Wednesday Food: Christmas Cookie Time!

Cookies are just about as plentiful around this time of year as fruit cake was back in the 70's.   Baking dozens of batches of cookies is a wonderful way for family and friends to come together, and work on a holiday project.  And according to my Facebook questionairre last week, apparently cookies are a favorite for many!  But first I want to share a crazy cookie making tradition from my family.

When Erica and I were kids, we ushered the Holidays in by picking out a fresh tree on a Saturday morning, bringing it home, decorating and trimming the tree while listening to the Muppets Christmas album.  Pretty typical, I'm sure.  But one thing that made it a bit different was the sound of a gun... a press cookie gun,  that is.  It was a sound I'll never forget, whether I like it or not.  You'd take a pretty standard cookie recipe, (with a little almond or lemon flavor) and fill it into the gun.  There were different discs that the dough would press through, making a pretty shape like a Christmas tree, wreath or a flower.  We'd decorate them with sprinkles or silver dragees, or add food coloring to the dough to make the trees green.

Mama's Gun
Big Ronnie helping Mom out!

Once she starts she can't stop!

The end product!  They go great with after dinner coffee!
My mom seemed to be the only one skilled enough to work the cookie gun.  There was a rhythm you had to get into when you were using it, and well she seemed to be the only one who could master it.  Either that or she liked using it so much, she didn't want to share.  She still has the cookie press today, and as we can see, it's still in working order!  I haven't been home as often as I'd like to be for the holidays, so I've decided that this year, new traditions must be born!

Gingerbread was a different kind of cookie for me.  I wasn't used to making them when I was a kid, but in the baking world, they are a necessity around this time of year.  A bit of spice and a crispy texture make these a wonderful treat for the holidays.  And they make a great Christmas tree ornament after they become stale.  I have yet to make a gingerbread house, but maybe I'll plan that for next year!

Gingerbread Cookies (preheat oven to 350 degrees)

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2c. dark brown sugar
1/2c. molasses
1 egg, room temperature
3-3 1/2c. all purpose flour, and some extra for rolling out the dough
1/2t. salt
1/2t. baking soda
1t. ground cloves
1t. ground cinnamon
1/2t. ground nutmeg
2 1/2t. ground ginger

4c sifted powdered sugar
6T. warm milk
1t. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1) This is a classic creaming method recipe.  Take your butter and beat for a minute or till smooth.  Add in the sugar and beat till light.  Add in the egg and the molasses.  Don't forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl!

2) Get your dry ingredients together while the butter and sugar cream.  In a bowl combine the 3c. flour, salt, baking soda, and ground spices.  Add the dry's to the creamed batter and mix till combined.  If the dough seems super sticky, add about a tablespoon of flour and mix till combined.

3) When the dough is ready I suggest wrapping it up in saran wrap, and chill for about 1/2 hour.  This lets the dough rest and makes it a bit easier to roll out.

4) Once the dough has chilled, flour the surface and rolling pin.  This requires the skills to dance the fine line of not enough flour and too much.  Too much flour will means you taste the flour on the cookie more than the actual cookie, and too little means the dough will stick and be impossible to move around.  When rolling out dough, start slow and start from the center and work your way out in all directions.  For cookies, the dough should be around 1/8" thick.  For tree ornaments you want them a bit thicker.  Dip your cookie cutters into some flour so that it doesn't stick to the cutter.  Also if you want to make the cookie an ornament then you will have to make a hole at the top of the shape.  You can use a straw to make the whole for a ribbon or yarn to go through.  You can re-roll the scraps once and cut out more shapes.  But do not keep re-rolling because it will result in a tougher and less superior cookie.  

5) Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes.  While the cookies bake, get your ingredients ready for the frosting.  Sift the sugar into a bowl.  Add the warm milk, vanilla and salt.  Whisk till smooth.  Put some saran wrap on the surface of the frosting because as it sets it will harden.  You can take some of this frosting and make different colors if you want.  It will be thin, so it will be nice for glazing the cookies and makes a sticky surface for decorations to stick on.  But you have to work quickly because it will dry fast!

6) Decorate your heart out!  Glazing the cookies takes practice.  You want to stir the glaze so the top is wet.  Place the front of the cookie on the wet surface of the glaze, pick it back up and use a small spatula to scrape off the excess glaze.  The less you mess around with it the better it will look.

small sampling of cookies: I'll be taking the rest back home to share with my family for the Holidays!

Whether your with family, friends, a partner or on your own for the Holidays, baking cookies are a great way to lift your spirits.  I hope all our fans have a restful and joyous Holiday Season!  I'll be back in the New Year with some great cold weather recipes for 2012! 


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