Baking Up Holiday Cheer

with Darlene Enright


December 2018 Issue
Story and photography by Jacie Elizabeth Millen

Christmas decorations are coming out of attics, ovens are working overtime, the smell of evergreen fills the living room, and favorite traditions unfold as December 25th approaches.
Every family has their favorite traditions, which help to make memories and bring joy for years to come.

Darlene Enright’s tradition is baking fabulous cookies. Bottom line: Baking is her thing; she loves it! It started as a hobby and ended up a passion. She has taught her daughter, Courtney, her special talent, and her husband Tom gets included in the fun as the official taste tester. “Tom knows to get out of the house when I have my baking weekend. When he comes back, he gets to eat all the ones that don’t look good,” Darlene laughed.

Darlene gets her love of baking from her grandmother and mom, both great bakers. She still makes her mother’s Spritz cookies, carrying the tradition down the family line, but most of her inspiration is derived from being a “big Food Network junkie” and skimming Pinterest pages for ideas and recipes. She is also a part of a Facebook group called Youngstown Cookies, where thousands of bakers delight in sharing tips and tricks in the cookie world.

Darlene doesn’t just bake cookies for the holidays, she also sweetens most occasions and year-round holidays with the delight of cookies.  In April 2018, she was featured in the Island Packet newspaper for her RBC Heritage Golf Tournament 50th Anniversary cookies.

Another key ingredient to giving cookies is the packaging. She is always on the look out for cute small boxes, bags, ribbons and stickers. “I think the packaging makes a difference when receiving cookies. It elevates them from good to great,” she said.

“I am not a professional baker but I put a lot of heart into my cookies. Even if they don’t look good, I know they’ll taste good. Baking and decorating cookies is therapeutic. They’re happy, and they make others happy, which makes me happy!”

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Gingerbread Cookies
Prep Time: 10 mins  |  Cook Time: 9 mins  |  Total Time: 19 mins  |  Yield: 24

3 cups All-purpose flour                
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Ground ginger                
2 tsps Ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground cloves                
3/4 cup Dark brown sugar
6 Tbsps Unsalted butter, room temperature    
1 large Egg
1/2 cup Molasses                    
2 tsps Vanilla
1 tsp Lemon zest, finely grated (optional)    1-3 tsp Milk *ONLY IF NEEDED*

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk the flour, salt, and spices together in a bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until they’ve just come together (we don’t want them too light and fluffy). Add the egg, and mix until incorporated. Add the molasses, vanilla, and lemon zest (if using). Mix until incorporated. Slowly mix in the flour mixture until your dough forms. If your dough is remarkably dry (this can happen depending on how you measure your flour), add 1 tsp of milk at a time until it comes together but is not wet/sticky. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4” thickness. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 8-9 minutes.

If you’re not immediately making the cookies, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate (or freeze) until you are ready to use it. Before using, bring to room temperature.

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Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies
Prep Time: 20 mins  |  Cook Time: 10 mins  |  Total Time: 30 mins

1 cup Butter, softened            
3 oz. Cream cheese, softened
1 cup Sugar                
1 Egg yolk
3/4 tsp Vanilla extract            
2 1/2 cups All purpose flour
Assorted holiday sprinkles (optional)    
Green food coloring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a non stick baking mat. Place the butter, cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, beat until combined. Add the flour and mix until just blended. Divide the dough in half. Color half the dough green if desired.

Shape 1/4 of the dough into a log and place into the barrel of the cookie press. Spritz the cookies directly onto the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Decorate with holiday sprinkles (optional). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set and light golden brown on the edges. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

Darlene’s Tips and Tricks:
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1. Soften Up: For a softer cookie, I don’t bake it as long as the recipe calls for. Just watch them until they get the slightest golden color.

2. Handmade: I make my own dough. I never buy store bought. This makes the process smoother when cutting out your shapes.

3. Don’t Shortcut: If a recipe says to refrigerate the dough before baking, I highly suggest you do. Then the cookies keep their shape.

4. Vintage: My best kept secret finding great cookie cutters at thrift stores. I don’t know what it is, but they usually have a great selection. They also have super cookbooks.

5. Freeze or not to Freeze: The dough I make is freezable, and the cookies are too, as long as they are unfrosted.

6. Ice it Up: After you frost the cookies, be sure to cover the leftover icing to use again. It can be made in advance and lasts a good while. If using various colors of frosting, only uncover the one you are using at the time. The frosting hardens if left uncovered.

7. Make it Pop: Place smaller amount of frosting in individual bowls to add color.  That way the tub of white icing is always ready as a base.

8. Flooding: Add a small bit of water to the icing to achieve a smoother consistency. You want it thick when outlining the cookies, but to fill, flood your icing.

9. Use Parchment: You do not want your cookies to stick. Simple as that.

10. Don’t Rush: Let the cookies completely cool before icing them. Make sure the icing dries before applying a different color. “Cookies usually are a two to three day process. Patience is required.

11. Following Tradition: I recommend using a cookie gun for the Spritz cookies. This way they come out just like the old-fashioned ones. (“That’s how my mom did it.”)

12. Sparkle: I look for specialty sprinkles, which is usually not found in the grocery store. I have found the best selection at HomeGoods. Just my opinion.

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Cut-Out Butter Cookies
Prep: 60 mins  |  Chill: 60 mins  |  Bake: 8 mins per batch  |  Cool: 30 mins  |  Yields: 24

1 1/2 cups Butter            
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1 Tbsp Almond extract        
2 large Eggs
1/2 tsp Salt            
4 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
Royal Icing (recipe below)

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sugar gradually, beating well. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl, beat into butter mixture gradually. Divide dough into 4 pieces, and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap, chill 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll each portion of dough to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out with 3- or 4- inch cookie cutters. Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned around edges. Let cool 3 minutes on baking sheets; transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Pipe cookies with Royal Icing, garnish, if desired.

Royal Icing 
Yields: 11/4 cups
4 cups Powdered sugar            
3 Tbsps Meringue powder
1 Tbsp Almond extract
Combine all ingredients and 4 Tbsps water in a mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until firm enough to pipe but still spreadable (cover with a damp cloth to prevent a crust from forming while icing).

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