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Feature Fri Dec 14 2007
If you ask me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a batch of gingerbread or sugar cookies and a sticky mess of frosting. This kind of cookie is far from being the best-tasting treat you’ll eat this holiday season; in fact, making these cookies is much more about the experience of decorating than about taste.
And while it’s perfectly acceptable to let your creative side run wild - channeling Jackson Pollock or Monet is encouraged – it’s also fun to pick a theme and impose some discipline on your decoration.
So what better theme than our fair city? This year, I decided to attempt cookies modeled after Chicago landmarks and team logos, and here’s what I came up with.
The Cubs logo was by far the easiest (ironic, perhaps, since their playoff performance was far from easy to watch). Once the dough was rolled out (I used this recipe for the cookies), I simply used a drinking glass to cut out circles. Once the cookies were baked, I spread a thick circle of blue around the outer edge of the cookie and piped the name inside the circle.
The frostings used to produce these cookies varied from store-bought tubes with a set of attachable tips – which were convenient but highly unpredictable, because the consistency of the frosting varied wildly from tube to tube – to homemade chocolate frosting (see recipe from back of Hershey's cocoa box) – whose taste is much preferable to the teeth-achingly sweet store-bought colors.
The two buildings (the Sears Tower and the Hancock building, in case you didn’t recognize them right off the bat) and the Bulls logo provided more of a challenge. Before making the cookies, I traced out the shapes I wanted on paper and cut them out to make templates. After rolling out the dough, I placed the templates on the dough and cut out the shapes with a sharp knife.
Half the fun of a project like this is discovering which tools work best as you go, but to give you some hints, I suggest assembling a small arsenal of implements that you can use to manipulate the frosting once it’s on the cookie. Decorative tips are great but they do not ensure perfect accuracy, so it’s best to use tooth picks, wooden skewers, and small knives and spoons to refine your design. The creases and lines on the head of the bull were created using the tip of a wooden skewer dipped in chocolate frosting. The “windows” on the Sears Tower came out squiggly and ragged when I first piped them on using a small pastry tip, but a few adjustments with the tip of the skewer evened them out a lot. The key is to work quickly and take breaks often to avoid dizziness and blurred vision.
Yes, it’s true this type of decorating involves extreme attention to detail and a decent amount of time (which you might need to devote to Christmas shopping, present-wrapping or carolling in the streets) but isn’t it worth it to show your Chicago pride in sugar, butter and flour? Santa won’t be able to deny your loyalty to this great city of ours if you set a plate of these out near the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Of course, he’ll probably appreciate your abstract masterpieces as well. Happy decorating!