I've been creating in the kitchen for as long as I can remember, with results ranging from disastrous to recipes that become part of my "secret" file. When I was about 4-years-old, my mom used to give me scraps from her pie crusts to play around with, while she finished her strawberry and blueberry pies. I sprinkled cinnamon sugar on the surface, rolled it up, and baked it. Genius? Not really, but it was moments like that which helped me to become comfortable in the kitchen. As I grew up, my parents were subjected to my many "restaurants," which I would create, enlisting my brother, Jay, to be my sous-chef. Using recipes from my Better Homes and Gardens Children's Cookbook, I would make such gourmet fare as potato-chip encrusted fried chicken, and my poor parents would patiently sit through what I'm certain was not their idea of a relaxing evening.
One of my favorite times of the year occurred around the holidays, when we would decorate sugar and gingerbread cookies. My mom would spread the rainbow of icings, sprinkles, and candies on the kitchen table, put us in smocks, and leave us to our artistry. In my mind, I was the equivalent of Colette Peters and her too-pretty-to-eat intricately designed cakes. Looking back at photos, however, I now realize that my product bore a closer resemblance to Jackson Pollock's work, without the 7-figure price tag. Oh well, I suppose you need to start somewhere.
Today, I still love to decorate cookies, and much like my cookbook collection, my selection of cookie cutters has become enormous. Hey, you never know when you are going to be asked to make cookies shaped like a cockatiel, right? I enjoy practicing my decorating skills year-round, partially because I just really love gingerbread cookies and see no reason why they should be limited to spreading holiday cheer. This is the gingerbread recipe that I created after much trial and error. If you prefer a crisp cookie, bake them a minute or two longer, but I like mine to be a little pliable. These bathing beauties and beach bums are simple to create; they just require a bit of patience during the decoration process. Mini M&Ms work well, but taking a walk down the candy aisle in your grocery store might inspire you otherwise. Here are some extra tips for making these swimwear-clad sweets:
- The royal icing recipe that I refer to is from an earlier post for Super Bowl Football Cookies. If you have leftover icing, it will keep for several weeks, covered and refrigerated. When you're ready to use the icing, thin it with a little bit of water, if necessary.
- If the dough becomes to soft when you are working with it, simply roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper and re-freeze it. If you need to flour the work surface to prevent the dough from sticking, then use just a small amount, as extra flour will change the texture of the cookies.
- Decorated cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.
- Once the dough has been prepared in the food processor, it can be divided in half, wrapped, and refrigerated overnight.
- The dough can also be rolled out in between 2 sheets of waxed paper.
Gingerbread Bathing Beauties and Beach Bums
Makes about 20 cookies
For the cookie dough
3 cups flour
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter, softened, in pieces
¾ cup molasses
2 tablespoons whole milk
Miniature M&Ms of assorted colors
Prepare the cookie dough: In a food processor, process the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt until combined. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and process until the mixture resembles fine meal. With the machine running, gradually add the molasses and the milk. Process the mixture until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass.
Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide in half. Working with one portion at a time, roll the dough to a ¼-inch thickness between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Leaving the dough between the papers, stack it on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and place the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds positions. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough from the freezer. Cut out shapes using gingerbread people cookie cutters, and then transfer the shapes to the prepared baking sheets, spacing 1-inch apart. Bake the cookies until they are set in the center, 8-10 minutes, rotating positions halfway through. Repeat the process with any remaining sheets of dough. Cool cookies to room temperature on a wire rack.
Decorate the cookies: Use royal icing to dot the areas on the cookies where you want to position the mini M&Ms. Create bathing suits or sundresses on the gingerbread people using various colors of the M&Ms. Let the cookies sit for at least 30 minutes so that the icing can harden.