Years ago I watched Nigella Lawson as she decorated with cookies for Christmas. Nigella (goddess that she is) made it look so easy, decorating the cookies with her kids, hanging them on the tree and from every window. The results were stunning and I’ve been dying to try it ever since.
Nigella never does anything small does she? She’s over the top and completely decadent, which is one of the many reasons I love her. She has a devil-may-care-let’s-eat-pork-crackling-and-have-curves love of life that is so easy to identify with. Every year I choose a theme and hinge my decorating plans around it. This year I decided to follow Nigella’s lead and make it A Cookie Christmas.
Seemed like a good idea at the time, sometimes I forget that Nigella has a team of food stylists, assistants and producers.
Nigella makes her gingerbread cookies from scratch, using a dough that, as she describes it, is “incredibly forgiving”. It can be dropped on the floor, rolled and re-rolled and it still bakes beautifully. She uses butter, sugar, flour and spices and then adds several extra teaspoons of salt to discourage kids and dogs from consuming the decorations.
I see her point, but have you seen the price of butter?! Why use the best ingredients to make something unedible, that will be thrown away in the end? Opted for pre-make cookie dough, it’s fast, it’s easy and at $3 /tube, it’s cost effective. (The original idea was to use both sugar and gingerbread cookies, so bought both, then opted to go just with sugar cookies.)
Rolled and cut the cookies as directed by the Pillsbury Dough Boy. As per Nigella, used a piping tip to cut small holes in the pre-baked cookie so that I could thread the fishing line through later. It was a challenge to keep the cookies in form as I transferred to the sheet (which is when the cursing began).
As it turned out, the dough spread during baking and little hole healed over (more cursing). Solution: used a poultry trussing pin to gently form a hole in the fresh, hot, still soft cookies as the emerged from the oven (the bunt end of a bamboo skewer would also work). Then allowed cookies to cool so they didn’t break, before removing to a rack to cool completely before icing.
1 cup icing sugar
1 – 2 tablespoons milk
Add milk and stir until desired consistency is achieved. Add flavorings or colour if desired.
I’m not much for icing things, I like a loose, messy approach and almost never pipe. Piping is a skill I’d like to build, but not today (cue food stylist team). After stress of hole thingy, decided to have some fun with icing, a spoon and sparkly sugar and then let them dry before tying a piece of fishing line on each cookie and getting them ready to hang.
Ever try tying knots in fishing line…?! (This is why Nigella has assistants. I bet she never curses and if she does she uses nice words like “fudge!”)
Yea, so it turns out that I dislike cookies hanging in the window, my usually serene space became instantly nervous and jumpy. The more cookies I hung the less I liked it. Thought perhaps dangling lights might help. Nope. Hated it. If I had taller ceilings and rectangular widows I might feel differently, but I have low ceilings and beautiful arched windows – clearly dangling cookies were messing with my feng shui.
In fact, I disliked it so much I pitched a fit and didn’t even shoot it. In hindsight, the cookies needed more bling, you either bling or don’t bling, don’t try to go all “less is more” with the sparkles and the icing. This is a “more is more” project (Nigella would approve), more sugary balls of many sizes sparkles of all description and more icing.
The window cookie decor came down much quicker than it went up. By this time I was all cursed out and kind of Zen about the whole thing, wondering if I could save the project (and the post) with the tree.
Turns out, the tree was my saving grace. I didn’t ice the cookies for the tree, I left them plain, it’s a small tree for a small space, so I used the smallest shapes I could find. As I hung then, I noticed the way the lights on the tree made the cookies glow at night, shining through them. Thought it might be fun to re-enforce the shape and concept by hanging the cookie cutters too and that was just… perfect.
A few ornaments for colour and sparkle and the cookie tree was complete. In the daylight I like the way the cookies brighten the tree, adding a bit of white against the branches.
I’m not much for a consumer Christmas, I like to keep things simple, in my home and in my life. That’s probably why the cookie tree works for me. Instead of trying so hard to make it work (and be Nigella), I let it be easy and in that; found what works for me. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
A certain someone will be more than happy to consume the now dashed window cookies. She’s a little cookie monster.