Last week, my culinary students at Deer Isle-Stonington High School prepared and served a harvest lunch for their 120 classmates and staff. It was a heroic effort that involved the whole school and spanned over two weeks of preparation.
Students roasted five Maine-raised turkeys, picking the meat off the bones, making stock and preparing gravy. The shop class cut up four enormous, island-grown blue Hubbard squash, which were baked and pureed. Wild blueberry–cranberry chutney simmered on the stove, silverware was wrapped in napkins, and the dessert team prepped and served 55 French apple tarts.
During cleanup of the Mariner Community Kitchen, Billie Gove, an eighth-grader and fearless volunteer dishwasher, inquired what was next on the holiday menu.
“Can I make gingerbread cookies?” he implored.
“For the whole school,” he said, “and then we can decorate them.”
Exhausted, I could only smile.
Who can resist the heady aroma of baking gingerbread? This sweet confection dates back to the Middle Ages, where it was spiced and sweetened with honey. When it came to the Americas, molasses became the sweetener of choice. As a cookie, or as a cake, fresh gingerbread is pure comfort food.
The recipe for Gingerbread Cookies is from my archives. When our tribe was younger, I made pans of these cookies for their classmates, sending cookie decorating kits to school. Using a combination of whole wheat and white flours increases the nutritional value of the treat, and still yields a soft, easy-to-shape dough. No dough goes to waste, as it can easily be shaped, rolled and cut again.
These cookies are delicious unadorned. Or for the creative types, the Holiday Icing recipe can be used to paint the gingerbread cookies or as a glue for decorations.
Gingerbread cookie decorating kits can be packed into a box and shipped. Wrap the cookies on a cardboard backing, portion the icing into small condiment cups and add cups of sprinkles and decorations. My friend Billie knows that gifts from the kitchen come from the heart and are certain to brighten everyone’s day.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions and comments at [email protected]
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cups packed brown sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup molasses
Assemble ingredients and tools.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg and molasses and beat until smooth.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and spices. Gradually add to the creamed mixture, beating on low speed until the dough is formed. If the dough is too dry, add a small amount of milk until nice dough is formed.
Remove the dough, divide into 2 pieces and chill until ready to cut cookies.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
On a well-floured surface, flatten one piece of dough into a disc, and roll to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut your cookies and transfer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Gather up the scraps on dough, reroll and cut more cookies. Continue gathering up the scraps of dough and rerolling until all the dough has been used.
Bake the cookies in the oven until the edges just start to brown, around 5 or 6 minutes. Let cool on the pan briefly, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes about three dozen medium-sized cookies.
Nutritional analysis per cookie: 96 calories, 1.3 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2.7 grams fat, 40 mg. sodium, 1.3 grams fiber.
4 cups powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons dried egg white powder
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
½ cup water
Food coloring (optional)
Water for thinning, if needed
Sift sugar, cream of tartar and egg white powder into the bowl of your electric mixer. Add flavoring and water, beating at low speed until well mixed.
Increase the speed to high and beat until icing has thickened and holds peaks, about 8 to 10 minutes.
The frosting may be thinned with water and tinted with food coloring to make a “paint” for cookies. Use the frosting also as glue for decorations. It may also be piped through a pastry bag with a fine tip.