Holiday baking frenzy

In six-hour classes, students make thousands of cookies

December 17, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

A woman dips pale macaroons in dark chocolate while her friend nearby drizzles white chocolate on the fudge cookies. At the other end of the huge kitchen, two teenage boys argue over the amount of flour landing on the table instead of in the commercial mixer, while across the table their mothers dump chocolate chips and chopped walnuts into a whirling bowl of coffee-flavored batter.

All the while, people scurry toward the sinks to wash dirty utensils. They head every which way to and from bins of flour as they avoid other bakers piling oversize cookie sheets on an eyeball-high rack.

In the Cookie Exchange, a six-hour frenzy run by Anne Arundel Community College, 16 people make 200-plus dozen holiday cookies in 32 varieties. Each participant leaves with more than 13 dozen.

"If the batter I've tasted is any indication, they are going to be great," says Kelly Parsley, a 41-year-old information-technology manager from Millersville, as she licks coconut crunch batter from a finger.

Mouths water at the just-baked lineup on one tabletop: golden discs of lemon with white chocolate chunks, jam-filled Russian tea cakes sprinkled with confectioners' sugar, jumbles of cherry cashews, vanillas with protruding peanuts, and, at the far end, five different chocolates.

To no one's shock, the Cookie Exchange is one of the most popular noncredit offerings at the college. Couples, families and groups of friends -- some of whom make this an annual rite -- claim spots in the classes early in the fall.

Some years, culinary professor Ken Jarvis turns away would-be bakers even though he runs as many as six classes in the weekends before Christmas.

Jarvis has concocted the recipes so that all types bake at the same temperature for about the same duration. He's simplified recipes from fancy magazines, updated wooden-spoon-era recipes -- "Your grandma didn't have a KitchenAid commercial mixer. She beat by hand," Jarvis says -- and devised originals.

Nearly half have some sort of chocolate to them -- white chocolate chips, fudgy batter, a cocoa dusting -- because Jarvis likes chocolate. "Sometimes, it is all about me," he said.

Students come because they and their families either plan to gorge on cookies, or to give them away in a swap at work, in gift bags or in presents shipped to friends.

"I'll take them home and they will be gone in a matter of days," said Nancy Scaggs, 46, of Centreville. None of the cookies goes to her Legislative Services office. "My boys wouldn't stand for it."

The class goes like this: one hour of Jarvis discussing the art of cookie-baking, five hours of baking by four groups, a parade around the room of bakers gathering cookies from sheets, and then -- sampling and packing up.

This is an escape, an uninterrupted day of baking and chitchat, an opportunity to work in the college's expansive commercial kitchen in Glen Burnie and to walk out with an enviable cookie assortment.

"It's fun with friends. You get all sorts of recipes and good ideas," Scaggs says.

For Paul Jendrek, 65, of Pasadena, this is an aromatic and yummy twist on the chemistry courses he teaches at the community college.

"When you put baking powder and baking soda in the cookies, it releases carbon dioxide. It causes the cookies to rise. It really is some basic chemistry," he says. "But it smells a heck of a lot better than the lab I teach."

This is the third year he and his wife Pam, 63, a human resources director, are taking the class.

"Honey, golf-ball size!" she admonishes him.

His snickerdoodle globes had been getting progressively smaller.

Errors are inevitable in volume baking: Some of Kathy Haig's pine-nut cardamom sand cookies are naked.

"The first batch I did, I forgot to put the pine nuts on," said Haig, 55, an administrator, of Laurel.

Debbie Davidson, 42, a Glen Burnie homemaker, signed up with her son Allen, a 16-year-old aspiring pastry-maker, and another mother-son duo, Teri Fox, 48, of Glen Burnie, and Craig, 17.

As he chops bittersweet chocolate that will be the center of thumbprint cookies, Allen says he's looking forward to owning a bakery. This class dovetails with his high school culinary studies.

The boys are working together. Craig rolls the dark dough into balls and pitches them into a bowl of egg whites before dropping them into a bowl of chopped nuts, then pushing his thumb into the center of each.

Earl Stephan, 46, a surveyor, says he and his wife, Sharon, 59, a computer technician, are here to make amends for last year's cookies, which he says were so awful that "my brother's dog wouldn't even eat them." Polite friends did thank them for the gift.

As he rolls mocha butterballs, Earl Stephan says, "We got married last year, and I made cookies for the first time last year. I put too much salt in them, and they tasted horrible."

This year, he says, friends won't be lying when they thank the couple for the tasty cookies.

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