The finishing touches: getting it together for the big day

There was a homey feeling in the test kitchen this morning, as we all took care of the last few baking tasks for work before the holiday. The big all-hands-on deck packing push is done. Our seasonal help is doing their shopping; some of the offices are empty and more will become so as the day wears on.

While Andrea finalized a new chocolate donut mix formula, I put together the lamingtons for their photo for the Early Spring Baking Sheet, and PJ was working with a couple of yeast doughs.

The conversations were about our plans for getting together with our families: who’d be driving where, when would the kids get home, and would they dodge the weather (freezing rain, AGAIN) on the way tomorrow. And as we all puttered about companionably, each of us was also prepping up one or two things to bring to those family celebrations. PJ’s trusty electric frying pan made an appearance,


as she cooked off zeppoles (a savory version of fried bread, each filled with an individual anchovy).

Andrea samples, with great concentration…as she takes a break after making batch of white chocolate-hazelnut biscotti,


to test a new hazelnut flavor that had come in from a vendor.


Sue Gray called dibs on the results, for a holiday gathering at her house.

This morning I baked off the rest of the cookies I’d made up for the warehouse crew from my stash of scooped dough in the freezer.


Underneath is a pan of hermit bars, which I am expected to appear with every year at mom’s house. The competition among family members for their fair share has reached the point that two people have to have their very own tins to keep the peace. Fortunately my original recipe is designed to make a huge batch. My 5-quart mixer at home isn’t quite big enough to handle all of the dough, so I borrow the 8-quart Viking at Andrea’s station for this job.

I’m also making a batch of date nut bread for Christmas morning.


PJ has the dinner rolls covered. I think a saw a bag of ginger stars on her counter, too.


At the last minute, I had a stocking stuffer inspiration. High volume, low price, something they don’t already have….I decided put the recipe for Blitz Bread: No Fuss Foccaccia in my siblings’ stockings, complete with a bag of all the dry ingredients, ready to go. All they’ll need to do is find a 9 x 13-inch pan, add some water and olive oil to the ingredients in the bag, stir, and in 2 hours they’ll have hot yeast bread. Even the most yeast-phobic among them can manage this recipe.

I kidnapped the scales from two of the other stations, lined up every 2-quart container I could find, put an all-purpose bag in each one, and measured my little heart out.


I printed a color version of the recipe to go with each kit. Yeast, salt, flour, pizza seasoning, a little cheese powder.


All set; 5 stockings’ worth, plus one for mom.

The hermits are cool enough to glaze. After the glaze sets, I’ll cut them into 1-inch squares with a pizza wheel.


This big square tin is now instantly recognizable at Mom’s house. As my siblings families arrive, one by one, everyone puts down their contributions on the kitchen counter, then systematically starts hunting through the other containers. “Whatcha got?”

“Yes! I love these!” and in the case of the hermits, “I know you brought them, where are they?”


Soon, we’ll have filled our canvas grocery bags with treats; all the things we can stir together that say love, tradition, comfort, and home.


We hope all of you have a safe and happy holiday, enjoying all of those things with your families.

PJ Hamel, Susan Reid, Sue Gray, and Andrea Brown (the test kitchen crew).

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Cathie

    Hermit BARS? Glaze? Recipe, pretty please???

    I have a batch of Hermit dough in the fridge right now, but it comes from an old cookbook that only talked about drop cookies with this recipe. Bars would be so good! (so fast, lol)

    My Christmas gifts this year are all baked, and Magic in the Middles will feature prominently. I don’t have a tablespoon scoop for the dough so I used an actual tablespoon leveled off, and ended up with extra. Guess what, that dough makes an amazing chocolate cookie even without being filled! I made them half-sized and pressed them fairly flat, about 1/4 inch… when they came out of the oven, I tested one and ended up eating the lot of them… oops… now I have to make another batch of the dough just so I can make the flat cookies, lol! They’ll be great on the trays with the Hermits and some fancy Cowboys, some sugar cookies and some Spritz, and the Magic Middles with the filling.

    Then of course I have to make KAF gingerbread for a couple friends. It was such a hit here that I can’t keep it in the house even a day, although since I can’t find any more blackstrap molasses (ordinary molasses is much blander) I am going to modify the recipe and use half white flour. The last batch was noticeably “whole wheat” flavored and I really missed having the molasses be the topnote. That’s what gives your recipe such charm, that molasses flavor. (Funny how I thought I didn’t like molasses! Amazing what ginger does for it. lol)

    Thanks for all the great inspiration and for the wonderful recipes! May your business grow and prosper, and may you all stay warm and happy this holiday season!

    I will, once I’m done driving all over New Enland and to New Jersey and back, post the recipe on the website; when done correctly they’re barely baked, and have a very moist consistency; at first you think it’s a mistake, and then you have one. And another….
    I’m going out to pack the car now. Pancake mix for all the siblings, bags of presents, my knife kit, the wine, cookies, a ton of white whole wheat flour for my younger sister who uses it all the time, a vegetarian entree (meatless meat pies) for my vegetarian niece, and if I’m lucky, I’ll remember the suitcase…Merry Christmas! Susan

  2. Terri

    Hands down, you all have the best job ever! Happy holidays to you all!We

    We do indeed, Terri. Being an employee-owned company means we all have our shoulders to the same wheel, and we’re all pushing for success together! And happy holidays to you – PJH

  3. Joyce from NC

    Happy Holidays to you all. And a big Thank You for having this blog. It’s a great inspiration to me. Now I’m off to begin the cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast!

    Hope you enjoy those warm rolls tomorrow morning, Joyce, and Merry Christmas! – PJH

  4. Julia

    The dinner rolls look so festive! Which recipe did you use and how
    big do you make the balls so they fill the pan?

    (This year, neighbors are getting fresh baguettes (with red ribbons
    to dress them up!) on Christmas morning, thanks to PJ’s baguette
    blog on shaping the loaves!)

    Thanks and happy holidays to all!!

    Hi Julia – how’s the weather out there? No mudslides, no forest fires, I hope? I used the guaranteed white bread recipe online; each recipe makes two 9″ round pans of rolls, 8 rolls to a pan. I can do that recipe in my sleep, as it’s the perfect “soft and squishy white bread” recipe for rolls, sandwiches, etc. Hey – Merry Christmas! Enjoy – I’m still thinking of cloning those Trader Joe’s mint chocolate cookies you sent me… 🙂 PJH

  5. Eric

    I’m on my fourth bag of KAF unbleached all-purpose since the 13th. The creamery is sending me a thank-you note for my butter purchases. Jon is looking in to growing sugar cane and setting up a refinery in the back yard. My shoulders ache, I’ve got burns on my forearms and I’ve got a vaguely disturbing look on my face when I figure out how to utilize my meager supply of six half-sheet pans most effectively. Right now, there’s a cardamom brioche waiting to be shaped, a buche de noel in ready-to-assemble-components and thanks to a keyword reminder from the Bakers Hotline, Key Lime Sparkler dough in the fridge, along with a warm double batch of On-The-Fence Brownies and a flurry of snowflake-shaped lemon pound cakes cooling on the racks, waiting to be dusted in non-melting powdered sugar.

    Y’all are inextricably part of my holidays, just as much as pushy in-laws, treacherous winter driving and intoxicated neighbors having it out on their front lawns. ;0) May your Christmas be magical and the new year be filled with passion and indeed, inspiration.


    Eric, you rock. I’m so psyched to hear about everything you’ve made! Thanks for the great sentiments you’ve expressed so marvelously here. Bake on- and may 2009 be a wonderful year for you – for all of us. PJH

  6. DLA in OKC

    Merry Christmas to all of you inspiring folks… leaving work soon. My contributions for tomorrow will be red-hot apples (cinnamon), and a buche de noel – love to bake those! Making a yeasty, fruit filled sour cream coffee cake for Friday morning. Happy baking!

    And happy baking and happy merry-making to you, too! PJH

  7. Eric

    PJH – are those the Trader Joe’s Oreo-knockoffs with peppermint dust in the middle filling?

    DON’T DO IT! Save yourself!

    I’m hideously, hideously addicted, and no attempts at reason or rationing last longer than a block from the store. I am *deeply ashamed* of how much I love them, and the only thing that keeps me to a mere eighth of a ton of mass is their seasonal nature. Don’t MAKE ME think about how Faux-Reos spiked with a touch of bakers ammonia (to get that commercial texture) and ground-up-left-over candy canes would be sooo delicious after TJs abandons my bloated craving-wracked carcass. Don’t make me break out the black cocoa. Stop it! The kitchen is wrecked as it is! I’m out of Cambros and gallon ziplocs! I can’t bake anymore.


    Eric, Hitting The Eggnog Until The Urge To Bake More Wanes

    Eric, remember this important fact about eggnog: a moment on the lips, forever on the hips. But then again… it’s Christmas! Let the good times roll… Actually, the TJ’s cookies Julia sent were like crunched up Oreo cookies (sans filling) enrobed in a peppermint-spiked chocolate coating. I haven’t seen the ones you’re talking about – since I’m about 3 1/2hours from the nearest TJs, it’s not a regular haunt for me like it must be for you… 🙂 PJH

  8. Susie

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful recipes you’ve shared. Just this month I’ve enjoyed success with the Linzer cookies, the gingerbread, and the lemon bliss cake from a few days ago. All baked with KAF, of course! I enjoy your blog so much. Hope you all have very happy holidays.

    And the same to you, Susie – thanks for your kind comments. PJH

  9. Sue

    Merry Christmas to all of the fine folks at KAF. I love the blog and check it regularly so I’m grateful to everyone who contributes to it. Have safe travels and peaceful times.

    And let me be the first Dec. 25 entry here – HAPPY HOLIDAYS everyone from tha 167 employee-owners at King Arthur Flour! PJH

  10. Beth

    Here’s a tip for weighing out multiple batches with only one scale: Instead of putting the container for the batch on the scale to measure how much you’ve added, put the ingredient container on the scale and measure how much you’ve taken out. I think most digital scales will read negative weights. I work in a Food Science lab and this is how we weigh almost everything.

    Excellent idea, Beth – thanks! PJH

  11. Cathie

    LOL, Susan, hope you DID remember that suitcase! I am SO looking forward to the recipe for Hermit Bars!

    Regina, Hermits are a recipe from the 1880s (maybe earlier) that calls for coffee, lots of spices, chopped walnuts, and an insane amount of raisins. They are soooo gooood…. I would imagine that if one changed the raisins for a dried fruit mix, they could easily substitute as an alcohol-free fruitcake (cookie). OH, they are so good.

    So. My favorite once the baking was partly done turned out to be the same as ever–those Cowboy Cookies. (I think the easiest thing to call them is Coconut Cowboys.) I added cinnamon, walnuts, and coconut to the basic recipe and then used a combo of white and dark chocolate chips…. like Hermits, they’re best when barely baked.

    Unlike Hermits, too many got eaten; I have to bake the rest to have enough for all my cookie trays, lol…

    My least fav (and I gave them all away) was a new-to-me Spritz recipe that called for half a teaspoon of almond extract… guess I just don’t like almond extract. I’m going back to my old favorite simple Spritz recipe, butter, flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla.

    The people who got the Magic in the Middles were thrilled! *grin*

    Happy Holidays to everyone!

    Cath, back to the kitchen, sweet taters in the oven, turkey still to be stuffed for a late dinner…

  12. Marcia

    I made the KA Morning Glory muffins for Christmas brunch. There was more batter than would fit in a doz paper liners in the silicone pan. So, I made 2 cute little heart shaped ones. I bought the mix at Williams Sonoma on sale.

    I am waiting on the sourdough starter to be ready to use. Not sure what to make with it. Maybe I can find a sourdough cookbook. My Christmas present is an 11 cup Cuisinart food processor. The DVD makes it look easy to make dough of all kinds. I can hardly wait to get started. Can’t find whole wheat pastry flour though, but I am stocked up on yeast. and 3 kinds of KA flour. Also bought parchment paper which I never use except at Christmas.

    My problem: just me, and I sort of went overboard this morning. I made a loaf of cranberry bread with those delicious Trader Joe dried cranberries, plus 2 handfuls of walnuts. Then, because there was room in the oven, I made an 8×8 pan of gingerbread! Freezer for sure, until school starts then my students will gobble up anything not nailed down. I teach HS and those boys love to eat. They work hard if food is involved.

    Trader Joe sold out of those chocolate coated “Oreo” with crushed peppermint on top. I should have bought more the first time, but think they would be easy to make. There are 6 TJ stores in metro ATL now. Their shopping bags with ATL and a peach are big sellers.

    Marcia, try our Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe – think you’ll enjoy it. -PJH

  13. Rachel

    As far as cloning holiday cookies goes, does anyone have a good recipe for those Danish Butter cookies? I haven’t found anything that quite replicates the flavors and textures in those wonderful tins…Recipes? Suggestions?

  14. Margy

    Trader Joe’s calls their faux-reos Jojos. The seasonal peppermint Jojo’s are delicious, but the chocolate-covered ones are indescribable (and I don’t much like store-bought cookies), especially straight from the freezer where mine are now residing (to hide them from the nieces and nephews and my self!) Just finished making 10 dozen milk, white and dark chocolate truffles to give to my co-workers this coming week; don’t want to look at any more chocolate for, oh, maybe, at least an hour. (IS there any such thing as too much chocolate?) ;-D

  15. Monte

    argg … already feeling homesick, I decided to indulge my pain and visit this blog and of course I am now even more homesick! How I wish I was still part of your crew. sigh. And how I wish we were home for Christmas. The good news: I found a bag of KAF flour tucked away in some fancy grocery store, just in time for holiday baking! And we bought a countertop oven from an American who was leaving, so I made cookies (12 at a time), rolls (9 at a time) and today I’m making cran-orange bread. I hope you all had good holidays, and next time anyone comes to Hong Kong (yeah right!) let me know … I’ll bake up some goodies for you!

    Monte, remember: nothing is permanent. Live in the moment; try to enjoy the journey, because it’s longer-lasting than the destination. The holidays must be hard for you, especially, I understand that. We miss seeing you in the kitchen decorating those endless cookies… But I hope your 12 cookies and 9 rolls and cran-orange bread came out well, and your small tate of home cheered you up. Finn must be doing all kinds of things now… Take care- PJ

  16. Pingback: Eric

  17. Bruce Madsen

    With the NuWave oven you just put the food in, and go and watch tv or do the housework. It is a timesaver, and there is no way you will pay the high prices of those prepared diet meals. What I am trying to say is this: It is very very easy to prepare the meals. That is what you want when you are trying to lose weight.


Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *