Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hyper Hypo Loves Christmas Cookies!

Dear Tricia, I'm getting really (overly) excited about my Christmas cookie baking this year. Here's a few questions for you that may help me with my (over)planning. My whole adult life I have wanted to use cake flour and/or pastry flour. What makes these flours different? Can I use cake flour to make my awesome Christmas cookies? Where can I get really cool sprinkles? The ones found the grocery store are the same ones my grandmother used (circa 1972) and I want something different. Are canned frostings a sin?

Considering I got this email in October, "overly" excited for Christmas might not quite cover it. Obsessively excited, perhaps? Completely enraptured? Either way, thanks for thinking of me in regards to your (over)planning. I'm (over)flattered.
Cake and pastry flours are different than other flours because they have less protein. Flour that has a lot of protein makes things dense and chewy... think bread and pasta. Its kind of like the protein content tells you how much muscle the flour has in it. Bread flour has a lot of muscle (it has about 14% protein content), and that's not what you want in delicate things like cake and cookies. So cake and pastry flours have much less protein (about 8% protein content) and a lot more starch in them. Its like bread flour is one of those oily, overly tanned competitive body builders, and pastry flour is Nancy Reagan. Which one do you think would make a better cake? This is why all purpose flour has its name: the protein content is around 11% so its a happy medium between bread and pastry flours.
You can actually see how much more starchy pastry and cake flours are, compared to bread or all purpose flour. If you hold pastry flour in your hand and squeeze it tight, it will stay together in a tight little clump. Bread flour, because it has less starch and more protein, will just go back into a loose pile in your hand when you squeeze it. I can't even begin to tell you how many times this trick comes in handy when someone has forgotten to label the flour bins correctly in some of the kitchens I've worked in.
As far as which one to use for your cookies, either one would be fine. You probably won't notice much of a difference between cake or pastry flour because the protein content only differs by about 1%.
Its perfectly acceptable to use frosting out of a can. You have my blessing. Considering the fact that you're making your cookies from scratch, I'd say that cheating on the frosting still allows you to say your cookies are homemade. I am a fan of making old school, water-and-powdered-sugar frosting with food coloring in it, but the frosting out of a can is nice because it's really thick.
Sprinkles are coming back in a huge way now that cupcakes are really trendy. Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma, and other specialty cooking stores have a pretty decent selection. But if you know of a cake decorating store nearby, and you have a high tolerance for old ladies in large groups, that's going to be the best option because they won't overcharge you like Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma will. (Paying 8 bucks for a tiny can of sprinkles is ridiculous.) Craft stores also carry a lot of cake decorating items and you should be able to find sprinkles there. I've even found some cool ones on one of my favorite websites, And if you still haven't found anything that suits your fancy, Whole Foods, Central Market, and other specialty grocery stores should have a decent selection, plus theirs are all natural.
Make sure you send in photos of your cookies! I'll put them up on the fan page for What the Bleep Happened to My Rump Roast on facebook.

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