For those who don’t have a family tradition of pastries and sweets to fall back on, holiday baking can mean scrambling for recipes online and in cookbooks. However, Lifehacker argues that if you keep in mind a few basic tips, you can create your own cookies without having to follow someone else’s lead. Call it the launch of a new personal tradition. To get started, the site says you should consider four key elements:

  1. Technique: Nail the fundamentals and you’ll be ready to take on any baking project. When it comes to creaming (for cookies) or pâte a choux (for eclairs), you don’t want to wing it.
  2. Base ratio: Along with technique, you need to develop an appreciation for baking ratios. Once you figure out the basics, you can add your spin by “using different liquids, or adding spices, or even plopping pieces of fruit in the pan and pouring the batter over them.”
  3. Flavor combinations: Figure out flavor pairings by thinking about combos you know go well together.  Lifehacker recommends appropriating popular pairings as one way of getting the flavor right.
  4. Ingredient structure and role: Before you start making tweaks and substitutions, understand the role each ingredient plays in the recipe and the structure of the final product.

Lifehacker gives a short list of reading recommendations to check out for more info on the above: Ratio by Michael Ruhlman; The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg; Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter; and On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.

[via Lifehacker]