
And if you asked professionals, the cooks would say those who cannot cook bake and vice versa.
The difference, in my opinion, is that a baker is required to follow a recipe closer, and precise measurements are crucial as to how the final product tastes, while a cook can be more creative, adding a dab of this or a dab of that, and the result still will be palatable.
In other words, baking is more like science, and cooking is an artistic endeavor.
Many people I know are either good cooks or good bakers — but not both. Some of them who like to cook but not bake say they hate following directions, adding that cooking allows them to improvise and develop a dish as they go along. Some of my friends who are bakers insist they get confused with cooking because there are no exact measurements. A bit of this or a dash of that just doesn’t do it for them.
Personally, both of them are a lot of fun to me, but I’m a better cook than a baker.
There are some people who are very good at both cooking and baking.
My mom, Lilah, is one of those. I would put Mom up against the chef of any five-star restaurant, and her skills baking would make Julia Child or Buddy Valstro (of TLC’s “Cake Boss” fame) proud.
Although she’s getting up in years, Mom still has a knack for cooking and baking, and this time of year, it’s the latter that usually occupies her time more.
Each holiday season for as long as I can remember, Mom has been baking more than a dozen types of delicious treats for her family and friends. (And there even was a time she used to make penuche for a handful of people who paid her for it.)
Therese and I always are recipients of a nice assortment of each, which we share with our family and holiday guests. (Mom also mails boxes to my both of my brothers.)
Recently, Mom made three of my favorite holiday treats (Hershey Dream Bars, Russian Tea Cakes and Rolled Sugar Cookies). Samplings of the goodies were a hit with my Herald co-workers.
For the past five years or so, Mom has been saying that she’s going to cut back on her holiday baking, but so far, I’ve haven’t seen any evidence of it.
When she expressed this again a month or two ago and said she told my brothers that they shouldn’t expect any cookies for the holidays, I told her how disappointed they were going to be. I even went as far as telling her that she could count on me to help her bake cookies to send to my brother.
After all, that’s what a good brother would do.
Plus, I do need to hone my baking skills.
Rolled Butter Cookies
• 3 cups flour, sifted
• 2 level teaspoons cream of tartar
• 1 level teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup butter
• 3 eggs
• 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large bowl, mix flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and butter — like pie dough — by hand.
In a smaller bowl, beat eggs and then add sugar and vanilla and mix. Combine with dough and mix.
Refrigerate dough overnight (covered with wax paper). In the morning, roll out dough on a floured surface and cut out cookies. Place cookies about ½ to 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes or until done.
Let cool, then frost and decorate.
Yield: 10 to 12 dozen cookies.
Hershey Dream Bars
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 cups shortening (butter or margarine)
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 cups flour
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 6 or 7 Hershey milk chocolate bars
Mix sugar and shortening. Add egg yolk, flour and vanilla. Mix well. Press into a 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 375 degrees until brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place Hershey bars on top. Spread the melting chocolate, entirely covering pans contents. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired. Cool and cut into bars.
Yield: About 16 bars.
Russian Tea Cakes
• 1 cup butter, softened
• ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
• 2¼ cups flour, sifted
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¾ cup nuts, chopped
Stir together flour, salt and nuts. Chill dough for 1 to 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator and roll into balls. Bake at 400 degrees until light brown. Remove from oven and roll in sugar. Cool and then roll again in sugar.
Yield: About 3 dozen.
More recipes: For many more recipes for the holidays, click here.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.