To say Chef Mary-Jane Feeke makes a lot of cookies during the holiday season would be an understatement of ridiculous proportions. Her work isn’t done when she makes a few dozens. Or even dozens of dozens. From her bakeshop in Selkirk, Manitoba, Feeke rolls, cuts, pipes, bakes and decorates thousands and thousands of individual cookies in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
— Shel Zolkewich (@shelzolkewich) November 18, 2015
“We’re probably somewhere around 5,000 at this point,” said the accomplished baker, caterer and teacher. Along with her team at Benjamin’s Gourmet Foods, hundreds upon hundreds of Christmas cookies were in their final stages a week ago—a donation to a local fund-raising event.
When it comes to cookie connoisseurship, Feeke wears the crown. She recently spent an evening sharing her secrets with a group of cookie enthusiasts. The group—brought together by Canola Eat Well—included great bakers, farmers, food writers, home economists and eager beginners willing to get a little flour on their faces in the name of a good cookie.
— Jennifer Dyck (@jeniferdyck) November 18, 2015
Feeke suggests getting to know the basics of cookie cookery, including how to cream together oils and sugar, chill your dough, roll out a symmetrical log, use a piping bag and work with fondant.
“Get to know these methods so when you see a recipe, you’ll know what technique is called for,” she said. And to make your cookies look professional, take the time to round out the wonky edges and create uniform pieces.
— Canola Eat Well (@CanolaEatWell) November 26, 2015
Many cookie recipes call for the dough to be chilled, so set aside two nights to get your baking done. Feeke said bakers—even if they don’t have much experience—can easily tackle three or four recipes in one session. Follow her tips below for a delicious season!
When should we start baking for the holidays?
Christmas baking can start as much as a month before the big day, but try to get it all done at least two weeks before Dec. 25 to leave yourself time to enjoy the holidays.
If you could only bake three items for the holidays, what would they be?
Sugar cookies, shortbread, butter tarts, mincemeat and gingerbread. I know that’s more than three, but I’m sticking to my favourites!
What’s the biggest mistake people make when baking for the holiday?
They try to make too much stuff. Keep it simple.
If you’re not an accomplished baker, what should you make?
Sugar cookies, gingersnaps and shortbreads are easy and everyone loves them.
What’s your best advice for baking cookies?
Don’t rush! Make sure you do things in steps. Be sure your dough is well chilled before you start working with it. Keep a close eye on your oven. Every oven is different. You don’t want to spoil all your hard work by stepping away.
Who do you share your holiday baking with?
My grandma. Because she doesn’t bake anymore but all of these recipes are hers. Our family has at least 12 people that we share baking with during the holidays—people who are caregivers, friends, teachers.
What’s the best way to share holiday baking?
Make it fresh and deliver it right away. That way the recipient can decide if they want to freeze it for later or enjoy it right now.
What’s your favourite holiday treat?
Gingerbread. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
Eat Well…Shel Zolkewich
Shel writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she’s not playing outside, on the road or eating at www.shelzolkewich.com.
She’s written for Up! Magazine, Going Places, Canadian Gardening, Travel Manitoba, Outdoor Canada, Western Living, The National Post, West Magazine, Winnipeg Free Press, The Globe & Mail, EnRoute and various Websites.