Snow day, Martha, and more

The weekend started out normal enough for this time of year. Being the first of December it was decided that it was the weekend to venture into the realm of “Holiday Baking” We quite often are entertaining a few times over the next few weeks, so it is always easiest to dedicate a day to the production of several sweets and assorted other “building blocks” for future soirées.

A thorough inspection of the cupboard revealed a need for a full complement of supplies so off we toddled early Saturday to pick up the assortment of various sugars, fats, nuts and candies that would be making their way into the oven. As the month had greeted us with the first snap of winter, the air was crisp and cold, with the threat of snowfall hovering in the west. A good day to bake by any account, and with a little luck the snow would hold off until we could get the tree later in the afternoon. Armed with the usual suspects: molasses, brown, icing, and superfine sugars, butter, cashews, walnuts, baking soda, a fresh bottle of vanilla, I headed to the till. Normally the magazine rack at the Supermarket counter, (as enthralling as it can be to most) doesn’t bear much of a second glance from me, but as it’s December, the latest Martha mag sat perched front and centre, complete with a cute little gingerbread village on the cover. Nice idea, I thought, and since I had already planned to commit to a large batch, figured I’d pilfer the idea if time allowed.

By the time we had made our way home and started thinking about the baking projects, the snow had started to fall, making the decision for us that the tree would have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest. I settled into my planned activities for the day: Biscotti, Shortbread, Gingerbread, Oatmeal Coconut cookies, Cashew caramels, and a batch of Danish pastry for the freezer. One by one I made the doughs in order of priority: first the gingerbread as it had to rest overnight, Scottish shortbread (my friend Harry Greenwood’s recipe, of course) was next, as it needed at least a half day of a chill before baking, followed by the danish pastry process (about a 2 hour investment, off and on with all the turns) Squeezed out the biscotti dough in between folds of danish and set the dough to chill on the porch, put the caramels on between the next fold, third fold made the oatmeal cookie dough, then baked the biscotti, removed them to cool for slicing and the second bake, and finally got the oatmeal cookies in the oven by about 3. Around 4 I had 80 oatmeal cookies and 80 biscotti out of the oven and cooling, managed to poke a pork roast in for dinner and at long last had a chance to have a biscotti and a cup of coffee.

The snow had abated for the day, and although there was more scheduled to fall overnight, we figure to let Sunday’s schedule determine itself. After dinner I baked the shortbread, and inspected the caramels, which were delicious but a tad too soft, so were wrapped and put in the fridge destined to be dipped in chocolate at a later date. With the bulk of the baking done, I figured that a good night’s rest was in order, and should have time to tinker with the gingerbread the next day.

Overnight, a few more inches fell, not a great deal, but enough that the neighbourhood was covered with a thorough blanket. We went out for a morning walk, up the hill by the elementary school, and as we approached could hear an eerily interesting mix of sounds. The giggle of a dozen kids on sleds could be heard over the sonic backdrop of a piper, the bagpipes cutting though the morning air. With the snow and the big trees it was easy to imagine being a world away from Suburbia.

Once home and warmed up, I grabbed my graph paper and began calculating the size of the gingerbread cookies to make a decent sized circle, and made a few quick templates. I had decided that I would make the cookies and then ice them onto a platter to use as a serving dish over the holidays. The dough was perfect for rolling after its overnight rest, and I used the first pressing to make the people and trees for consumption. I figured the re-rolled dough, which is usually a bit tough, would be preferable for making the town, anyway. Once I had two trays each of people and trees, it was apparent that there would be enough left over for a couple of dozen buildings, so I decided I would make enough that I could take one to work to decorate the office.

I decorated the houses once cool, and set them aside for the icing to harden. The assembly was actually quite painless once I cut out a cardboard template with the correct angles on it, and the results I’m glad to report are really lovely. If anyone’s feeling industrious or snowed in this weekend, 12 cookies measuring 2 1/2 by 4 inches make a 10 inch circle (it’s actually a 12 sided polygon if you want to get picky, but you get the drift) Happy Baking!