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Our decorated gingerbread men, snowflakes and more.
Today we decorated ginger cookies. It's not a traditional gingerbread recipe so the cookies are softer and bake up puffy. They lose their defined edges but are pleasantly plump! I make these cookies as drop cookies throughout the year with just a sprinkle of sugar on top. I think they taste even better with just the sugar, but decorating is always fun!
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The dry ingredients spiced with great color from the ground ginger and cinnamon.
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Recipe uses canola oil, not butter.
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Thick molasses pours easily from the measuring cup that held the oil.
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Liquid ingredients just before adding the flour mixture.
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After adding the flour, the dough becomes quite dense. This is a double batch.
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Divide the dough and flatten into discs. Refrigerate for easier rolling and cutting.
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Rolling on parchment paper makes for easy clean up!
These ginger cookies are based on NYC's Magnolia Bakery's Iced Ginger Cookie, though I have adapted them slightly by reducing the amount of oil. When I follow their recipe, I feel like I can literally taste the oil and there's even an oily texture. Reducing the oil makes the cookie a tad firmer but it remains moist.

Franny & Jordan believe that when you come home from school, the house should smell of fresh-baked cookies. I try to oblige when I can, and I love this recipe because they are optimal for spur-of-the-moment baking since there's no butter that has to be softened the night before. Although I tend to fret about the future, I'm not very good about actually planning and organizing the small things. I often bring out a stick of butter, but then don't have time to bake with it. I've always envied the moms who can conceive a week's worth of meals, shop and prep those dinners on the weekends, and then enjoy easier weeknights after being at work all day. And I've always wished to live within walking distance of a produce and meat market so I wouldn't have to plan anything at all. These simple cookies are just right when you're craving a fresh-baked dessert but didn't know you'd have time to bake!

It's the holiday season so I took some time off work and had the luxury to make the  dough last night. We invited Franny & Jordan's friend, Elle, to our house to bake and decorate. 
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Snipping the corner of a zipper lock bag makes for an easy pastry bag. The bigger the snip, the wider the piping.
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Franny decorates a house.
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My gingerbread gal boasts a bodice.

Ginger Cookie, slightly adapted from Magnolia Bakery
yield: about 4 dozen gingersnap size cookies, or 12 gingerbread men

Equipment
stand mixer
large bowl for dry ingredients
measuring cups, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons
spatula
plastic wrap
spring-action melon baller (if making round cookies)
rolling pin & cookie cutters (if making shaped cookies)

Dry Ingredients
2C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients
1/2C canola oil
1C sugar**
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
*Magnolia Bakery recipe uses 3/4 cup canola oil
**If you don't ice the cookies, then sprinkle with additional sugar (about 2-3T). Course sugar gives a nice texture and gives it sparkle

Procedure for cookie dough
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Combine dry ingredients in a big bowl & set aside
3. In a mixer bowl, beat together oil and sugar
4. Add egg & combine
5. Add molasses & beat well*
6. On low, gradually add the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to incorporate any dry bits stuck to the bottom
7. If making drop cookies, cover the mixer bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes or overnight. Or seal in an air tight container and bake off a few cookies each night for a week.
8. If you want gingersnap-size cookies, use a melon baller to portion the dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet (or ungreased cookie sheet)
9. With your finger, lightly depress the cookies to flatten slightly for more uniform cooking
10. Sprinkle lightly with sugar
11. Bake for 9-1/2 to 10 minutes for a slightly chewy interior & crusty exterior.**
12. Cool on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes, and then transfer to a baking rack to cool

Alternate directions for cookie-cutter cookies:
7b. If making cookie-cutter cookies, plop half the dough onto plastic wrap and flatten into a thick disk. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
8b. Lightly flour your rolling surface (parchment paper, cutting board (not used for vegetables or meat) or kitchen counter) and rolling pin
9b. Remove plastic wrap and roll dough to 1/4" thick
10b. Use cookie cutters and place cookies on cookie sheet with at least 2" in between cookies
11b. Combine dough scraps into a ball, and re-refrigerate. Combine with scraps from 2nd disk and roll again
12b. Bake for 7-1/2 minutes
13b. Cool on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes, and then transfer to a baking rack to cool

*Be sure to use the same measuring cup for the molasses as you used to measure the oil. The canola will slick the glass and the sticky molasses will easily pour completely from the cup.
**For a crisp cookie, flatten the cookie more before baking. Or for chewier cookies, adjust baking time or make cookies larger.

Icing Equipment
medium bowl
medium metal spoon for stirring
measuring spoons
citrus reamer & mesh strainer

Icing Ingredients (not from Magnolia Bakery)
1C powdered sugar
2T fresh-squeezed lemon juice
warm water, if needed
I love the slight tartness from the lemon juice. It keeps the cookies from getting too sweet.

Procedure for Icing
1. Mix powdered sugar and lemon juice with a spoon until smooth. 
2. Add small amounts of warm water, if needed, to achieve proper consistency. If using as "glue" for adding candy to cookies or piping from a bag, keep it thicker. If drizzling, make thinner.
Most recipes recommend sifting the powdered sugar, but I find that this step isn't really necessary if you stir it enough—one less thing to wash!
3. Be sure cookies are completely cool before icing
 
 
There's two kinds of fake food: the replica fake food like the food displays in the windows of Japanese restaurants, and the cute kind. My collection of fake food is the cute kind. 
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peas & carrots in a mini blue colander!
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Super realistic fake food always has a plastic-y look to it that doesn't work for me though I was enthralled by these displays as a little girl. Photo credit: Lombroso
And my ultimate favorite kind of fake food is much harder to define, but I like to call it functional fake food. fff is adorable and should have a high design quality. It's cute but usable, playable. You can cuddle with it, use it in the kitchen, or maybe it's a funky display item. It's realistic but does not try to be exact. There's always lots of whimsy. Hand-crafted is good and natural materials are best.
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On the other hand, here is plastic fake food that is super cute. The difference is that these donuts are not trying to look realistic so the plastic doesn't detract from its playfulness. Children's toys are a great source of fake food. These donuts came as a half dozen from Lakeshore Learning many years ago. The frosting comes off and can be mix n' matched with the bottoms. 
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Wood food is best, and Haba is the best of the best! These butter cookies evoke the real thing but leave lots of room for imaginative play.
 
 
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It's a gray Sunday afternoon and Franny and Jordan are playing Scategories at the dining room table with their friend, Charlotte, so it must be time for me to bake cookies! 

I'm making my favorite chocolate, chocolate chip cookies which are the same as Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies except I substitute chocolate chips for the white chocolate chunks. I do this because I always have chocolate chips in the pantry (unless Dave has eaten them all), and second, because I find white chocolate too sweet.

The contrast of the white on dark brown cookie does make for a more enticing-looking cookie, but I prefer the semi-sweet taste of the chocolate chips.

Ina Garten always scoops her cookies with a spring-loaded ice cream scooper or melon baller to get a uniform size. I don't think that's necessary because they don't have to be perfect. 

She then presses them gently with her finger (finger dipped in water so the dough won't stick) to get an even spread of the cookies as it cooks while still retaining the nooks and valleys that give this cookie a terrific texture. 

These have already been flattened. As you can see, it's a very slight depression.
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On the first batch, I forgot to make the depression with my finger, and this is how they came out. Definitely more jaggedy, but still delicious. The kids voted accordingly: Charlotte liked the first batch better, Jordan and me the second, and Franny didn't care.
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We all agree that the finger-depressed cookies look better so we plan to stick with that!
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Cookies with friends. What could be better?
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies, from Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yield:  about 3 dozen cookies

1/2 lb. room temperature butter
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
2 Large (or XL) eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 C cocoa powder, unsweetened

Dry ingredients
2C flour, unbleached
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

2C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter in a standing mixer. Add both sugars, eggs, and vanilla. After mixing well, add cocoa powder. Careful, it will float up and dust everything! Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer if you want to catch the dust. Mix the cocoa powder in well. 

Gradually add the dry ingredients and be careful not to overbeat. Hand stir in the chocolate chips, scraping the bottom and the sides to mix in any dry ingredients.

Using your wooden spoon or a soup spoon, spoon the batter on to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Don't overcrowd. I usually only put 9 to a half-sheet pan. Wet fingertips and flatten slightly.

Cook for 11 minutes if making 3 dozen cookies. Ina's recipe makes larger cookies and so she cooks hers for 15 minutes. Be sure to not overcook. These are best when they are chewy in the middle but crusty on the edges.

Addendum from May 5, 2013: 
Having just written about salt, I think Ina Garten always uses kosher salt, even when she bakes. I use table salt when I bake, and you really can taste the salt in the above cookies. Personally I like this because it creates a complex umami flavor like eating caramels with sea salt. Next time I bake these cookies, maybe I'll try them with Diamond Crystal kosher salt and see if we can taste the difference. 
 
 
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Look at these lovely gift boxes of French Macarons from Tout Sweet located on the 3rd floor in Macy's Union Square.
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Decadent hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.
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My salted caramel French macaron was light, chewy, sweet and savory!
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Forget shopping! Let's eat more pastries!