Cranberry blondies

White chocolate cranberry blondies from "Taste of Home Baking." (MCT)

Cold weather and the holiday season mean it's also baking season. Whether it's cookies for an exchange, sweet rolls for a family brunch or cupcakes for a class party, your oven will be preheating soon.

And just in time to help you out, the folks from Taste of Home magazine have a new cookbook out, "Taste of Home Baking" ($29.95, Readers Digest). The 500-page-plus, spiral bound tome is filled with tips and advice, 786 recipes and 730 color photos.

It's also perfect for beginners.

The book opens with a "Baking Basics" section with information on proper measuring techniques, bakeware must-haves, egg-beating instructions and a glossary of common baking terms.

From there sections include cookies, bars and brownies, cakes, cupcakes, cheesecakes, pies and tarts, desserts, quick breads, muffins, yeast breads, yeast rolls, and coffee cakes and sweet rolls.

Each section is packed with dozens of recipes ranging from standards (chocolate chip cookies, traditional cheesecake) to standouts (mocha mousse brownies, chocolate hazelnut cream puffs).

The recipes are well-formatted and easy-to-follow, many with photos. The more complicated ones (like those cream puffs) even come with step-by-step photo instructions.

The cookbook is true to Taste of Home form. In the publication's own words, "Taste of Home is at heart a friendly exchange of authentic family-favorite recipes handed down over generations and shared among loved ones."

This is not fancy, trendy cooking with ingredients you can't find at the local supermarket. This is real home-style baking -- the kind of goodies you expect at grandma's house.

And the book does not disappoint, with treats like butterscotch cake and sweet potato pecan pie.

The book also includes a few bonus sections. Almost Homemade offers time-saving recipes using packaged mixes or frozen doughs for when you don't have time for "from scratch." Trimmed-down Favorites offers recipes with reduced fat, calories and cholesterol. And Holiday Classics offers baked good especially for the holidays including gingerbread men and grandma's Christmas bread.

The five-ring binder format (always my personal favorite for a cookbook) makes it easy to lay the book open on the kitchen counter. And in a somewhat gimmicky, but clever move, the book also includes two snap-in, clear plastic "splash guards" – so you don't have to worry about slopping batter on your pages.

Secrets for successful cookies
  • Use butter, stick margarine (with at least 80 percent oil) or shortening. Whipped, tub, soft, liquid or reduced-fat products contain air and water and will produce flat, tough, underbrowned cookies.
  • Measure ingredients accurately, using the measuring tools and techniques on pages 7 and 8.
  • Avoid overmixing the dough. If it's handled too much, the cookies will be tough.
  • Use heavy-gauge dull aluminum baking sheets with one or two low sides. When a recipe calls for greased baking sheets, use shortening or cooking spray. Dark finishes may cause the cookies to become overly browned.
  • Preheat the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • For even baking, make cookies the same size and thickness.
  • Unless the recipe states otherwise, place cookie dough 2 to 3 inches apart on a cool baking sheet.
  • Leave at least 2 inches around the baking sheet and the oven walls for good heat circulation. For best results, bake only one sheet of cookies at a time. If you need to bake two sheets at once, switch the position of the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.
  • Check the cookies when the minimum baking time has been reached, baking longer if needed. Follow doneness tests given in individual recipes.
  • Unless otherwise directed, let cookies cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely before storing.
  • Let baking sheets cool before placing next batch of cookie dough on them. The heat from warm baking sheets will soften the dough and cause it to spread.

White chocolate cranberry blondies

Servings: 30

Prep: 35 min