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Fear Conquered: Christmas Feeling
"Can I have one?" Boyfriend Javelin asks, hand paused in mid-air over the rack of cooling gingerbread cutouts.
"I wouldn't yet," I say and half-smile as his face changes to a fake pout. "I want to glaze these first."
Boyfriend Javelin lets out a little sigh and retreats. Back to huddling under a couple of blankets on the couch, grading exams and trying to keep warm in the sub-65℉ apartment. The central heat's whispering from the ceiling vent seems like a cruel joke to icy little toes trapped against frigid ground-level floors.
I dunk the cookies into their sugar-ginger bath, drain off the excess glaze and plop them back onto the wire racks to drip. It doesn't feel like Christmas. It doesn't feel like a countdown to the holidays. Despite the snow, the Christmas tree, the holiday music and endless parade of packages arriving by mail, something's off.
I scoop more confectioners' sugar into the bowl and whisk in a little more milk. And add a little more ground ginger. As I keep whisking and waiting for the glaze to smooth out, I stare at the twinkling Christmas tree.
Something doesn't feel right. Maybe it's my niece. She's still in the hospital, now waiting for chemo and a chance to go home. Maybe it's because I haven't watched a lineup of Christmas movies. Or wrapped presents. Or had a glass of eggnog.
Or baked a gigillion cookies.
I plop yet another dunked cookie onto the rack and watch the little dribbles of glaze pool on the counter beneath the cookie. Maybe it's me. Maybe something's off with me.
I gingerly tap the surface of one of the glazed cookies. It's mostly dry. I give it a few more minutes while I start cleanup. But I can't shake the feeling. I should be happy baking Christmas cookies. It should put me in a festive mood. Except it's not working. I don't feel Christmasy at all.
But it's almost Christmas! That time of year when everyone puts aside differences and comes together. When people are nicer to each other. Sleigh bell ring in a winter wonderland rockin' around the Christmas tree during the most wonderful time of the year. Or something.
Call me the Grinch, but it's one big hoax. Christmas isn't magical. It's just not. It can't transform me. Putting up a tree, watching movies, singing carols, wrapping presents, drinking eggnog and baking cookies won't make me a nicer person. And there's no magical Christmas spirit that will make my heart grow three sizes. I can put a hundred red circles around December 25th, but it's still just another day on the calendar. No special powers.
Feeling a bit Grinchy, I pick up two glazed cookies and stack them on a plate. Then I shuffle my cold feet out of the kitchen and into the living room. I settle on the couch next to Boyfriend Javelin. From under the pile of blankets, he smiles.
Mr. Grinch, there is something special. But it's not a calendar date or a magical time of year. It's not a special feeling. It's not the sights or smells or tastes. Not the presents or twinkling trees. Not even the special family and friends roasting chestnuts. Mr. Grinch, it's love.
You know the story. Love arrived in a stable. He slept in a feed bin. Angels announced him, shepherds worshiped him and a star lead magi to honor him. 30 years later, he sacrificed himself to make peace between us and God. He rose from the dead to guarantee life for his followers. And he sent his Spirit to teach us how to love. He did it all because he loved us. It doesn't depend on a feeling or a time of the year - it just…is. And it always is - even when no amount of cookies can a holiday make.
I hand Boyfriend Javelin a glazed gingerbread man and he smiles. "Do I finally get one?" he teases.
I tuck my toes under the edge of the blanket and bite off the arm of my own gingerbread man. "Yep," I say. "Merry Christmas."
STORY | PRINTABLE RECIPE | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
|Combine sugars in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.|
|Mince 1/4 cup of crystallized (candied) ginger and add to the sugars in the food processor.|
|Add the zest of 1 lemon to the sugars and ginger.|
|Add the spice mix and salt to the food processor.|
|Process the sugar, ginger, lemon and spices until the ginger is pulverized - about 1 minute.|
|Add the ginger, molasses, eggs and egg yolks to the bowl of a stand mixer.|
|Beat the ingredients together until the batter forms a smooth ribbon.|
|Measure 1 cup of organic shortening.|
|Melt the shortening and allow to cool to room temperature. Slowly beat the melted shortening into the molasses, eggs and sugar mixture until fully incorporated.|
|In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and leaveners.|
|Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring together until just mixed.|
|Gather the dough together and divide in half.|
|Flatten each half and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours|
|On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough to 1/4 inch thickness.|
|Cut out cookie shapes using floured cooking cutters.|
|Transfer the shapes to parchment lined baking sheets and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.|
|Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes until puffed and set. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes.|
|Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.|
|Decorate or glaze cooled cookies as desired.|
STORY | PHOTO TUTORIAL | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
Frosted Gingerbread Cookie Cutouts
Prep Time: 3 hrs
Cook Time: 12 min per batch
Ingredients (3 dozen cookies)
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (80 grams) crystallized ginger, minced
- 1 lemon, zest of
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 cup organic shortening, melted (but not hot)
- 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
- 4 cups (600 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- Add the sugars, crystallized ginger, lemon zest, spices and salt to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade; process until the ginger is pulverized, about 1 minute
- Transfer the sugar mixture to a large bowl and beat in the eggs, egg yolks and molasses until the mixture forms a smooth ribbon; slowly beat in the melted shortening until fully incorporated
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring gently until just mixed
- Divide the dough in half, loosely wrap each half in plastic wrap, flatten each half into a disk and chill for at least 2 hours
- Preheat the oven to 350℉ and line baking sheets with parchment paper
- Working with one disk of chilled dough at a time: on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness; cut out cookies using floured cookie cutters and transfer cookies to the lined baking sheets; chill each tray of cookie cutouts for 10 minutes in the freezer before baking
- Gather the scraps of cookie dough together, form a ball of dough, flatten into a disk, rewrap in plastic and re-chill for 10 minutes while working with the second disk of dough; repeat rolling and cutting cookie shapes as necessary
- Bake the chilled cookies for 12-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time; allow the cookies to cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to wire cooling racks
- Decorate the cooled cookies as desired and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to a month
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Hungry for Tips?
- Glaze: If you want to give your cookies a frosty glaze as I have done, it's super simple: Whisk together 1 cup powdered confectioners' sugar, 1 teaspoon ground ginger and 2 or 3 Tablespoons of skim milk to make a runny glaze. (If it's too thick, add a few more drops of milk.) Then dunk the cookie faces into the glaze, let the excess drip off the cookie faces for a few seconds, then transfer the cookies (glazed-face up) to a wire rack to drip and dry. The glaze will harden after an hour or so.
- Ginger Heat: These gingerbread cookies pack a ginger punch - especially if you dunk in a ginger glaze. However, I would never describe them as "hot" or "burning". If you're a real gingerphile craving a bit of steam out the ears, you may want to add a Tablespoon or so of finely grated fresh ginger.
- Shortening vs. Butter: I don't advocate using gobs of shortening in many recipes, but these cookies are one certain exception. If you use butter, the cookies are dryer and more crumbly. And the dough is harder to work with when rolling out and cutting. To avoid transfats (partially hydrogenated oils), I recommend organic shortening (I've find mine at Whole Foods and Walmart). If you decide to use butter, try to find a high-quality butter with a low percentage of water.
- Crystallized Ginger: These cookies gobble up a lot of crystallized (candied) ginger, so I recommend buying in bulk tubs. I've found reasonably priced tubs at Whole Foods, but you may be able to find these at Trader Joe's or even online. Just don't bother with the micro-sized jars from McCormick - they're way overpriced and mostly sugar.
- Sticky Dough: Before chilling, this dough is very sticky, almost like a really thick frosting. That's exactly what you want. After it has chilled, it will be easier to work with and after rolling out on a floured surface, the dough will become even easier to manage. If you add too much flour to start, later batches of cookies will be tough (due to an excess of flour absorbed into the dough).
- Freeze Time: Cutout cookies like to spread as they bake - and these gingerbread cookies are no exception. Freezing the cutouts for about 10 minutes helps to minimize any spread while baking. If you're short on time (or unconcerned about spread), you can skip the freeze time and get right to baking.
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