“Run, run, fast as you can”

Gingerbread. Cookies and cakes and houses, oh my!! Smells like food to me!!!

Ah, the aroma of fresh cookies baking in the oven. Nothing quite like it.  And simply nothing like the smell of gingerbread cookies.  The crunch. That spicy taste.  Molasses, brown sugar and honey – oh my! Dipping in coffee or milk to soften things up, and then boom, into my mouth for a holiday treat.  Jackie and the girls are so flipping good at baking – if I didn’t keep up with my workout routines I’d be as big as Santa. One problem is that my ladies very seldom let me assist in the decorating…. still not sure why after all these years!  I personally think that my decorating skills would certainly fall into the performance art category!  I went searching for info for you to get a better handle on the Gingerbread history and traditions and a few fun recipes to try.  Thanks to PBS, fillyourplate.org and befrugal.com for the tid bits.

  • No confection symbolizes the holidays quite like gingerbread in its many forms, from edible houses to candy-studded gingerbread men to spiced loaves of cake-like bread. In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant preserved ginger and wasn’t applied to the desserts we are familiar with until the 15th century. The term is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines ginger with honey, treacle or molasses.
  • Ginger root was first cultivated in ancient China, where it was commonly used as a medical treatment. From there it spread to Europe via the Silk Road. During the Middle Ages it was favored as a spice for its ability to disguise the taste of preserved meats. Henry VIII is said to have used a ginger concoction in hopes of building a resistance to the plague. Even today we use ginger as an effective remedy for nausea and other stomach ailments. In Sanskrit, the root was known as srigavera, which translates to “root shaped like a horn”, a fitting name for ginger’s unusual appearance. Health Benefits

Ginger root.

  • The word “gingerbread’ derives from the Old French word “gingebras”, meaning “preserved ginger”.
  • According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany.
  • Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression “to take the gilt off of gingerbread”. The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as “gingerbread work”.
  • Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.
  • Shakespeare appreciated the value of gingerbread, with a quote from his play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, saying: “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread.” 
  • Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another.
  • Gingerbread was considered the ultimate (edible) token of luck and love. Before a tournament, ladies would gift their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck.
  • Folk medicine practitioners would create gingerbread men for young women to help them capture the man of their dreams. If she could get him to eat it, then it was believed he would fall madly in love with her.  For those wanting to cut the maneating part out altogether, ladies could simply eat a gingerbread husband themselves to help them snag the real thing.
  • According to Swedish tradition, you should place the gingerbread in the palm of one hand, make a wish and then break the gingerbread with your other hand. If it breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true.
  • Some of the earliest forms of gingerbread didn’t even contain ginger and were not necessarily bread – they were essentially honey cakes.
  • Over time, the popularity and availability of spices would vary gingerbread recipes. However, the use of butter and cream in 18th century recipes transformed gingerbread to the way it is today.
  • Recently the record for world’s largest gingerbread house was broken. The previous record was set by the Mall of America in 2006. The new winning gingerbread house, spanning nearly 40,000 cubic feet, was erected at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. The house required a building permit and was built much like a traditional house. 4,000 gingerbread bricks were used during its construction. To put that in perspective, a recipe for a house this size would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger. For those of you interested, the house is estimated a mere 35,823,400 calories. Facebook page
  • Years ago you could actually dine inside a gingerbread house.  At the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Tucson, Arizona, they made a life-size gingerbread house where you could book for a private lunch or dinner during the holiday season. A dinner cost around $300 and guests could say they had a meal inside a structure made with 850 pounds of sugar! Images   2020 Ritz Carton Holiday Events

Some fun recipes:
Easy Gingerbread Cookies Recipe
Using butterscotch pudding mix, these cookies are easy to make with kids and fun to decorate from Seattle local station KCTS9!
Whole Grain Gingerbread Pancakes recipe
Make these gingerbread pancakes during the Christmas season or anytime for a breakfast that tastes like dessert from the PBS Food Fresh Tastes blog.
Building and Decorating a Gingerbread House
In this segment from “Craft in America,” Grove Park Inn pastry chefs Robert Alger & Iain Jones build and decorate a gingerbread house based on the President’s Cottage at Grove Park Inn.
Mini Graham Gingerbread Houses
Keep the holiday spirit going by making these cute Graham cracker gingerbread houses with your child from the PBS Parents Kitchen Explorers blog.

 

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DO YOU LIKE CONTESTS?
Me, too.

As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I.  Love.  My.  Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me a
quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!  
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good.  :-))))
Have fun!!

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Run, Run, As Fast As You Can – You Can’t Catch Me, I’m the ____!

 

What to listen to while you’re reading this week’s post:

  1. The Gingerbread Man, A Song for Children
  2. Gingerbread Man by Melanie Martinez – (Official Audio)
  3. The Gingerbread Man Song (From a scratchy 78 rpm record.)

 

Now that Thanksgiving is over, (and you’ve eaten the last piece of leftover pie, turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce et.), and you survived Black Friday and Cyberweek, it’s time to turn our attention to more goodies – Christmas cookies.  Now I do have a few (actually many) favorites, but for me nothing says “the holidays are here” quite like gingerbread and gingerbread cookies – (ok, I’ll admit it – I love almost all the cookies!!).  There’s something special about the aroma filling the house of gingerbread cooking in the oven.  Occasionally Jackie tolerates my decorating expertise, but only for a little while, and then it goes back to the female masters in my life. I am normally able to decorate a single cookie!  Someday I will share my special cookie decorating talent.  I did some digging, and found this great PBS article, (special thanks to ToniAvey.com) along with some tidbits found on the internet.  Enjoy, and be sure to try the recipe below (and then box some up and send them to me at KHT HQ). My team is always willing to try new things!

 

  • No confection symbolizes the holidays quite like gingerbread in its many forms, from edible houses to candy-studded gingerbread men to spiced loaves of cake-like bread.
  •  In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant preserved ginger and wasn’t applied to the desserts we are familiar with until the 15th century. The term is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines ginger with honey, treacle or molasses.
  •  Ginger root was first cultivated in ancient China, where it was commonly used as a medical treatment. From there it spread to Europe via the Silk Road. During the Middle Ages it was favored as a spice for its ability to disguise the taste of preserved meats. Henry VIII is said to have used a ginger concoction in hopes of building a resistance to the plague. Even today we use ginger as an effective remedy for nausea and other stomach ailments. In Sanskrit the root was known as srigavera, which translates to “root shaped like a horn” a fitting name for ginger’s unusual appearance.
  •  According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany.
  •  Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings’.  The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall.
  •  Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression “to take the gilt off of gingerbread.”  The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as gingerbread work.
  •  Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.
  • Most gingerbread men share a roughly humanoid shape, with stubby feet and no fingers. Many gingerbread men have a face, though whether the features are indentations within the face itself or other candies stuck on with icing or chocolate varies from recipe to recipe. Other decorations are common; hair, shirt cuffs, and shoes are sometimes applied, but by far the most popular decoration is shirt buttons, which are traditionally represented by gum drops, icing, or raisins.
  • According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world’s largest gingerbread man was made by the staff of the IKEA Furuset store in Oslo, Norway, on 9 November 2009. The gingerbread man weighed 1,435.2 pounds. See it HERE.
  •  The newest “largest” winning gingerbread house, spanning nearly 40,000 cubic feet, was erected at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. The house required a building permit and was built much like a traditional house. 4,000 gingerbread bricks were used during its construction. To put that in perspective, a recipe for a house this size would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger. Sounds more like a gingerbread resort! See it HERE.
  •  Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves.
  •  This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through generations of Washington’s.

Gingerbread Cookies Recipe
You will need: medium saucepan, large mixing bowl, sifter, wax or parchment paper, rolling pin, cookie cutter(s) of your choice, baking sheet, nonstick cooking spray or silicone baking sheet.

  • ¾ cup unsulphured molasses
  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 ½ cups flour, plus more for rolling surface
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 3 ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Royal icing (optional)
  • Sprinkles, cinnamon candies, or any other decorations of your choice (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat the molasses to the simmering point. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Stir in the brown sugar. Allow to cool.  In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger and cinnamon. Add the cooled molasses and the egg to the flour mixture and mix very well until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands to really incorporate the wet mixture into the dry mixture.  Wrap dough in wax or parchment paper and chill for 1-2 hours, or until firm enough to roll.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Transfer chilled dough to a lightly floured rolling surface and roll out the dough to one-quarter inch thickness. Roll out a quarter of the dough at a time.  Cut cookies with your choice of cookie cutter. I chose a traditional gingerbread man, but you can get creative with any kind of cookie cutter you’d like.  Transfer cut dough to a baking sheet that has been lightly greased with nonstick cooking spray or lined with a silicone baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. The cookies will puff up but won’t spread much.  Cool completely on a rack before decorating with royal icing, decorative sprinkles and candies.

 

 


 

You Can Taste It

(top row) Ruth Graves Wakefield and her cookie discovery. (row two) Find the current iteration of Ruth Wakefield’s wonderful recipe book on Amazon; Find a copy the original cookbook on Ebay; And this book celebrating Ruth’s invention of the chocolate chip cookie on Amazon. (the rest) I wonder how many thousands of kids have had their first taste (pun intended) of cooking by baking these cookies. Ahhhh, the smell that fills the house. Mmmm, the taste. Love it!!

 

Here at KHT, we’re all about recipe’s.  Mixing ingredients, fine tuning temperatures, and even experimenting to find just the right balance for your PIA (Pain in the #%$) Jobs.  We love it, and just can’t get enough “tinkering” time to make sure every single load comes out great.  The other day I had a craving that I just had to follow – to get a tasty chocolate chip cookie.  Immediately I thought of the special women in my life, and their recipes – grandma Kowalski, my amazing wife Jackie, and the girls.  Each have their own way of mixing ingredients, baking and serving chocolate chip cookies … and I love every one of them!! (especially with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge! of course). Since Jackie’s chocolate chip cookies don’t last very long in our house, I really like to snitch from the mixing bowl before they go into the oven! It made me search out the history of this incredible invention, and that took me to Ruth Wakefield some 80 years ago this year.  Enjoy, and thanks to Wikipedia and Jon Michaud from The New Yorker for the insights.  And, if you have a “family favorite”, send me the recipe to post … or better yet, a fresh box to share with the KHT gang.

 

  1. The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1938 by the American chef Ruth Graves Wakefield. She invented the recipe during the period when she owned the Toll House Inn, in Whitman, Massachusetts, a popular restaurant that featured home cooking and tasty deserts.
  2. Created as an accompaniment to ice cream, her chocolate-chip cookie quickly became so celebrated that Marjorie Husted (a.k.a. Betty Crocker) featured it on her radio program. On March 20, 1939, Wakefield gave Nestlé the right to use her cookie recipe and the Toll House name – for the price of one dollar – (a dollar that Wakefield later said she never received, though she was reportedly given free chocolate for life and was also paid by Nestlé for work as a consultant).
  3. It is often incorrectly reported that she accidentally developed the cookie, and that she expected the chocolate chunks would melt, making chocolate cookies. In fact, she stated that she deliberately invented the cookie. She said, “We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream. Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different. So, I came up with the Toll House cookie using chopped up bits from a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar. (the original recipe is called “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies.)
  4. Wakefield’s cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, was first published in 1936 by M. Barrows & Company, New York. The 1938 edition of the cookbook was the first to include the recipe “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie” which rapidly became a favorite cookie in American homes.
  5. During WWII, soldiers from Massachusetts who were stationed overseas shared the cookies they received in care packages from back home with soldiers from other parts of the United States. Soon, hundreds of soldiers were writing home asking their families to send them some Toll House cookies, and Wakefield was soon inundated with letters from around the world requesting her recipe. Thus began the nationwide craze for the chocolate chip cookie.
  6. In the postwar years, the chocolate-chip cookie followed the path taken by many American culinary innovations: from homemade to mass-produced, from kitchen counter to factory floor, from fresh to franchised. In the nineteen-fifties, both Nestlé and Pillsbury began selling refrigerated chocolate-chip-cookie dough in supermarkets. Nabisco, meanwhile, launched Chips Ahoy in 1963, its line of packaged cookies.
  7. The Baby Boom generation, which had been raised on the Toll House cookie, sought to recapture the original taste of these homemade treats in stores that sold fresh-baked cookies. Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields, and David’s Cookies all opened their first stores in the seventies and prospered in the eighties. By the middle of that decade, there were more than twelve hundred cookie stands in business across the country.
  8. Every bag of Nestlé chocolate chips sold in North America has a variation (butter vs. margarine is now a stated option) of her original recipe printed on the back. The original recipe was passed down as follows:
    1. 1 1/2 cups (350 mL) shortening
    2. 1 1/8 cups (265 mL) sugar
    3. 1 1/8 cups (265 mL) brown sugar
    4. 3 eggs
    5. 1 1/2 teaspoon (7.5 g) salt
    6. 3 1/8 cups (750 mL) of flour
    7. 1 1/2 teaspoon (7.5 g) hot water
    8. 1 1/2 teaspoon (7.5 g) baking soda
    9. 1 1/2 teaspoon (7.5 g) vanilla
    10. chocolate chips – 2 bars (7 oz.) Nestlé’s yellow label chocolate, semi-sweet, cut in pieces the size of a pea.
  1. Although the Nestlé’s Toll House recipe is widely known, every brand of chocolate chips, or “semi-sweet chocolate morsels” in Nestlé parlance, sold in the U.S. and Canada bears a variant of the chocolate chip cookie recipe on its packaging. Almost all baking-oriented cookbooks will contain at least one type of recipe.
  2. Practically all commercial bakeries offer their own version of the cookie in packaged baked or ready-to-bake forms. National chains sell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in shopping malls and standalone retail locations and several businesses offer freshly baked cookies to their patrons to differentiate themselves from their competition.
  3. There is an urban legend about Neiman Marcus’ chocolate chip cookie recipe that has gathered a great deal of popularity over the years. The legend claims Newman Marcus charged a customer $250 for the recipe, rather than the $2.50 she had expected.
  4. Depending on the ratio of ingredients and mixing and cooking times, some recipes are optimized to produce a softer, chewy style cookie while others will produce a crunchy/crispy style. Regardless of ingredients, the procedure for making the cookie is fairly consistent in all recipes.
  5. The texture of a chocolate chip cookie is largely dependent on its fat composition and the type of fat used. A study done by Kansas State University showed that carbohydrate based fat-replacers were more likely to bind more water, leaving less water available to aid in the spread of the cookie while baking. This resulted in softer, more cake-like cookies with less spread.
  6. Common variations include M&M’s (a “party” cookie), chocolate-chocolate chip using a chocolate flavored dough, using white chocolate, peanut butter chips or macadamia nuts, and replacing the dough with a flavored version, such as peanut butter. Other variations include using other types of chocolate, nuts or oatmeal. There are also vegan versions with ingredient substitutions such as vegan chocolate chips, vegan margarine, and so forth.
  7. Other taste variaitons include the Chipwich, the Taste of Nature Cookie Dough Bite, and the Pookie (a pie coated with chocolate-chip-cookie dough). Perhaps none of these variations was more culinarily or culturally significant than the début, in 1984, of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream – it took them five years to find a way to mechanize the process of hand-mixing the frozen cookie dough with the ice cream, but it proved profitable. By 1991, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough replaced Heath Bar Crunch as the company’s bestselling product.
  8. If you google chocolate chip cookies or best chocolate chip cookie recipes/cookbooks, you get hundreds of choices (I suggest you try them all!) One of my favorites is The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book: Scrumptious Recipes & Fabled History From Toll House to Cookie Cake Pie, by Carolyn Wyman.
  9. To honor the cookie’s creation in the state, on July 9, 1997, Massachusetts designated the chocolate chip cookie as the Official State Cookie, after it was proposed by a third-grade class from Somerset, Massachusetts.
  10. Nowadays, we’d expect the inventor of such an iconic bit of Americana to publish an autobiography and make regular appearances on the Food Network, but Wakefield didn’t grandstand. She and her husband sold the restaurant, in 1967, and she passed in 1977. The original Toll House restaurant burned down spectacularly on New Year’s Eve in 1984 and the spot is now home to a Wendy’s. The authorities in Whitman required the fast-food restaurant include a small museum to Wakefield and the Toll House on its premises.

 

 

Speculaas or Pepernoten

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when families around the country take to their kitchens to bake cookies galore – (or for those of us not so flour-inclined, swing by the bakery aisle). Whether you prefer gingerbread men, crisp springerles or crunchy biscotti, chances are you’ll enjoy some fresh baked Christmas cookies this holiday season. For me, there is nothing like a plate of cookies (or two or three…), a steamy cup of hot chocolate, and a toasty fire. Like many Christmas traditions, the origin of this delicious custom begins ages ago, in solstice rituals conducted long before Christmas became the huge commercial holiday it is today. Here is a little history to enjoy and share with others and a special recipe from Grandma Kowalski.

Grandma Kowalski’s Cream Cheese Crescents Kolachy Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • ½ pound cream cheese – large pack
  • ½ pound margarine
  • your favorite jam

Directions

  1. Mix flour, cream cheese, and margarine thoroughly.
  2. Roll ¼ inch dough out on powdered sugared board (refrigerate dough if soft).
  3. Cut into 2 inch squares.
  4. Drop a dollop of jam into the center of each square.
  5. Fold corners to center to make pillow shape.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minuets at 350 degrees.

HINT: Add bread crumbs to the jam to prevent it from spilling out while baking. Or use specialty fillings purchased in the produce department of your grocery store., Prune, Apricot, etc.

The sweet history of Christmas Cookies

  • Winter solstice festivals have been held for eons throughout the world. From Norway to West Africa, Ireland to India, groups of people gathered to celebrate the changing of the seasons. Celebrations revolved around food; after all, you had to feast before the famine of the winter.
  • Solstice often meant the arrival of the first frost, so animals could be killed and kept safely to eat through the winter, and fermented beverages like beer and wine that had been brewed in the spring were finally ready to drink. As any modern host knows, a hearty roast and a tasty beverage need just one thing to complete the party: desserts!
  • By the Middle Ages, the Christmas holiday had overtaken solstice rituals throughout much of present-day Europe. However, the old feast traditions remained. And while the roast and drink recipes were probably quite similar to what earlier Europeans had enjoyed, the pastry world was experiencing some amazing changes. Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper were just starting to be widely used, and dried exotic fruits like citron, apricots and dates added sweetness and texture to the dessert tray. These items, along with ingredients like sugar, lard and butter, would have been prized as expensive delicacies by medieval cooks.
  • Cookies have been around a long time (they probably originated as drops of grain paste spilled on hot rocks around a fire), but they became associated with Christmas in Europe in the 1500s. Gingerbread was a similar food, but laws restricted its baking to guildsman (think early specialty unions), however at the holidays these regulations were relaxed and people were allowed to bake their own at home, making a very special once a year treat.
  • The original roots of this holiday food tradition go back even further—all the way to ancient Norse mythology. Odin, the most important Norse god, was said to have an eight-legged horse named Sleipner, which he rode with a raven perched on each shoulder. During the Yule season, children would leave food out for Sleipner, in the hopes that Odin would stop by on his travels and leave gifts in return. Such a tradition continues today in countries such as Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, where children still believe that horses carry Santa’s sleigh instead of reindeer. On Christmas Eve, they leave carrots and hay—sometimes stuffed into shoes—to feed the exhausted animals. In return, they might hope to receive such holiday treats as chocolate coins, cocoa, mandarin oranges and marzipan.
  • Gingerbread originated in the Crusades and was originally made using breadcrumbs, boiled with honey and seasoned heavily with spices. It was pressed onto cookie boards (carved slabs of wood with religious designs) and dried. Gingerbread evolved to become more secular and to use more modern ingredients. Eventually it became associated with Christmas when speculaas (gingerbread cookies) were made into animal and people shapes and used as holiday decorations. Recipies include ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace combine to make a snappy, spicy taste, just like they would have back then. And gingerbread uses molasses as a sweetener, something that medieval cooks would appreciate as refined sugar was so expensive. These cooks would not have made gingerbread men, however. The first person to try that was none other than Queen Elizabeth I of England, who had the cookie molded into the shapes of her favorite courtiers.
  • Germans were responsible for associating Christmas trees with Christmas cookies. As early as 1597, Alsatians hung oblaten (decorated communion wafers) on their tannenbaums. Americans hung Barnum’s Animal Cracker boxes on trees in the 1800s (the boxes were designed for this purpose). Today some people hang faux gingerbread men on their trees, continuing the tradition.
  • In the more recent history of Christmas cookies, cut-out cookies are now almost universally associated with the holidays in the US. We can trace these cookies back to mumming, a Christmas tradition in colonial areas where the Church of England was influential. In mumming, Christmas stories were acted out and food was used to help depict the stories. Yule dows were cut-outs made in this tradition, often in the shape of the baby Jesus.
  • In the 1800s, Pennsylvania Dutch children created large cut out cookies as window decorations. Around this same time, Yule dows became popular again and were called Yule dollies. They were made with tin cutters and shaped like people, elaborately decorated with icing (like today’s gingerbread men). The face was always made out of a scrap of paper cut out of magazines, which had to be removed before the cookie was eaten. For some, the cookies were controversial because some factions felt the cookies were not religious enough (i.e., not depicting Jesus).
  • In the 1840s, Santa became associated with Christmas and dollies representing him, with a scrap face, were made. Some of these cookies were so beautifully decorated that they weren’t actually meant to be eaten (like today’s gingerbread and gum drop houses). Yet another connection to Santa comes from the Dutch, who believed that pepernoten cookies were thrown around on Christmas by Black Peter, Saint Nicholas’s helper.
  • Moravians were a Protestant sect that formed in the 1740s and were known for creating pyramids of cookies as Christmas decorations for their Christmas Eve services. Today, spicy Moravian cookies are part of Christmas for many people.
  • Only on the most important holiday could families afford treats like these, which led to a baking bonanza to prepare for Christmas. And unlike pies or cakes, cookies could be easily shared and given to friends and neighbors. Our modern Christmas cookies date back to these medieval gifts.
  • Today in the United States, leaving out a plate of cookies (Oreos and classic chocolate chip are popular choices) and a glass of milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve is a well-established tradition among children. But it hasn’t always been that way. According to one theory, the cookies-and-milk custom is derived from an older tradition, when families would stuff stockings with goodies for Santa and hang them by the chimney, his preferred mode of entrance, as a welcoming gift. Now, however, those stockings are usually chock-full of treats and smaller gifts for the family members themselves.
  • Leaving cookies and milk for Santa—and perhaps a few carrots for his reindeer—took off as an American holiday tradition in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. In that time of great economic hardship, many parents tried to teach their children that it was important to give to others and to show gratitude for the gifts they were lucky enough to receive on Christmas.
  • Over the years, different countries have developed their own versions of the cookies-and-milk tradition. British and Australian children leave out sherry and mince pies, while Swedish kids leave rice porridge. Santa can expect a pint of Guinness along with his cookies when delivering toys in Ireland. French children leave out a glass of wine for Père Noël and fill their shoes with hay, carrots and other treats for his donkey, Gui (French for “mistletoe”).
  • In Germany, children skip the snacks altogether and leave handwritten letters for the Christkind, a symbolic representation of the Christmas spirit who is responsible for bringing presents on Christmas. Though many German kids mail their letters before the holiday—there are six official addresses for letters addressed to the Christkind—others leave them out on Christmas Eve, decorated with sparkly glue or sugar crystals. On Christmas morning, the letters have been collected, and gifts left in their place.

(thanks to: Stephanie Butler at Hungry History for her insights)