Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies Just Like Mom Used to Make

One of my most vivid holiday memories from childhood is decorating cookies. Now, just so you understand, decorating cookies was an epic event at our household. With 6 kids, all of whom needed to bring cookies to various events, my mom made a boatload of cut-out cookies - we're talking enough cookies to completely cover both the dining room and kitchen tables (both of which seat 8). It must have been at least 20 dozen.

After all that baking, my mom would gather the kids around the kitchen table with giant bowls of icing, sprinkles, and shredded coconut, and we would commence decorating all of those cookies. It would take several hours to complete, especially when each reindeer cookie had to have a red sprinkle on the nose, and every tree cookie had to have ornaments frosted on it. My personal favorite technique was using shredded coconut with white icing for Santa's beard.

My mom was so hilarious and awesome - we were not allowed to lick anything, and naturally we'd forget, so she was constantly supervising, sending us to wash our hands and replacing our frosting knives anytime we "sampled." I can just see her - hands on hips, laughing at our ridiculous designs - and us - crawling over each other to grab the blue frosting, or crawling under the table to head for the bathroom to wash our hands (yet again).

Naturally, at some point, we grew up and moved out, and mom grew tired of making all of those cookies by herself, and I gladly picked up the tradition baton. I'll say this much - cookies, especially gingerbread men , become rated R pretty quickly when friends, rather than children, are in charge of decorating. ANYhoo - here's my version of gingerbread cut-out cookies (adapted from a Good Housekeeping recipe):

Note: The molasses and ginger are the stars of this recipe, so don't skimp on those ingredients.

Yield: 6-1/2 dozen
Prep: 20 min. + chilling time (2 hours)
Bake: 10 min./batch

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup dark molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fresh ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
Frosting or confectioners' sugar, optional


In a large bowl, cream butter, vanilla, and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with water, beating well after each addition. Wrap and refrigerate the dough for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out to 1/4-in. thickness. Cut with 2-1/2-in. cookie cutters dipped in flour. Place 1 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Refrigerate pan for 10 minutes.

Remove pan from refrigerator and bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool. Frost or dust with confectioners' sugar if desired.

[where: Minnesota, Food, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, 55418]

Cheese That's Worth The Splurge

Cheese That's Worth The Splurge - Dara & Co. - November 2011 - Minnesota

Hear ye! Hear ye! The newest batch of Hook’s 15-year-old super-aged cheddar has made its way to the Twin Cities.

Overall, Hook’s 15-year-old cheddar has a balanced, intensely cheddar flavor. Like so many aged cheeses that I enjoy, the lactic acid has crystallized in the Hook’s 15-year-old cheddar forming a few crunchy bits of calcium lactate, the crystals ranging in color from darkish yellow to almost white.

While some aged cheddars take on an extremely bitter quality, most likely brought on by the temperature being raised during the aging process, the marginal bitterness of the Hook's 15-year is balanced with sourness and saltiness expected in cheddar cheese. It’s slightly crumbly, and best at room temperature. Savor the delectable cheddar chunks on their own, or perhaps with a few slices of apple.

If it sounds like the Hooks are cheese wizards, they very well might be. Nearly 40 years ago, Tony and Julie Hook started making cheese together. Julie Hook remains the only woman to win the World Championship Cheese Contest for her Colby cheese in 1982, and more recently the Hooks won a Silver Medal for their Gorgonzola at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest.

This year, Hook’s began selling their 15-year cheddar at their cheese factory in Mineral Point on Friday, November 4, and shipped it out to shops around Minnesota shortly thereafter. It’s currently available at France 44, Surdyk’s, and Lunds & Byerly’s while supplies last. Obviously prices vary, but you can expect to see it selling for about $60-$70/lb. At that price, I budget for it, forsaking other indulgences, and it’s always worth it.

[where: cheese, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota]