Homemade cookies and the holidays march hand and hand. For the U.S. troops or elderly shut-ins who can’t bake their own treats, receiving home-baked cookies is a sweet reminder of family, traditions and home.
Christmas is the season of giving, a sentiment that becomes especially important when thinking about the troops serving overseas. Americans are generous; everyone from the Girl Scouts to white-haired grandma’s have gotten involved with baking cookies for the troops. Thousands of cookies are making their way to remote places like those in Afghanistan, Quatar and Iraq.
You can do your part and send a care package to a service member that is filled with tasty treats and other necessities. While military privacy policies make it impossible for volunteers to obtain official lists of soldiers, you can rely on family friends, churches and other sources to find a service member to adopt.
I like to use the Post Office’s medium and large flat-rate priority boxes with great success for shipping to a family member in Afghanistan. Pick up one (or more) ] for free at any post office or order supplies online to be delivered to your door. The large $13.95 size is discounted to $11.95 for APO and FPO addresses. It is the best value box and will hold a good number of items. (Packages have to weigh less than 70 pounds and be no larger than 130 inches in total length and girth.) This is the only discount allowed for shipping to service members.
Here is an interesting story from the Huffington Post, advocating free shipping from families to service members. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/don-mcnay/postage-and-other-economi_b_383525.html Hurray for the author! If such a bill passed, it would be helpful to many of our younger military families with limited incomes.
With flat-rate boxes, you can add other items to your package, regardless of the weight, as long as the ends are securely closed and the seams aren’t bulging. Your cookies and packages should be in the mail by DECEMBER 11 to arrive by Christmas so start baking today! But don’t worry! If you miss the deadline, your treats may still arrive in time to help the troops welcome in the new year. The need for a “taste of home” doesn’t end at holiday time and will be greatly appreciated any time of year.
Here are a few tips for making cookies and keeping them intact until their final destination. Soldiers and Marines will appreciate cookie pieces and crumbs, but it would be much nicer if they could receive them in one piece.
WHAT SHOULD I BAKE
Choose baked goods with a longer shelf life and not too fragile so they will stay intact during travel time. That includes items like biscotti, fruit and nut bars, shortbread, crisp sugar cookies, leibkuken, gingerbread cookies, snowballs, molasses cookies, brownies, blondies and oatmeal raisin cookies.
Chocolate chip cookies are a big favorite too. Crisp cookies with a lower moisture content tend to stay fresher than the softer kinds. To help make cookies crisper, you can bake them longer at a lower temperature. You want to end up with a toasty crisp texture, not dark cookies that taste burned. Be careful sending chocolate chip cookies in warmer months. Some bakers like to substitute M&Ms.
Pre-frosting cakes and cookies isn’t a good idea. Purchase ready-made frostings in a small tub and tuck them into the package with a plastic knife. Allow the service member enjoy the fun of frosting their own cookies and cakes. You can try baking a cake in an empty coffee tin and covering it with a plastic lid, if available. (An empty Pringles can could work well too.)
Include frosting on the side. In the photos in this post, the cookies were packed in an empty Asian tea canister. I included small bottles of colored decorating sugar and a small tube of decorator’s frosting on the side. The cookies will be frosted and decorated at their final destination. The decorating items are available at Michaels and other stores that carry cake decorating supplies.
Be sure all the baking ingredients are very fresh.
At present, Afghanistan and Iraq have cooler weather so items can be shipped that might not fare as well in the summer. Chocolate chips are a huge favorite so go ahead and mix them into your cookies, or just send the entire bag!
If you don’t want to bake, Let Fairytale Brownies do the work for you. Their brownies are high quality and taste delicious. They offer free shipping to all APO/FPO addresses. Visit them at http://www.brownies.com/ For their patriotic gifts go to: http://www.brownies.com/products/search.aspx?cat=1&cid=53
Packaging Baked Goods
- Cool cookies completely before packing them.
- Pack cookies in twos, flat sides together, in zip -type baggies, fold-top sandwich bags or plastic wrap.
- A vacuum sealer is good for packaging cookies and unfrosted cake items.
- Carefully arrange wrapped cookies in a tin can or sturdy plastic storage container. Fill the can securely to the top. Be sure there is no movement in the container.
- Tape the containers shut, important if the lid fits loosely.
- Surround the container with bubble wrap, crumpled plastic grocery bags, flat zip type bags of popcorn (butter-free), and even crushed or shredded newspapers. No foam peanuts – too messy to clean up. If other items are in the box, they can also be arranged around the cookies. Items like liquid soaps should be sealed in zip type bags so they don’t leak and ruin the baked goods.
- Wrap your baked goods carefully. The Army likes to say, “assume the packages will be handled by a herd of elephants.”
- Include a packing list inside the box with the recipient’s address as well as your own.
PLEASE NOTE: There are cultural restrictions in sending gifts to Muslim countries. No pork or pork by products, alcohol, pornographic material, hand santizer, or aerosol cans (can explode). Avoid glass containers (can break if not well-wrapped) chocolate in the summer months. All food and liquid items that could leak should be sealed in zip type bags. The Department of Defense does not accept mail addressed to “any service member.” A customs form will be necessary. You will find one at the Post Office. Do not send anything of great value.
Easy Peanut Butter Cookies
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups chunky peanut butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 to 3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a large sturdy baking sheet. With a large bowl and spoon, blend the sugar and peanut butter together until smooth. Beat in the eggs, baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Stir in chocoate chips. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place them 2 inches apart onto the baking sheet. With a fork, flatten ball slightly. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Tip: Sometimes I reduce the heat and keep cookies in the oven a few minutes longer. Cookies crisp up upon cooling. They will keep longer during shipping.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (12 oz) package semi-sweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening, butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and mix well. Add baking soda and salt and flour and mix thoroughly. Toss in chips and mix until incorporated. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, use 2 spoons to drop on dough in 1 – 2 inch balls. Bake 10 -12 minutes. Cool 5 minutes then remove from pan. Cool completely. Let cookies sit on pan for 5 minutes and then move to wire rack to cool completely.
Apple Cranberry Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter-flavored vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons apple juice or orange juice (or water)
2-1/4 cups quick oats, uncooked
2 cups (12-ounces) butterscotch chips or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped, dried apple slices
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and spices in small bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and shortening. Beat in eggs. Gradually mix flour mixture and juice. Stir in oats, butterscotch chips, apples, cranberries and nuts. Spread batter into ungreased 15- by 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into 48 bars.
New England Sugar Cookie
(Rolled out cookie shown in picture)
Adapted from the King Arthur recipe collection, this simple cookie is the product of frugal, Yankee housewives. It uses shortening with no egg. I bumped up the flavoring extracts to compensate for the lack of butter flavor. You can use all vanilla extract, if you prefer. The recipe calls for 8 tablespoons shortening; sometimes I substitute 2 tablespoons butter for 2 tablespoons shortening. Either way, the cookie is crisp, tasty and keeps well.
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (or other all-purpose unbleached flour)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (or almond)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together nutmeg, baking soda, salt and flour. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar till smooth. Add buttermilk and flavoring extracts; beat until well-combined. The mixture may look a bit curdled. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and beat just until mixture forms a cohesive dough.
The original recipe instructs you to drop dough in “blobs” on baking sheets. “They should be a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball, a bit smaller than a golf ball.” A small ice cream scoop that holds 2 level tablespoons liquid will work fine. Leave 2 inches between cookies for spreading. This is easier than rolling out the dough like I did for the photo (** see notes below). It wasn’t difficult, just took a bit more time and the dough had to be well chilled for rolling.
Bake 16 to 18 minutes, or until barely brown around the bottom edges. Cool on a rack; cookies will become crisp. Cool cookies will remain crisp stored airtight in a tin. For softer cookies, add a piece of bread to the container. However, this is not recommended for shipping overseas since the bread can easily mold. Yield: about 1-1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies; 124 calories each.
* To make sour milk, add 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice to 1/4 cup milk. **
For the photo, I chilled the wrapped dough for a couple of hours then rolled out portions between sheets of parchment or (wax ) paper. I then chilled the sheets of dough for about an hour. When ready to bake, I quickly and carefully cut out 2-inch round cookies and transferred them to the baking sheets. Oven time: around 8 to 10 minutes. Watch cookies carefully to prevent excess browning.
Read my companion post for a list of VALUE ITEMS FOR MILITARY CARE PACKAGES
Photos by Susan F. Slack