Chief cookie maker Tonya Petrucci makes all types of cookies through her business, Confections of a Cookie Addict, for weddings, baby showers, graduations and college kids.
Duke University parents are some of her biggest clients, as they send their children packages of her treats.
So, it’s to be expected that December is one of her busiest times of year. Here, in phone and email interviews, she offers tips for making sure your holiday cookies appeal to your holiday guests, and yes, possibly a late-night visitor bringing gifts, too.
Q: What are the common mistakes people make when making cookies?
A: The biggest mistake new bakers make is being too hard on themselves. I have baked and iced cookies almost every day for the past seven years. I threw away my first batch of Christmas cookies without even tasting them because they weren’t “pretty like Martha’s” and I bet they would have tasted the same with or without perfect icing.
There are a lot of other pitfalls that happen along the way, but patience and precision is a key ingredient to every single recipe you bake.
Q: Is there a definitive no, no?
A: Baking is a precision science and it is not “dump cooking.” Meaning, you can’t throw in a little of this and a little of that. Baking recipes have been tried over and over to achieve a specific result, and the chemistry of the recipe works together. I’m not saying you shouldn’t change a recipe but you can’t add an extra egg or omit a cup of sugar without a drastic effect on any baking recipe. There are some amazing blogs on the internet for the home baker with a wealth of knowledge and fantastic recipes.
Q: What can’t you live without when it comes to baking cookies?
A: I think the most important aspect of any baking is a good recipe and quality ingredients. Over the past 12 years I have revised my recipes several times to make them the best they can be. My original sugar cookie recipe is a far cry from the cookbook version with which I started.
Quality ingredients are equally important. Butters, for example, are not created equally. The most expensive butter is not always the best butter for your recipe. Learn your recipes and make them work for you by playing with ingredients until it is exactly the way you like them.
Q: What are the main tools every holiday cookie baker needs?
A: Speaking as a rolled cookie artist, a good rolling pin is key. Find what works for you, as there are many types. I like what is considered a traditional rolling pin, the type that allows the rolling pin to move while the handles stay stationery in your hands.
There are others: A French (tapered) rolling pin and a dowel type, neither of which have movable handles and are one piece. You can chose from wood, silicon or marble, whatever fits into your budget and preference. I have my four grandmothers’ rolling pins, and I treasure each of them and the memories they hold.
Q: Can you suggest a few seasonal ingredients for cookies?
A: I bet you thought I’d say cinnamon, but I’m actually allergic to it, so I never use it. I do love peppermint, crème de menthe, caramel and vanilla chips. I also love to incorporate orange juice, extract and orange peel in chocolate cookies.
As for a rolled sugar cookie, you have to be careful in changing the ingredients too much as it change the chemistry. So save the add-ins for drop cookies, breads and pan cookies — where you have a little more play.
Q: Could you give some tips on making royal icing since many home bakers struggle with getting the right consistency?
A: Ah, royal icing. This seems to be the nemesis of every baker at times. So much plays into getting it right. First, you need meringue powder to achieve the look you see in the magazines. You also should use cream of tartar, as it acts as a stabilizer in recipes that require whipped egg whites (meringue powder).
But the biggest tip I can give is that you need two consistencies for each color, one to pipe and one to flood. Your piping, or outline, consistency should resemble the stiffness of toothpaste and your flood icing should be more like mustard. This helps to create a wall or dam for your icing to sit in and not roll over the side of the cookie.
Q: What are some of the newer cookie cutters trends? I noticed your ugly Christmas sweaters, for example. People seem to be making more elaborate cookies. Talk about the evolution of cookie making. What are some simple things you can do to up the “wow” factor?
A: Cookie cutters have been the biggest evolution to the cookie world, as many cutters are now made using 3D printers and allow for great customization. Etsy is a great resource for this, but do your homework and purchase from a reputable vendor that has quality cutters.
The use of airbrush machines, edible paints and glitter and custom sprinkles are all at your fingertips these days. For the home baker, the local craft store will have a lot to offer. If you don’t want to invest in an airbrush machine, you can purchase spray cans of airbrush color with minimal investment.
For more on Petrucci’s holiday ideas, go to acookieaddict.com or find her on Instagram @acookieaddict.