I live 1,066.87 miles from my mom. So, much as I'd love to, I can't just drop by with a just-baked batch of homemade cookies.
I love to bake. Mom does, too; but these days, she finds it increasingly difficult. Heading towards 90, her hands don't work like they used to. Scooping cookie dough is a long process. Pie crust doesn't roll out smoothly. Thank God for her bread machine, which kneads the dough for her famous pizza.
Mom is getting older, but thankfully she still has her appetite. And one of our greatest joys is the regular back-and-forth we have around cookies.
"Mom, I'm going to send you some cookies. What kind do you want?"
Her selections run the gamut. Chocolate is definitely the default, but she loves sugar cookies, oatmeal, lemon, butterscotch, all the old favorites – except molasses, which I think remind her of the Depression, a hungry time she'd rather forget.
Since I do it so often, I've got the "mailing goodies to Mom" thing down pat. But it occurred to me, with the holidays coming on, that some of you might appreciate my sharing the things I've learned about successfully sending a package of homemade goodies on a 1,000-mile trip.
And that includes sharing the mistakes I've made along the way. After all, that's our motto here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen: We make mistakes so you don't have to.
So, let's rule out the things you SHOULDN'T do when mailing cookies cross-country – and arrive at the things you SHOULD.
I've tried various shipping methods, and have settled on the U.S. Postal Service's flat-rate Priority Mail box as the best option. The goodies will arrive in just 2-3 days, not too much the worse for wear if I pack them carefully. And I always know the price ahead of time: Priority Mail is priced by the box's size, not its weight (so long as you choose the "flat rate" box).
Besides, it's really easy to go to the post office, select the size box I want, go home and fill it up, and bring it back to the post office to mail. No figuring out the location or hours of the nearest pack & ship, and wondering about weight and price. With the post office, I know it'll be $12.65 to send a medium-sized box of goodies anywhere in the country.
I'm sure some of you are thinking, "$12.65 is a lot of money to pay for a box of cookies." It is indeed – if that's how you choose to see it. But I consider $12.65 a very small price to pay for making my mom happy.
By the way, see that roll of packing tape? The paper clip on the end prevents the end from sticking itself to the rest of the roll, so that you have to first find it, then try to pick and scrape it off... Just thought I'd share that tip, which has saved me a ton of aggravation over the years.
OK, let's get to the goodies.
If you're mailing brownies or bars (these are Loaded Chocolate Chip Blondies), it helps to line your pan with aluminum foil, which will become wrapping after the bars are baked. Be sure to leave overhang on both ends, so you can lift the baked bars out of the pan easily.
Plastic produce containers are useful for sturdy treats – like this Chocolate-Cranberry Bark...
...but not so good for cookies. You'll see why in a minute.
I'm packing this flat Priority box with the blonde brownies, the chocolate bark... and a couple of "souvenirs" from the beach. Mom enjoys these little extras.
My other package (a large Priority box) includes sugar cookies (in both plastic container and bag), biscotti, and a can of almonds, since there's extra room. I figure crumpled newspaper is sufficient padding for the journey.
Into the car, down to the PO, onto the scale...
And 3 days later, success! The boxes arrive in Florida. As do I – I've flown down for a visit, arriving the same day as my goodies.
But wait a minute... I can hear crumbs shaking around inside when I pick up a box.
Despite very hot weather, the bark's made the journey just fine.
But the cookies...
...not so good.
Even the sturdy biscotti suffered some damage, so clearly, crumpled newspaper padding isn't the way to go.
What about using other types of food as protective packaging?
I bake up more cookies – Snickerdoodles and Fudge Drops this time – and stir together a batch of Choco-Mallow.
I take advantage of some pantry items Mom says she doesn't need. Leftover marshmallows from the Choco-Mallow go into the bottom of the box, followed by the goodies, followed by a bag of almonds and some K-cups to secure everything in place.
Zoom, zoom, I fly back home...
...and find the cookies survived the trip better than they did when snuggled in wadded-up newsprint. But still ended up partially crumbled.
OK, plan C: come on down, bubble wrap!
Bubble wrap in the bottom. A layer of Fudge Brownies (brownies baked in an 8" x 8" pan snuggle nicely into a medium-size Priority box). A layer of Chocolate Chip Cookies. Then some more of that sturdy chocolate bark; and a bag of Vanilla-Orange Cranberry Cookies.
Notice I said a BAG, not a plastic container. Another thing I learned: cookies do best when packed in a shallow, flat bag; try not to stack them any higher than two layers deep.
Also, smaller cookies – drop cookies made with a teaspoon cookie scoop, rather than tablespoon scoop, so that they're just 2" to 2 1/2" in diameter – are less likely to crumble than larger cookies.
Without another quick trip to Florida planned, I decide to send this box to a willing friend in Colorado.
Willing both to take pictures of the goodies after their journey, and willing to enjoy said goodies as well! Thank you, Brendan!
I mailed the box Saturday. It arrived in Colorado Monday, a journey of 1,816.5 miles – somewhat the worse for wear, it looks like.
The goodies were good to go!
Brownies moist and intact. Check.
Cookies uncrumbled. Check.
Bark not melted. Check.
Recipients happy. CHECK.
•USPS Priority Mail is reliably fast and relatively cost-effective.
•Choose cookies that are pretty sturdy to begin with; i.e., pizzelles aren't a good choice.
•Spread cookies one or two layers deep in plastic zip-top bags.
•Consider sending bars and candy – both seem to do quite well.
Oh, and one final piece of advice – sending a birthday cake through the mail isn't a particularly good idea.
Trust me, I tried it.
Hey, it was only 190 miles; I figured, what could go... wrong.
Still tasted good, though – mashed icing and all!