Tis the Season to be Baking!

For a baker, the Holidays mean stocking your pantry with more flour and sugar than you could ever know what to do with,  just to be prepared. I often bake a variety around this time, from your standard cut-out cookies to decadent truffle-like treats. I hosted a holiday party this past weekend – the company was cheerful, the setting was festive, and the spread was epic. Perhaps the most noteworthy installment was the cookie-decorating station: rich cream cheese frosting with a myriad selection of sprinkles and candies were set out as toppings for adorable Gingerbread Men and Cut-Out Sugar Cookies.
Cutout cookies are a Christmas classic, giving bakers everywhere an edible palette for colorful icings and candies. The traditions dates back to 13th-century Germany with Lebkuchen. This style of cookie (very similar to gingerbread) is a refined delicacy in German culture, boasting intricate shapes and designs. Gingerbread itself can be traced back even further, appearing in Europe in the year 992! Though both cookies are spiced, Lebkuchen is made with honey while gingerbread relies on treacle (or molasses). The first recorded instance of gingerbread being shaped as “men” appears with Queen Elizabeth I, who would present distinguished guests with gingerbread likeness of themselves.
These gingerbread men were absolutely perfect! The recipe recommends making the dough ahead of time to allow both the flavor and texture to develop, which I strongly second. I used blackstrap molasses, When rolling out these cookies, be sure to have a bowl of flour on hand (I just had an entire bag) to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or the surface. As I mentioned before, I paired these with cream cheese frosting, though feel free to use whatever style you prefer (royal icing is a favorite) – click HERE to see how to make these traditional treats!
I’ve made a number of sugar cookies in the past, but these were by far THE best I’ve ever made! There are several ingredients that help set these cookies above the rest. The first is the addition of cream cheese as a binding agent – the result is a sturdier dough that is SO much easier to work with than an all-butter dough. The second factor is the medley of flavorings – while vanilla extract is standard, these cookies achieve an almost-fruity contrast with the additions of almond extract and lemon zest. Best part of all, the dough can be frozen for up to 3 months if needed! I rolled out the dough a week before the party, stored it between sheets of parchment paper and froze it. I highly recommend these, and can guarantee they will become a new tradition in your household as well – click HERE to see how to make these stunning cut-out classics!
You can already guess that a pairing for traditional Christmas cookies deserves a traditional Christmas tune – so naturally I went with a piece that plays in every pops concert, Macy’s, and in every holiday broadcast: Sleigh Ride, by Leroy Anderson. In fact, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers [ASCAP] claims the light orchestral work has routinely been within the top 10 songs performed (worldwide) during the holiday season. Steve Metcalf, author of Lero’s biography, states that “‘Sleigh Ride’ … has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.” The piece was first recorded by the Boston Pops, which is why I thought it appropriate to include a recording with that orchestra – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OATi34PKNPw

Sources Cited:
“Christmas Foods,” FoodTimeline.org
“Sleigh Ride,” Wikipedia.com

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