Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Beginning to Smell A Lot Like Gingerbread

There’s not much to complain about in the way of weather here in sunny Santa Barbara. But around this time of year, it’s hard not to notice the distinct lack of, well, anything remotely Christmassy happening. There is no crisp bite in the air to nip my nose, no blustery wind to knock me over as I bustle down the street laden with shopping bags, and certainly no snow.

But Erin and I have been doing what we can to bring some Christmas spirit to our rickety old cottage. A few days ago, we wanted to immerse all our senses in said Christmas spirit. That meant turning on Love Actually (to satisfy our sense of sight); drinking wine (sense of taste); blasting holiday music (sense of hearing – and yes, the combination of holiday music and the sound from Love Actually resulted in Christmassy cacophony); bundling up in hats and scarves (sense of touch – and general warmth because, as I’ve implied, our cottage is old and drafty at night). But what about our sense of smell?

We’d have to bake gingerbread cookies! This was on Erin’s agenda anyway, since she likes to gift little packets of cookies to our friends each year. But these gingerbread cookies would be vegan. Here’s what we used:

Vegan Gingerbread Crisps

6 cups unbleached white flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, melted
1 cup molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup water
1 egg substitute (1 tbsp ground flax meal + 2 tbsp water)
1 tsp vanilla extract

powdered sugar
almond milk

Because this recipe involves taking a three-hour break while the dough sits in the refrigerator, we got started early in the afternoon. I have to admit, Erin did most of the baking on her own because I was too busy dancing around and lip-syncing U2’s version of “Christmas Baby Please Come Home,” using a rolling pin as a microphone.

She sifted together the flour, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon in a big bowl. She mixed the shortening, molasses, brown sugar, water, flax, and vanilla in another bowl. Then she told me to knock off my ridiculous dancing and help her combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. We alternated who poured the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and who got to use the mixer:

We divided the dough into three chunks and wrapped them in plastic wrap, then stuck them in the refrigerator for three hours. This gave us enough time to take care of less important tasks (I graded my students’ final papers and Erin pretended to write her masters thesis).

After three hours, Love Actually was turned back on and the holiday music was cranked back up (obviously, we had never taken off our scarves, hats, and mittens, nor had we stopped drinking wine), and we got to the fun part.

We preheated the oven to 350 degrees. Then we sprinkled some cutting boards with flour and rolled the dough out flat. It was at that point that we discovered we had no cookie cutters. We would have to use the rim of a glass cup to make circular cookies, and knives to design our own gingerbread shapes. Erin had more success with this step than I did; her stars and holly shapes were much more accurate than my bathroom door symbols gingerbread people:

Since my cookie-design skills are less than exemplary, one of the gingerbread woman’s legs was significantly thicker than the other. But she was beautiful anyway. And to be honest, Erin's "reindeer" looked more like a dog. There, I said it.

We baked them for ten minutes, until they were just barely brown on the bottom. Then it was time to frost them. To make the frosting, we mixed powdered sugar and almond milk in a dish until it was the consistency of Elmer’s glue. Then we poured it into a plastic bag and used scissors to make a tiny incision at the tip of one of the corners. This made it easy to squirt the frosting wherever we wanted it, and since it was so thick it didn't melt or spread out.

The cookies tasted great but were kind of crunchy - hence gingerbread crisps instead of plain old gingerbread cookies. Erin was disappointed because she likes her cookies like she likes her amphibians: nice and moist. But I thought they were perfect, and they made our little cottage smell delicious.

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