Thursday, December 20, 2012
Joe Baker of Le Cordon Bleu shares the craziest spin he’s seen on the Christmas cookie
Plus: Why Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in homemade treats.
According to our calendars, Christmas music has been on nearly non-stop for the past three weeks – meaning that Christmas is just around the corner. There is plenty left to be done, no doubt, even aside from the shopping. There’s the decorating, preparing dinner, maybe even vacation logistics, but all that aside, there’s one Christmas treat that’s become so ingrained in our collective experience that even St. Nick partakes in houses across America.
We’re speaking, of course, of the Christmas cookie.
They come in myriad shapes and sizes, and depending on a family’s country of origin, the same cookies may have completely different names, but one thing they all have in common: They’re usually made only for this holiday in particular, and their power of nostalgia is equaled only by their deliciousness. We spoke with Joe Baker, chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu and founder of joe-the-baker.com about Christmas cookies and how he goes about making his favorites.
Entree Dallas: Thanks for meeting with us, Joe. To start off, what do you think of when you think of Christmas cookies?
Joe Baker: Well, when I think of Christmas cookies, I first think of the variety, and then the hominess associated with them. We all grew up with a handful of cookies. I think of America, and the typical American childhood experience, which I think would probably involve, at most, two dozen different types of cookies across the nation.
But honestly, as a professional, one of the first things I think about with Christmas cookies is they’re almost always nut based; because it’s winter, and most of these cookies came from Europe, where nuts are very abundant. So they’re very rich cookies. They are a little harder to make because of it, but absolutely worth the trial.
So why Christmas? Why is that the time of year for them?
In America, it’s still The Holiday. Or if you’re Jewish, Hanukkah coincides and there’s plenty of cookies relating to that, as well. But Christmas, specifically, got the cookies because it’s supposed to be a particularly joyous occasion. I think that during Christmas, more than any other holiday, we really just kind of let it all kind of slide – we let our diets go, we really indulge, and we really just live more for the moment when Christmas comes closer. So of course we’re more likely to eat cookies like throughout the day. And plus, it’s winter – take the fourth of July, for example; when it’s 105 degrees in the summer, you just don’t want to indulge like that. In the heart of winter, it’s just nice to eat cookies.
What’s the craziest take you’ve ever seen on a Christmas cookie?
Well, in restaurants it’s very common to do cookies and milk at this time of year because it’s fun and it’s catchy, but most recently I saw that the pastry team at Albert Uster – a large pastry company – did a cookies and milk plate with these milk gel cubes and they had cookie tuiles and malted foam. It was very much the modern interpretation – absolutely modernist. And it was beautiful, but I know if you set it down in front of someone who was unsuspecting, or maybe wasn’t that familiar with modernist techniques and said it was only cookies and milk, they’d would be kind of worried. As a professional, though, I think it was really intelligently done.
So is there a more traditional aesthetic that comes to mind when you think of a Christmas cookie?
When it comes to aesthetics, I think that tradition wins. The genesis of any cookie wins. Obviously, color sells and size sells, but I want to know what the original cookie was and why it’s so great. And unfortunately, it’s a lot of the same muted tones; a very monochromatic scheme. So every now and then I try to throw in splashes of color, but ultimately that’s why shapes especially are more important to me than colors.
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