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Smells like Burnt Gingerbread

Thing 1 and 2 were with their dad for the next two days, Maui and I were alone, so I was able to begin baking gingerbread for the 6th Annual Cookie Exchange, (using, of course, the Dexter Morgan Method of baking cookies.)

In an undertaking of this scale  (3 large batches) it helps to have multiple baking pans, plenty of silpats, gobs of plastic wrap and copious space available in the apartment sized refrigerator.

Making and preparing the dough is one thing.  Baking is another.

My oven SUCKS.  I think it’s from the 1970’s (gauging from the vintage décor in my kitchen)

The broiler doesn’t like to open.  Its inconveniently positioned all the way at the bottom near the floor and it requires a feat of strength to open or close it.

I’m pretty sure the burners are trying to kill me – especially the front right one.  It plays coy when you go to light it, click, click, click, click, then FOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!    Right when you’ve leaned in closer to see what’s the matter.  Fucker – I see your smirk.

It’s temperamental and cooks uneven – the right side being hotter than the middle or left side.  Everything  needs to be centered slightly to the left.  And it’s really difficult to set the temperature.  I use two temperature gauges in the oven and when the average of the two readings is the temperature I want – I cross my fingers and bake.

I was able to get through half of the baking last night and tried to squeeze in a couple racks of cookies this morning.  I set the oven to warm up and made my morning latte.  When the temperature was right on 350, I popped in the trays, set the timer and walked away.  10 minutes later, the smell of burnt cookies reached me in my bedroom.  Opening the door, I discovered that the left side of the cookies were burnt and the temperature had shot up to 500 degrees!  Yet the knob on the oven was still set at 350!  Arrrggghhh!  With still another batch and a half left to bake, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I think I need to start cruising Craigslist for a new oven.

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Flourless Tutorial for rolling out Cookie Dough

Every year my girlfriend KP hosts THE best cookie exchange party!  It’s a wonderful event where a group of friends can catch up (sometimes from last year’s exchange party) and have a little bit of mommy/adult time (no kids allowed).  It really puts everyone in the Holiday spirit.  And of course, you come away with a variety of yummy cookies.  I think they were exceptionally great this year.  The past few years (with the exception of last) I’ve made gingerbread snowflake cookies.  Giant snowflakes decorated with white on white frosting and silver dragees and a dusting of sparkling sugar.  They are gorgeous and almost too pretty to eat.   The gingerbread dough recipe is a famous Martha Stewart recipe and it makes THE BEST gingerbread cookies!

This year, I felt it was time to change it up.  I broke out my prized copper reindeer and sleigh cookie cutters.  These over sized cutters make large cookies that make a bigger statement and are more fun to decorate.

But they are tricky to use since they have a solid back.  If the dough sticks to the cutter, you can’t use your finger to nudge the dough out.

I’m going to share with you my method of rolling out dough without dusting the surfaces with flour.  I’ve never seen anyone do it quite the way I’m going to describe (but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m not the only one).

The first key tip is your dough should always be chilled before you cut it and before you bake it.  Otherwise it gets sticky and tricky to cut out.  And it gets puffy in the oven and doesn’t hold the shape.  No one likes a fat reindeer – they can’t fly and they certainly can’t pull Santa’s sleigh.

When I first make the dough, I separate the batch into halves or thirds.  This makes the whole process more manageable.  Each portion of dough is placed on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Flatten it out a little with your hands – then top with another piece of plastic wrap.  Now roll out the dough with your rolling pin – no flour needed!    You will need to frequently lift off the wrap and reposition.  Roll the dough out to a thickness of around ¼”.  I place the dough on one of those flexible plastic cutting boards and place it in a stead spot in your refrigerator.  This way the dough chills flat.  Chill for about 15 – 20 minutes.

Once the dough has chilled – peel off the top layer of wrap and save it for later.  Place a silpat liner upside down onto the dough (or the right side to the dough for you sewers) and flip.  Now your flexible cutting board is on top, remove that and remove the top layer of plastic.  You may need to give one last roll to smooth any wrinkles or imperfections in your dough.

Cut out your shapes, peeling away the negative space dough.  I pile that excess dough back onto the removed sheet of plastic wrap.  If you’ve done this quickly enough, your cookies can go straight into the oven, but if you’re like me and take your time or get distracted by other things, you may need to chill your dough again.

Take the remaining dough and gently knead it back together and repeat the steps above.   This method yields perfectly shaped cookies and is far less messy!

And guess what!  Martha Stewart agreed!  She asked her viewers to submit their cookies this year and out of hundreds, thousands of people – she chose to show mine on her Friday episode last Dec. 16!  Hearing her describe to her audience the “fine work by Nicki Simpson” made me feel like I won the lottery!  Thank you Martha!!

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