musingsNotebookRecipe

Velour, with a touch of sparkle

christmas cookie exchange

When I was four years old my uniform was simple: brown velour, everyday. My mother tried to push the pastels, but eventually gave up. She chose her battles.

Fast forward all these years and here I am again, sitting in a velour track suit. I’ve shifted from brown; this one is a dark seal grey. It’s familiar, lounge-y, and with a gold chain strung around the neck, it’s ‘seventies man chic’. My young tom-boy young self loves it. And now that I’m deep into holiday cookie mode, I see why I love it so much. I’ve been making my grandmother’s double ginger crackle cookies, and these cookies – from the fluffy, buttery molasses phase, to the final, lumpy cookie studded with golden, candied ginger and coated in just a hint of sparkle- feel velvety to me. A velvety track suit.

I’m whipping them up for our cookbook club’s first annual cookie exchange. Every member has been in an exchange like this before. We’ve all stayed up late baking until the tenth dozen is finished. We’ve tried new recipes and regretted it, sweat on the brow, wondering why, oh why, didn’t I just go with the tried and true? We’ve all made too little, too many, and swore we’d never do this again. But here we are, and this time it feels right. I’m in velour protected by an apron, music is on, and I’m making something that’s the low-key highlight of any holiday cookie tray. And when this is all over, my freezer will be filled with tried and true cookies from everyone else’s kitchens.

I slip out of the velvet tracksuit and put on something festive just before everyone arrives. I can’t pull velvet off everyday. I clear the kitchen island and tell google to play some holiday tunes. I turn the coffee on, and watch as the windows fill with steam. Outside cold rain is pelting down, but inside, George Michael is singing about Last Christmas. Before I know it, the room is full, coffee is flowing, and the kitchen is filled with the best cookies anyone has every seen.

We sit around the island, sharing our recipes, our hacks, our top tips. This could be a podcast episode, a cookbook, a baking call-in session. Comments like:

Do you use shortening anymore?
No! Butter only.
But what about the salt. If you swap in butter for shortening, do you adjust the salt?
Who bakes with unsalted butter? Do you bother? If not do you adjust the salt?
The more salt the better! I buy extra salted butter, it’s a specialty here in Nova Scotia.

Whip cream in a mason jar in a pinch. But add a quarter, it helps to agitate.
Use a baking tray coated in sugar to roll cookies in sugar. Hold tight and shake shake shake! It takes 20 seconds.
The same goes for peeling boiled eggs. 
Put them in a container, cover with water, cover with a lid and shake shake shake! Shells fall right off.
Piping marshmallow will get all over you and your kitchen.
Don’t forget clarifying butter takes 2 days. Or just buy ghee.
Leave whole grain cake and cookie batters in the fridge overnight. The extra moisture softens flours like spelt and rye, making them less gritty.
My mother never baked with molasses. It reminded her of the butter and molasses sandwiches she had to take to school. 

We are food writers, bloggers, cookbook authors, photographers, stylists, and home bakers. This was no average cookie exchange. But anyone can do it. Just make your tried and true, a dozen for each friend around the table. And who cares if they’re brown. Brown is a highlight on the holiday baking colour wheel.

photo by @eatwithjessie

Double Ginger Crackle Cookies

yield: 48-50 cookies

3/4 cup (160g) salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (190g) white, granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup (90g) molasses

2 cups (260g) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ground cloves
1/2 cup (75g) finely chopped candied ginger

more granulated sugar for rolling cookie balls

Whip butter and sugar until smooth, light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat well until smooth.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Stir into butter mixture, along with candied ginger.

Preheat oven to 350F / !80C. I use a convection oven. Line two baking trays with parchment.

Place a few spoonfuls of granulated sugar onto a baking tray with sides. Roll batter into small balls – 2.5 cm wide – and place in the sugar (I roll 15 balls at a time). Shake the tray vigorously until the balls are completely coated in sugar. Place balls on trays, 5 cm apart, and bake 7-8 minutes. Cookies should be soft, lumpy and chewy, not flat and ginger-snappy.

Allow cookies to cool on trays for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies freeze well.

*I’m not one to measure with a ruler… but as I’ve said, don’t mess around with a holiday cookie exchange.

ginger cookie balls measured

finished ginger cookies