Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gingerbread and Snowmen

The holiday season was busy, as I'm sure it was for all of you.  The day after I got back from Kansas, I started a new job working in the deli at the local grocery store. What started out as a part time job quickly turned to full time hours as two of their full timers went on extended sick leave. When I wasn't at work, I was busy at home make the holidays sweet and special for my kiddos.

A large part of my Christmas memories include staying home from school the week before Christmas, making cookies and other crafts with Mom. She taught me how to make Gingerbread Cookie dough, and Sour Cream Cookie dough.  Then we would roll them out, cut them out, and later decorate them.  After trying to roll out Sour Cream Cookies into giant snowmen cookies and decorating them with my kids for neighbor gifts this year, I'm pretty sure that what I remember as excited children all having fun cutting out cookies looked or felt more like mayhem to my Mom. I'm sure she had fun too... she was that kind of a Mom, and obviously she kept on doing them with us from year to year, but doing them with my kids this year made me appreciate her even more.  She let us have the rolling pin, cut the cookies out, place them on the baking sheets, guiding us rather than doing it all herself while we watched. 

I'm convinced that bakers everywhere, after tasting a properly made, soft and moist Sour Cream Cookie topped with Cream Cheese Frosting, would abandon all other sugar cookie recipes. There isn't a better roll-out cookie dough recipe than Mom's Sour Cream Cookies. Unfortunately, her Gingerbread Cookie Recipe didn't fare so well. The dough was delicious.  The rich, full flavor of molasses and ginger is still one of my favorites, and gingerbread cookies are as much a part of Christmas to me as the tree and presents. We would make the dough, wait impatiently while it set up in the refrigerator, roll them out and bake them.  But after decorating them, the fun was over.  They were tough, hard, and nearly inedible. Still, when I found Mom's original recipe cards years later, I snagged both cookie dough cards and saved them til I could make them with my own kids.

After yet another batch of unedible gingerbread cookies while living in Duchesne, I finally decided it was time to research other recipes and see what could be done to make them edible. Funny, Mom's recipe was identical to the one I found on America's Test Kitchen website.  Except hers was missing a couple key ingredients like butter and soda.  Perhaps it wasn't the original recipe card but instead a hastily transcribed version, sans a few important ingredients.  For the first time, I tasted real gingerbread cookies. Delicious! My friend and neighbor Jackie Johanson got a plate of tiny, soft gingerbread bells and stars topped with melt-in-your-mouth cream cheese frosting with hint of maple.  Good thing I sent them to her, or I would have eaten them all myself.

Another Christmas memory I have is of Mom sewing.  She sewed every year, but one that I remember most was the dolls she made us.  I remember watching her sewing a dark pink, perfectly stitched, round nose and then later seeing it attached to the dolls she gave to Danielle and I. Big, wide faces of cloth, with big eyes, noses, and mouths all hand stitched.  Sadly, I must have been enchanted with makeup at one point because I ruined the doll after applying blush to her cheeks with a purple marker.

And, I sewed this year too.  Yep! Me, sewing.  It's been a while, but I was pretty excited to use the 1954 green machine I bought at a garage sale.  Sadly it died on me before I was able to get the girls dresses sewn, but I did finish the homemade stockings at least.  A few long nights sewing to the wee hours of the morning and several stockings later... the machine all of a sudden started grinding gears together and stopped moving. All that I had planned for the rest of my nephews and nieces and friends were going to have to wait for another year.

I hope they all had fun getting the stockings as I did getting them ready.  They were made of sweaters and a wool coat, bought at the thrift store and used for fabric.  Turned out pretty cute I think!  Sadly, all the pictures are on Ry's phone, so I'll have to update you later...

The night before we headed up to Salt Lake, we made Rice Krispie snowmen.  Fun, fun, fun.  Too bad they turned out "socially unacceptable" and looking like abominable snow babies.  They were supposed to be our gifts to each of the Dutton Family... plus gifts for the remaining neighbors and siblings who were missing out on stockings.   Fun to make with kids though.  We'll have to try again another year...

Here are the cookie recipes... I hope you enjoy making sweet holiday memories as much as I did.  I think next year my siblings are all going to get a plate of soft gingerbread cookies and a recipe card.

Thanks Mom, for making the holidays sweet.





America's Test Kitchen GINGERBREAD COOKIE recipe

Combine:
3 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon soda

Add and mix til it resembles fine meal:
12 Tablespoons of butter, cut into 1 Tablespoon pats.

Gradually add while mixing:
3/4 cup molasses
2 Tablespoons milk

Divide dough into smaller portions and roll between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/4" thickness.  Refrigerate 15 minutes until well chilled and firm.  (If you don't have parchment paper, you can refrigerated the tightly wrapped ball of dough for 2 hours before rolling onto a surface sprayed with cooking spray. (Do not flour the surface or your gingerbread will be dry.)
Cut out the desired shapes and bake on 350 degrees for 8-11 minutes.
Bake til set in center and a touch of the finger barely leaves an imprint.
Cool them on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

I like to make some small cookies and top them with Cream Cheese Frosting to which I have added a drop or two of Maple Extract. Remember, the key to Cream Cheese Frosting is to whip it for ten minutes until it is nice and fluffy.



MOM'S SOUR CREAM COOKIES

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter or shortening
2 eggs
1-2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 1/4 cups unsifted flour
Mix sugar, shortening, and eggs.  Beat until fluffy.  Add vanilla, sour cream, and soda.  Mix well.  Stir in flour, baking poder, and salt.  Divide in half.  Chill 1 hour. Roll to 3/16" on lightly floured board.  But,. Bake on greased sheet at 35 degrees 5-7 minutes.  DO NOT BROWN.  (4 dozen cookies)

Rachel's notes:
The recipe is written above just how Mom had it. I always withhold the extra 1/4 cup of flour.  If the dough is quite sticky, add it.  If the dough is just a bit sticky, don't add it. One day I'm going to weigh this recipe out so I can get it just right every time... til then, we'll have to do with cup measurements. I usually use both teaspoons of vanilla for flavor, and around 3/4 teaspoon of salt. The most important parts of this recipe are not to overmix the dough and not to overcook the cookies.  It should be thoroughly mixed, but not overmixed or they will not be light and fluffly. And they cook fast! Overcooked cookies will be dry.  Undercooked will have a heavy center. Perfectly cooked will be moist and delicious.  Do a test batch or two to guage how they will be in your oven.

And last but not least... I chill this dough for 15 minutes, and then roll it between parchment paper or plastic wrap, then chill in the freezer for 15 minutes. I never use the floured surface.

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