The Great Cookie Exchange

Who doesn’t like Christmas cookies? (If you don’t, then you’re definitely not going to like this post.) One of my favourite things to do around this time of year is to give out baked goodies to everyone I know. Years and years ago I even used to do annual cookie exchanges with my friends.

You’ve done one of those before, right? Each party guest is assigned the task of bringing enough cookies for each party guest to take home (half to one dozen is a good amount) so everyone ends up with a variety of treats to serve at Christmas time. (That is, if they can last until then.)

Here’s some of what I learned from my past experiences:

  • Do try and circulate a list to get a sense of what everyone is bringing so you don’t get any repeats.
  • Don’t micromanage what every single person is going to make. The fun of it is having something unique from everyone, based on their background, their family traditions and their own personal preferences.
  • Do make sure you double-check for any dietary restrictions or allergies.
  • But if you do end up making a recipe someone can’t eat, don’t forget to bring them an alternative instead. (Like the gluten-free biscotti I made for my friend Andi here.)
  • Do pre-package your cookies for each guest to make life easier for you, your guests, and to protect against any contamination.
  • Don’t overdo it. No one likes a show-off at a cookie exchange (unless you’re showing off how many cookies you can eat).
  • Do make sure to bring along a copy of the recipe just in case any one wants to try it out for themselves. (The only exception is if it’s a super-top secret family recipe.)
  • Don’t take it personally if someone declines your cookies! It’s probably got more to do with their personal tastes than it does your baking.

As for baking inspiration? Well around this blog, we’ve got plenty. In my last post I talked about all the Christmas cookies that I usually make every year, but the recipes found here and here are also great to make as take-alongs. I even participated in an online cookie exchange once. I’ve also been amassing a list of recipes that I’d like to try here on Pinterest.

What are you making for Christmas this year? Are you and your friends holding a cookie exchange? Let us know all the details by commenting below or emailing me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com

And hey, I realize I am not the only baking blogger on the blog. If you’ve got some great recipes you’re sharing on your blog for Christmas (or any other holiday) leave a comment below with the name of your blog and the link to your favourite recipe.

Can’t wait to see what you guys have been baking!

Holiday celebrations can be fun, but only if you can ensure that things go smoothly. While there are never any guarantees when it comes to social gatherings, there are still plenty of ways to get your holiday game on. Click here to read more of them, or click here or here to read about some of the other best practices I’ve been trying to put into my place in my life.

Do you have any tips on how to survive the holidays? Save us by commenting below or email your suggestions to keepingbusyb@gmail.com

What’s on My Cookbook Shelf: Second Edition

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little old-fashioned. My organizing system is mostly paper-based, I like to send Christmas cards and handwritten notes, and I believe there’s some truth behind old adages. (That’s how they got to be sayings in the first place, right?!)

Cookbooks, too, seem like they’re becoming things of the past with the proliferation of cooking shows, recipe sits and foodie blogs. (Gulp.)

There’s something to be said, though, about the sheer pleasure of reading a physical cookbook. It’s not just about reading the recipes- it’s the layout, the photos and the stories that make reading a cookbook such a unique experience. They’re still my go-to source of inspiration whenever I’m looking to bake for the blog.

I share some of the titles that have a standing reservation on my bookshelf last year, but today I thought I’d share a few more recent additions that have been getting my taste buds going.

One of my favorite places in Toronto has finally published their first cookbook. Bobette and Belle, located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Leslieville, is famous for its fabulous cupcakes and French macarons. I’ve yet to attempt any of their classic recipes, but if they turn out even half as decent as the originals, I just might have to open my own shop.

Further north of the city of Toronto is the region known as Muskoka, or what Torontonians like to call “cottage country”. We Canadians live for our cottages and summer homes, so it’s not surprising that Marty’s World Famous Bakery, located in the heart of it all, would become just that- world famous. Chef Marty’s specialty- the butter tart- is a Canadian favorite, but I’m personally head over heels for his carrot cake. It’s about the best I’ve ever tasted.

Some of the pleasure of poring over a cookbook is the photography and Hello Cupcake! doesn’t disappoint. Of course, it’s easy to take good photos if you have amazing art direction, and the cupcakes featured in this book pretty much put every cupcake I’ve made to shame.

I do a lot of baking, but I like reading cookbooks just as much, if only to gain inspiration. (I’m not a very ambitious cook, I’m afraid.) However, I have attempted a few recipes from David Rocco’s La Dolce Vita and they’re surprisingly simple, delicious and oh-so-Italian. Some of these dishes have even made it to my own cooking repertoire (which is saying something)

But I wasn’t always so adventurous- when I was first learning how to cook I relied heavily on The Joy of Cooking (which contains recipes for just about everything, including possum) and How to Cook Everything (which is geared towards a more modern crowd and to the best of my knowledge contains no possum). They might not be the most fascinating reads, or are the prettiest of cookbooks, but these ones were valuable to my culinary education and I’d recommend everyone get at least one of them- even if it’s just to brush up on the basics.

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) Don’t forget to friend me on Goodreads either! Btw: These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company.

 

Your Burning Baking Questions for B

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If you’re new to this blog, welcome! I love meeting new people who love baking as much as I do.

If you’ve been following for awhile, you’ll know that in addition to having a giant sweet-tooth, part of my passion for baking lies comes from how I cope with stress. But I get a lot of questions about my favorite recipes, methods and my baking experiences both online and in person, so I thought I’d attempt to answer a few more of them here. Maybe we can even get to know each other a little better!

What was the first thing you ever made? Some of my earliest memories are of helping my mother in the kitchen but the first thing I ever baked all by myself were these chocolate brownies.

Are there any recipes you know off by heart? Yeah, that one! And the one for peanut butter cookies because it’s so freaking easy.

What’s the easiest thing you’ve made? I’d say pretty much all of the stuff I’ve featured on the blog is pretty easy (otherwise I wouldn’t blog about it!) but these peanut butter cookies, this peach cobbler, these minty Nanaimo bars, these butterscotch treats, and these S’mores Squares were among the easiest. Oh! And applesauce, although I don’t think that really counts as “baking”.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve made? Making your own pastry dough like I describe here is pretty labor-intensive. If you’ve never baked anything before, it’s probably not the best recipe to start with but mostly I think it’s just all of the steps that make it intimidating.

Where do you get your inspiration from? I read lots of cookbooks (found here and here), but I also used to collect magazine clippings like crazy. That was kind of getting out of hand so I’ve relegated a lot of my collection onto Pinterest and into my recipe book. I also read a ton of amazing baking blogs run by talented bloggers, all of whom are way better bakers than I am.

Do you only bake for your blog? Yes and no. Mostly I bake for myself, family, friends or co-workers (especially if there’s a special occasion). I enjoy trying new recipes all the time but since I started featuring more of my baking on the blog I’ve made a more concerted effort to vary the kinds of things I make, and the flavors I use. So yes, sometimes I find a new recipe to try out for the blog specifically, but I’m constantly returning to my favorites in between.

Have you ever considered making baked goods on commission? Are you going to open a bakery? I don’t have my food handler’s certificate, or any formal culinary training so probably not. I kind of like the idea of feeding a bunch of people and getting paid for it, though, so I wouldn’t rule it out.

Do you cook as often as you bake? Not as much, although I do like cooking a lot. I don’t often like eating big meals so I’m more of a grazer throughout the day- fresh fruits and veggies, and yogurt. Oh man, yogurt. I usually save my more substantial recipes for other people. Maybe I’ll share one or two on the blog in the future!

What’s the one thing you haven’t baked? I have yet to successfully make meringue, and as of yet I’ve never attempted a soufflé. (It kind of scares me.) I’ve also never made a cheesecake- no particular reason, I just haven’t done it yet!

What is your all-time favorite dessert? There haven’t been many baked goods that I’ve met and haven’t liked, but there’s nothing like a dense, moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed getting the chance to know me a little bit more- now I want to know a little bit more about you! What’s your favorite dessert? What’s the one recipe you’ve always been too intimidated to bake? Leave your answers below, and make sure to link to your favorite recipes on your blog! When it comes to baking, the more the merrier.