December brings the pleasant and rather therapeutic baking period with it. My cookie sheets and baking forms are all scrubbed clean and the oven is raring to go. December is the time for Christmas baking – where sugar, spices, sweet and savory, nuts, chocolate and fruit all are the main ingredients for joyous Christmas spirit.
All this week I will be talking cookies! I have a couple of great recipes lined up and will be sharing a few stories, methods and tips and tricks with you. It should be a fun week just before we head towards Christmas.
Cookies go beyond the borders of language and bring happiness, lighting up faces of young and old. Something I realized thanks to my dearest friend Lydia.
Last year Lydia introduced me to her concept of giving – Drop In & Decorate is what she called it. A simple idea really: bake some cookies, invite friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to stop in and help decorate, then donate your cookies to a local food pantry, emergency shelter, senior center, lunch program, or other community agency serving neighbors in need.
I loved the idea and hosted my own cookies-for-donation event here in Weimar and even dedicated a mingle for this event.
This summer Lydia excitedly told me about how she had finally set up Drop In & Decorate Inc., a non-profit organization. I love reading each of her mails as she shares the latest news.
It was Soeren who asked me about hosting another one of those “cookie parties!” like last year. I decided to get his whole class involved. We began planning in November and Ms. Comiskey, Soeren’s Grade 1 teacher was extremely helpful and structured. I told her about Lydia’s concept, also mentioning that both hailed from New England, and we quickly set up a process of how things could work.
In class they first spent time discussing the various charity organizations, shelters and centers they could donate. The 16 kids voted for the Weimar Clinic – Children’s ward, where the terminally ill children have spent months, some even years in the hospital.
Last week I was just as excited as the kids themselves and managed to take a few hours off work on Wednesday and Thursday to help with the preparations, baking and decorating. Ms. Comiskey got everyone to wear Santa hats - Santa’s Workshop is what we called it. As we kneaded, rolled and cut our cookies we sang carols and listened to stories. It was so exceptional hearing the ideas each child had and heart-warming how they all wanted these magical cookies to heal the children at the clinic.
The cookies were packed in food safe bags and yesterday Soeren’s class put their Santa hats back on and visited the clinic. They sang a few carols and donated the cookies.
Cookies – the language of gratitude, love, healing and happiness.
I hope my ginger shortbread will bring joy to you. This is my all time favorite shortbread recipe. It’s extremely simple to put together but the added zing of ginger brings an extremely delicious highlight to the cookie.
All About Shortbread
One has to be careful that these delicate, crumbly cookies do not become a tea-time habit. They are rather rich, traditionally made with one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts oatmeal or plain white flour.
The advice on making the perfect shortbread is rather conflicting. While some say the shortbread should be slightly browned others will advice that shortbread is pale, nearly white in color. You might find some recipes for shortbread using margarine while others will swear that only butter makes a true shortbread.
I have been making shortbread for several years using recipes handed down to me by my mum who in turn obtained these recipes from Tante Stephanie. Tante Stephanie’s advice is etched in every shortbread recipe I have and I adhere to her rules meticulously. Simply because I am always rewarded with perfect shortbread.
For us shortbread is pale never “browned”. It is baked on low temperature to avoid coloring. Never margarine but butter makes each bite of shortbread truly pleasurable and gives it that unmistakable crumbly texture. The shortbread dough should not be overworked as the warmth in your hands will cause the dough to become greasy and oily. The best way is to use a wooden spoon when beating the fat, once softened you can easily work it into the rest of the ingredients.
Once the shortbread is ready transfer it straight to the prepared tin and gently pat it, spreading the dough evenly. We never roll out the dough and cut into shape - it makes the shortbread tough due to the extra handling.
With this good advise it's time to enjoy my favorite shortbread, flavored with candied ginger. An explosive Christmas treat I make every year and give as gifts to friends.
Recipe: Ginger Shortbread
Printable version of recipe here.
250g butter, room temperature
250g all-purpose flour
60g powdered/confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon ginger powder
75g candied ginger, chopped
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Prepare a square baking tin (23cm x 23cm) by lightly buttering it and lining it with baking paper.
In a bowl beat the butter using a wooden spoon until soft. Add the sugar and then whisk with a handheld electric beater until mixture is smooth and creamy.
Sieve the flour and ginger powder into the creamed butter and fold in until incorporated. Add the candied ginger and with the wooden spoon mix gently.
Transfer the dough into the prepared tin and either with the wooden spoon or your hands even and spread the dough to the sides of the tin.
Using a serrated knife gently cut the dough, making sure not to cut all the way through, into fingers or squares.
Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, turning the tin around about halfway through the baking time. Make sure that the shortbread does not brown. If you notice it browning then place a sheet of baking paper over the top and reduce the heat slightly.
Take out of the oven and then cut the shortbread along the marked cuts while the dough is still warm. Allow to cool in the form for approx. 5 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
These ginger shortbread are our way of opening the Christmas baking season. They are one of the first things we bake as December comes around. We make enough to give as gifts in small bags and to nibble throughout the month. Just a few ingredients really - but an incredible refreshing flavor.
I know Susan will not only love this shortbread but also enjoy reading the story of Soeren's cookie-donation week. I am sending this to her Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 2. I was a part of it last year and there was no way I would miss this, this year.
You might like these Christmas treats from WFLH:
|My Family's Traditional Fruit Cake||Vanilla Kipferl||Bûche de Noël - Yule Log|
From around the blogs:
- Moravian Christmas Trees - Andrea's Recipes
- Green Tea Spritz Cookies - Nook & Pantry
- Christmas Cookies - Swirl & Scramble
Daily Tiffin Reading Tip:
Menu For Hope: 15-24 December 2008
- An annual fundraiser to help the UN World Food Program
- Bid on prizes from December 15 - 24, 2008
- One virtual raffle ticket is US$ 10
- You can donate a prize
- WFLH is also donating a prize
- Details and information here
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