Pecan Spice Gingerbread Cookies
I scrunch my body up as tight as I can get it, my cashmere wrapped arms hugging my body as I frivolously search for warmth. Low hanging, putrid grey clouds hover above the cold, damp air. My lip lifts with a sneer. Leaves shiver on wind-tossed branches and those lucky enough to break free from the grasp of a desperately cold tree glide to the ground hoping to hug the warm earth. The sudden rush of cold air swirling about inspires my body to shiver.
Reluctant to leave the cozy, warm retreat of my pockets, my bare hands push up a big, itchy scarf around my ears; my rosy red nose and cheeks are visibly jealous of the attention my ears receive. With my camera bouncing at my side, the heavy body occasionally jabbing my hip with a rhythmic but familiar pain, I focus on my mission. My eyes pan the landscape searching, watching, wondering what picture waits to be made.
I should be enthralled with the potential pictures to be made, the stories to be captured and shared , the new environment and changes taking place as our giant home continues on its axial tilt. But I focus on the absent emotion in my heart and the lack of inspiration in my mind. A sigh escapes my chapped lips, the disappointment of my thoughts illustrated with a white puff of steam as my breath leaves my body. It dissolves into nothingness.
I avoid searching for an answer as to why winter is always so dark and destitute for me and instead try and find some sort of visual inspiration. I surrender. The cold tickles my bones with an unpleasant torture. The world around me, biased or not by my own mood, is too dark, drab and boring to shoot. Dancing red and yellow leaves loose their allure. Cloudy landscapes hold no appeal.
I retreat to my home and am welcomed with the warm embrace of my mother, a much needed hug. A rambunctious cat takes a moment to rub against my leg, and with a delicate meow or two he says, “hello, welcome home, my friend.” I shed layers of clothes, letting the artificial warm air in the house do it’s job. Another sigh.
My cold, stiff hands soon find solace in manipulating my favorite ingredients – butter, flour, eggs and sugar. Warming as they become active, my eager hands add spices, molasses and some crushed pecans. Dough is rolled out, cookie cutters create beautiful shapes, and trays slide in the oven. Cookies cool, icing is made, and wintery, holiday shapes are dressed with clean white and silver dabs of sweet, sugary frosting.
The tinny clicks of a lighter attempting to create fire emanate from the other room before the sudden woosh of igniting air and the pleasant crackle of jumping red embers can be heard. Milk is heated, chocolate and sugar mixed, and mugs are prepared with big fluffy white marshmallows. My eyes browse the dozens of decorated gingerbread cookies. My warm, eager hands pick out some favorites and delicately arrange them on a white plate. I balance three mugs filled with piping hot cocoa and a large plate of fresh from the oven cookies in my two, overwhelmed hands. Carefully, slowly I make my way into the red and orange glowing living room.
I take my rightful place in between my mom and brother on the plush, shag-like rug. Smiles pierce each of our lips; the sight and promise of hot cocoa and delicious cookies erasing any disdain for the cold, drab season. As I munch on cookies and sip on warm cocoa, and as I laugh with my brother as stories of past christmas’s are shared by my mother, my empty heart is suddenly filled with that warm, fuzzy feeling. My mind no longer harbors resentment at the way winter treats me, but is filled with memories and thoughts of perfect moments with family and friends, moments that are only possible from a common desire to share a warm retreat from the cold.
Sometimes I forget what it means to be loved, and to love when I focus on the dark, short days – my own mind far too influenced by the visual world around me. Sitting around with family, enjoying sweet treats and stories – embarrassing or not – reminds me this time of the year is not so different from the other seasons. In fact, it may be just a little bit more special.
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp.
- 6 ounces granulated sugar
- 6 ounces brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup molasses
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 pound 2 ounces all purpose flour
- 8 ounces pecans, finely ground
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ tablespoon ginger
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- Royal Icing - optional (recipe below)
- Sanding Sugar - optional
- Preheat an oven to 350°F.
- Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on medium speed if using a mixer.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until well blended. Add the molasses and vanilla and mix until well blended.
- Add all of the dry ingredients, flour, ground pecans, baking soda and powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper and salt, to the bowl and mix until the batter comes together.
- Divide the batter into four portions. Flatten each portion and wrap in parchment paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour until hardened.
- Roll out each portion, one at a time, leaving the other portions in the fridge, to about ¼ inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out cookie shapes and place on a lined baking sheet. You can re-roll the left over portions and cut cookies from that as well - this dough will not suffer from continued re-rolling, though be careful about how much flour you use on the rolling pin and when rolling the dough out.
- Bake each sheet for 9 to 12 minutes until the cookies are just crispy on the outside and slightly firm when pressed in the center. Allow to cool on wire racks before icing. If you plan to ice the cookies, mix the royal icing and place it in a piping bag - you want the icing thick enough so it does not just seep out of the bag.
- Frost the cookies to your liking. I choose simple dots and lines for a simple, sophisticated cookie decoration. Of course, I couldn't help but add some colorful sanding sugar to the trees.
- 10 ounces powdered sugar
- 2 egg whites
- 1 drop lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Add of the ingredients to the bowl and whisk until combined and thick. If you are going to spread the icing with a spatula instead of pipe it, whip for a few minutes until the icing is slightly fluffy.