Saturday, December 24, 2011

Onslaught of the Christmas Cookies, 2011: Attack of the Ninjabread Men

Christmas Cookies 2011
The baking frenzy began innocently enough, with a batch of our family's favorite Crackled Molasses Sugar Cookies.  Those cookies vaporized within a day or two, and then we had to bake more crackled molasses along with a batch of Norwegian krumkake for the boys' internationally-themed classroom holiday parties. 

Krumkake filled with Strawberry Ice Cream
For those of you who do not have Norwegian heritage, krumkake are thin, crispy cookies that are made one at a time with a special iron that imprints a lacy design on each cookie.  After baking the cookie for about 20 seconds, you peel the piping hot cookie off the krumkake iron and wrap it immediately around a little wooden cone to shape the cookie.  Thanks to the krumkake baking session, I no longer have fingerprints, so it's a good thing they taste good! 
My mom never filled our krumkake with anything that I can remember, but all of the recipes suggest filling with whipped cream, fresh berries, or ice cream.  We discovered that krumkake make the best tiny ice cream cones, filled with strawberry Breyer's ice cream.  Yummy!
Lars Sucking Ice Cream out of his Krumkake

My krumkake were not as crispy as I would have liked, but my internet research suggests that the mild North Carolina weather was to blame.  I found an ex-Minnesotan/Norwegian baker in Texas online who claims that crispy krumkake perfection requires baking on a cold, dry day (and when they talk about a cold winter day in Minnesota, they mean zero temperatures or below) yet it was a balmy 68 degrees in Charlotte the day I was baking mine.  My cookies came out somewhere in between crisp and al dente, like pasta that isn't quite done yet, but doesn't break your teeth.  Not terrible, but not sublime either.  I'll have to try another batch of krumkake in January or February, when we get a cold snap.  Although I've always thought of krumkake as a Christmas and New Year's cookie, it would be perfect for Valentine's Day with the strawberry ice cream.  Also, nothing says I Love You like burning off your fingerprints on blistering-hot cookies, don't you think?

Christmas Cookie Decorating, Wayzata, MN, 1981
Now, to understand the craziness that followed, you need to understand that my mom made double or even triple batches of rolled sugar cookies for us to decorate every year for Christmas, going back as far as I can remember.  See evidence above.  I'm the one in the red dress whose hair is hanging into the frosting.  Susan always made the most beautiful cookies (she's the one in the foreground at left) and the younger ones, Janice and Donnie, would dump a quantity of frosting and red hots on their cookies in inverse proportion to their ages.  (In fairness, I must say that Janice the Manice's cookie decorating prowess improved with age, but she's 5 in this picture and I am pretty sure she was still a frosting dumper at that time).

When I have attempted to perpetuate this family tradition with my sons in prior years, we've been frustrated by the difficulty of squeezing the thick tubes of frosting from the grocery store.  Looking at the old picture, I see that the store-bought frosting used to come in a different container that was probably easier for little hands to use.  I also have a terrible time whenever I attempt to roll out any kind of dough, whether it's for pie crust or cookies.  The rolling pins and I are not the best of friends.  Finally, after so much effort is put into these shaped and decorated cookies, most of them are pretty ugly and I never really liked the taste.  Not making any cookies to decorate would be sacrilege, because it's a Family Christmas Tradition and I can't have my children growing up frosting deprived!

The Package from King Arthur Flour has Arrived
I was determined to improve the Cookie Decorating Experience this year, so I ordered LOTS of decorating goodies from King Arthur Flour a couple of weeks ago.  I got every color of sprinkling sugar you could imagine, edible glitter stars, chocolate jimmies, Fiori di Sicilia to flavor the cookies instead of the Almond Extract we'd used in the past.  I planned to try my hand at Royal Icing for the first time, because I'd be able to control the consistency and I hoped it would taste better than the stuff from the grocery store since homemade icing wouldn't have the chemical preservatives.  So I bought meringue powder to make the icing (instead of raw egg whites) and a variety of contraptions for piping the frosting onto the cookies, certain that at least ONE of them would be easy enough for the kids to use.  As a last resort, I even got some edible foodcoloring markers for drawing directly on the cookies or on hardened icing (Anders really loved these).

Anders drew a tuxedo on a gingerbread man with FooDoodler markers

Then I spent a bit too much time trolling the internet for decorating inspiration -- you can see my favorite OPC (Other People's Cookies) here on my Pinterest board.  I got a couple of new cookie cutters this year, a large tree with a star on top, and a set of three Ninjabread men.  Lars and Anders were very excited about the Ninjabread men.  It would be impossible to exaggerate their level of Ninjabread men excitement, in fact.  They were downright giddy about the Ninjabread men.  If you have little boys in your kitchen, I strongly recommend the Ninjabread men -- and you can get the cookie cutters right here
Lars Cutting Out Ninjabread Cookies
So, how did it all turn out?  My mom had to come to the rescue when it was time to roll out the dough, and her tried-and-true pastry cloth and little knit rolling pin sock won hands-down over my fancy Williams Sonoma silicone rolling pin and silicone pastry mat.  My gingerbread dough needed more flour because it was too sticky, and my sugar cookie dough needed a little milk because it was so dry that it was crumbling apart when I tried to roll it.  Once the doughs were the right consistency they were pretty easy to handle. 

Royal Icing, tinted Yellow with AmeriColor Gel Food Coloring
The Royal Icing was an adventure, but it came out okay.  I had a tough time getting a true red color until I read this baking blogger's instructions and discovered that the frosting will darken gradually as it dries.  I was also grateful that I'd ordered the AmeriColor gel food colors to tint my frosting, so I was able to get a nice, deep black for Santa boots and snowman details, as well as a medium brown for my Christmas tree stumps. 

Frosting Tubes Filled & Ready to Go
Another challenge was getting the icing into the little bottles and tube contraptions once I'd mixed it up.  My solution was to spoon the frosting into plastic Ziplock sandwich bags, squeeze the air out and seal the baggie, then snip off a corner so I could "pipe" the frosting into the various containers.  However, I made the mistake of mixing up and tinting most of the frosting the night before I planned for the kids to decorate, so I could get my "trials and errors" out of the way ahead of time.  Unfortunately, the icing really needs to be used right away.  The frostings from the night before were too runny the next day. 

Anders and Grammy Rolling Out Sugar Cookie Dough
There's a wonderful tutorial on decorating with Royal Icing on the King Arthur Flour blog here, and an even better updated tutorial by the same author that I just found right here (wish I'd seen these pictures of what the icing consistency should be before I made mine).  I decided that the cookie shapes we most enjoy decorating are the simplest ones, like snowflakes, bells, candy canes, and stars.  I liked the reindeer in gingerbread because they only needed a red nose, a black eye, and a white tail and then they were perfect.  Next year I'm going to get a mitten and an ornament cookie cutter, because I enjoyed making patterns on cookies more than fussing with multicolored Santas and angels that seldom come out looking as good as the cookies you envisioned in your mind.  Oh, and I think I'll limit frosting to two or three colors at a time next year, so I can do a thick and thin (for flooding) version of each frosting color.  This year I mixed up red, white, green, blue, yellow, orange, black, and brown, all at once, in an in-between consistency.  The frosting went on too thickly in large areas that we were trying to fill in, but was still too runny to get really sharp detail.

My Best Efforts: Rebecca's Christmas Cookies
Oh, and all those sugars and sprinkles I bought?  We hardly made a dent in them.  My favorite was the white sugar that I sprinkled on the edges of my snowman.  I also flocked a blue snowman scarf with glitter.  And I love how my Ninja Santa came out. 

Grammy and Bernie Decorating Cookies

Well, you'd think that by noon on Christmas Eve, I'd be done baking cookies.  You'd be wrong.  I have a whole batch of crackled molasses sugar cookie dough in the fridge, ready to be shaped into balls and rolled in sugar for baking.  I am also in my bathrobe, and -- horror of horrors! -- I have been so obsessed with cookie baking that I am NOT DONE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING YET!!!  I have to hop in the shower, get dressed, and then go to the mall, yes, the MALL on CHRISTMAS EVE, to get a couple of last-minute gifts for a certain difficult-to-shop-for husband of mine. 
Merry Christmas, everyone!  Wish me luck at the mall!

1 comment:

Fred and/or Marlies said...

from wikipedia: In Germany, the cookies are commonly filled with sweet stuffings. They are also used as a type of ice cream cone.

Marlies knows these 'Krumme Kuchen' as a New Year's specialty. The problem she had with making them from her recipe was the lack of the special machine her mother used to have. They never had anything to fill them with and claims they are just as good empty.