Merry Christmas, Friends! I wish you, your family, and friends a beautiful, peaceful day full of laughs, special memories, and of course, good food. :)
Every year, I host a Christmas cookie exchange at my house. It has become one of my favorite parts about the Christmas season. Maybe it's because of my memories growing up baking cookies, maybe because of my love for baking, or just the spirit of giving, but it is such a fun way to bring my special friends together. It just makes me so happy! This year, my mom came out to Denver for the party, which meant the world to me. We had a special week end, and my mom finally met so many of my wonderful friends that she often hears about. My house just always just feels so full of Christmas cheer with the cookie exchange.
|My mom and I at the cookie exchange|
(Note: my eyes really aren't red, but the red eye edit just wasn't
Being a lawyer, I naturally have rules attached to the cookie exchange: no chocolate chip cookies; bars and candies are acceptable; everything must be homemade; and the list goes on. The first rule of Cookie Club is you don't talk about Cookie Club. ;) In the past years, everyone brought six dozen cookies, but this year, everyone just had to bake three dozen.
I usually start thinking about what cookie type to make when fall arrives. This year, gingerbread cookies were the first type of cookies that came to mind, so that's what I made. They are always a Christmas classic, and it had been a few years since I made them.
In the past, I hadn't quite found a recipe that made the chewy soft gingerbread cookies that I wanted. This year, I turned to Baking Illustrated for this recipe. Those America's Test Kitchen people know their stuff: this recipe delivered!
First, making the dough was very easy, thanks to the food processor. You
can use a stand mixer to make the dough, but because the food processor has more power, it is even quicker in the food processor.
After I made the dough, I rolled it out on parchment paper. Because of the molasses, the dough was very soft and easy to roll. It did not stick to my wood rolling pin. After rolling the dough out, I froze it over night. I liked having the dough chill overnight because this gave me a chance to clean everything up and then I didn't get "baking burnout." Sometimes, multiple stage recipes can get a little tiring, but this recipe forces you to take a break. :)
The next day, it was very easy to use a cookie cutter to make the gingerbread people shapes. In the past, I have not been the biggest fan of cut-out cookies because it would always be a bit more of a pain with sticky dough or the cookie shapes being distorted upon transferring them to the baking sheet. However, freezing the dough made making the cookies a breeze! The dough was firm from freezing, and this made it much easier to use the cookie cutters because the dough was not sticky. I did not have any problems transferring the cookies from the workspace to the cookie sheet.
The cookies baked beautifully, and I decorated them with royal icing. These were the most wonderful gingerbread cookies: perfectly chewy with just the right amount of spice. The house smelt like Christmas after making these.
Yields 3 dozen cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
12 tbsp. butter, softened slightly, and cubed
3/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp. milk
In a food processor bowl (fitted with the steel blade), process the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and brown sugar until combined, about 20 seconds. Take off the lid of the work bowl and scatter the butter scubas. Place the lid back on, and process until the mixture becomes very fine. Then, with the food processor running, gradually add the milk and molasses. Process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass. (Alternatively, you can do this in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, adding the ingredients in the same order.)
Prepare a work surface, lined with a sheet of parchment paper. Take half of the dough, and roll 1/4 inch thick. Stack on a cookie sheet, and repeat with the other half of the dough. Place one sheet of parchment paper on the top. Freeze until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove one dough sheet from the freezer, and place on work surface. Peel off the top parchment paper, and cut dough into gingerbread people or preferred shape. Transfer shapes to the parchment lined cookie sheets with a spatula, and space the cookies about 3/4 inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full.
Bake until cookies are set in the center and dough barely retains a thumb print when touched gently, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool on sheets for about 2 minutes, and then remove with a spatula to a wire crack for cooling to room temperature. Continue rolling, cutting, and baking with all remaining dough.
After cookies have cooled, decorate as desired.
Yield 5-6 cups of icing
3 egg whites, room temperature
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
In a large bowl (or in a stand mixer bowl with the whisk attachment), use an hand mixer to beat the egg whites, confectioners' sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and pure vanilla extract, on medium low speed until blended. Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat until stiff beaks form and the mixture nearly triples in volume, about 10 minutes.
Transfer frosting to piping bags to decorate. Cover any unused frosting tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature until ready for use (about 6 hours).
Source: Cookie recipe from Baking Illustrated, Royal Icing from Williams-Sonoma