Last time, I wrote about getting physically organized for holiday cookie-baking: inventorying and enumerating ingredients, determining averages to figure in to distrubition, etc. Making all these plans helps save a lot of time. However, I reached a point where I was still finding myself baking cookies late into the night, when I really needed to be sleeping!
Having two kids and working a full time job, all on top of a normally busy holiday schedule, makes for a severe time crunch! I really felt I could be managing my baking time more efficiently.
I found that some cookies (like Peanut Butter) could be whipped up in no time, where some (Lemon Crisps) took forever, due to the rolling out & cutting with cutters. And some cookies required that the dough be pre-chilled, whereas some did not. I also knew that some days (Saturdays) I had more time than others (Thursdays, when my daughter has Girl Scouts).
So, how did I reconcile these two pieces of the puzzle?
First, I broke down the baking process into the following steps: mixing, shaping (whether it be rolling out & cutting or just dropping the dough), baking, decorating (like frosting once cool), and packaging. (I didn't count cooling time, since the cookies had cooled by the time I packed them up.) I also noted which doughs required chilling (which I counted as an overnight process).
Next, I started measuring--per cookie type--the amount of time it took to do each step. (And yes, this was a bit more time-consuming in the short-run.) I did this for about 2-3 years so I'd get a good average without wasting so much time in the measuring.
Next, I calculated the average time of the post dough-chilling steps for each cookie type. (Again, I wouldn't count the mixing for these cookies, since the dough had to chill overnight.)
Finally, I'd look at my schedule and fit in what kind of cookie to bake on what day, including times where I had to mix up dough for the next day's batch. Now that I have decent average times, I only need to repeat this particular step each year, since my schedule changes yearly.
I have to say, once I started doing this, my stress level has dropped immensely, and I'm actually able to get some sleep & enjoy the season more!
So there you have it: The Cookie Matrix. I'm sure my readers are thinking that I'm as nutty as my Cherry Delights, but rest assured, I'm one happy nut!