Cooking is a family tradition. I'm sure many would say that. Recipes passed down through generations. Learning age old techniques from Grandma or Mom (or Dad, let's not be gender biased around here.) Often it begins with cookies. What kid doesn't love cookies. Especially the kind where you can squish it in your hands, use tools that are safe for little ones like rolling pins and cookie cutters, and maybe accidentally pinch off a piece and sample before they go into the oven and come out plump and cute. (A little bit like this one right here.)
I don't remember what first got me cooking in the kitchen. But I know from an early age I remember my mother allowing me to choose a menu for a special meal. I planned each item from beginning to end, wrote out all the ingredients I needed, carefully read through my recipe, and followed each step just as it said. I think I learned this from my mom. She is recipe follower. The world needs people like us.
I'll let her speak for herself, but I don't believe cooking came the same way to my sister. We are different people so naturally we approach life in different ways. This often caused conflict in our younger years as I, the older sister, tried to guide (she might say boss) my siblings through life. Which is why as I look back, it is interesting that I believe we found our greatest bond finally in the kitchen, a place where it is easy to be bossy (oops, now I used the word.) The only year we spent living in the same city since I left for college was about 5 years ago when Emily spent a year in Chicago. We shared some fantastic meals together that year. At parties, at festivals, new restaurants, and sometimes just the two of us. And when she left ( and let me remind you Emily, you left first) I thought how sad that we were losing this bonding experience we enjoyed so much.
I was wrong. You see, you don't have to be in a kitchen together or at a table together to share food together. There are magazines to discuss and blogs to introduce and new ingredients to ponder. Because when you can't eat food together you have to talk about food. Which is almost as much fun. And really, if no one ever talked about the food they were enjoying, how would all the fantastic recipes ever get passed down through generations or how would family cooking traditions ever start?
So that is where this blog begins, with a new tradition. We will take turns each week sharing something we cooked at our house and then the other sister will have a chance to respond with her own take on that meal or cooking style, or whatever else it is from that recipe that inspired her. It's a chance to inspire, not to compete (although I know which one of us will be trying to "win" each week!)
That brings me to a recipe. As previously mentioned, I learned to cook from watching both my grandmothers (that's my grandma up there with Caroline and I) and my mother in the kitchen. One special tradition we have always done is bake gingerbread cookies after Thanksgiving to share during Christmas. And one might imagine we have a special cherished gingerbread recipe so dusty from flour that it is nearly illegible. Well you would be wrong. I believe there is discussion each year, "now which recipe did we use last year?" and no one ever remembers. But we are also okay with this. Because tradition can also mean trying new things, another lesson I learned from my mother.
I pulled this particular recipe from Better Homes and Gardens after I saw this adorable winter village made of gingerbread and had to recreate it. Having moved to Austin from Chicago this summer, this was my first winter away from the big city and the Midwest and I found myself homesick. This little City in the Snow still sits in my kitchen window. I prepared this with my daughter in December, one of our first cooking experiences together. I don't always cook for her, and definitely rarely cook with her, but I hope I can inspire her to find a bonding experience in the kitchen. And who knows, maybe one day she will have a sibling to share cooking stories (P.S. Mom, that is not a pregnancy announcement.)
Hey sis...try this.
Grandma's Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted only slightly from Better Homes and Gardens, December 2013
I changed the original recipe a bit to leave out the egg because I knew that my small child would inevitably want to sample and how can I stop her? A little raw egg never hurt anyone but I had tried another recipe that used heavy cream instead of egg and milk and I thought it turned out just fine. Also, when is using heavy cream a bad thing?
5 cups all-purpose flour, or whole wheat pastry if you are feeling especially healthy
4 ½ teaspoons Penzeys Baking Spice or 1 tablespoon Ginger, 1 teaspoon Cinnamon, ½ teaspoon Nutmeg (see note*)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper, preferable white but I didn’t have any
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cuppacked brown sugar
½ cup molasses
½ cup heavy cream
*Note: I LOVE this baking spice from Penzeys and anytime something calls for cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg combinations, I use it. Sometimes I use it even if it just calls for one of those. It’s pretty great. Just something to keep in mind if you are interested in trying a new spice mixture.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices until well combined; set aside.
In a very large bowl beat together the butter, brown sugar, and molasses with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add half the flour mixture; beat until just combined. Add cream; beat until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture; beat until just combined. Using your hands, knead dough until smooth; divide in half. Wrap each dough half with plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll each dough half on parchment paper into about a 15x10-inch rectangle. Using a sharp knife, score free-form building and rooftop shapes on each sheet of dough without cutting through dough. Using a cookie cutter, cut out trees. Transfer each parchment sheet of dough to a 15x10-inch baking pan. Remove excess dough scraps. Using the straight edge of a dough scraper or a knife, add brick and window scores without cutting completely through dough.
Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Carefully cut along scored lines of building and rood shapes. Bake 10 minutes more or until firm. Remove from oven. Cook completely on a wire rack. Separate gingerbread pieces.
Sprinkle powdered sugar over cookies; gently rub in. Cover with waxed paper and let stand for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Arrange cookies in a large glass filled with 2 to 3 inches of granulated sugar to help stabilize cookies. Note, probably saving the cookies for over a month may make the cookies inedible. If you want to eat cookies, then just eat the pretty cookies.