The Icing on the Cookie

Giving presents, gathering our friends, cooking delicious food – I love these holiday activities, and I would be quite content on December 26 if this list of favorite things had begun and ended with just these three. Throw in a last minute trip to New York in the Christmas season, though, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world. This is the icing on my cake. I’ve never been anywhere that does Christmas better.

Paris promises and delivers food and elegance in abundance. London remains a steady force with its Victorian traditions and Christmas puddings. Playful Reykjavik acts as host to a series of impish Christmas elves. Munich delivers old-world gemütlich and glühwein in its Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt. But vibrant New York at Christmas becomes a larger, happier, noisier version of its everyday self, pulsing with a gloriously chaotic exuberance found nowhere else in the world. Go, and you won’t believe the crowds or the gridlock, but you won’t forget the display and the raw energy any time soon either.

Whether you don your Santa suit and take part in Santa Con, or gather around a group of acrobat-comic showmen on the walking mall in Central Park to be entertained, or listen to carols being sung by a small choir of young women in Columbus Circle, the pop-up fun nature of Christmastime New York will remind you that you are alive, and that many other fine people of the world are alive and making their way through the days right along with you.

Here are some photographic highlights from this weekend’s trip. Stay with the photos until the end and you will be rewarded with a recipe for gingerbread cookie glaze that will help you put the finishing touches on your gifts of food.

Rockefeller Center

Skating in the shadow of the city

Fortification for the long walk on a cold December day

Entering one of the city

One vendor

Another vendor

Croutons - yes, croutons! - with mascarpone ice cream and salted caramel sauce at Prune

A farmer

Find local apples...

cellared and greenhouse greens...

wintery daikon and black radish...

foraged hen-of-the-woods...

farm-raised ostrich steaks, ostrich jerky, ostrich eggs...

and New York State cranberries

The Winter Greenmarket sets up on Sunday alongside the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West

Cookie Glaze for Gingerbread Boys and Girls (or any sugar cookie)

This cookie glaze is written in pencil in one of my holiday cooking notebooks. It came from somewhere other than me, probably the King Arthur collection (or similar) because I am neither a natural or inclined decorator of any cookie or cake. I just bake and hope the things I make look good by virtue of their own delicious selves.

But Christmas gingerbread (wo)men need a little bit of embellishment. When I worked at Quebrada Bakery in Arlington, my boss, Mark, traced simple clothing outlines on the cookies, and his cookies always looked sweet and whimsical. Possessing unsteady and unsure hand, mine didn’t. So at home I slap on a white (or green or red) glaze and call it a day.

This, then, is the perfect glaze for me. I can make it up quickly, use it snowy white or add a few drops of food coloring gel if I like for rich color, and spackle it onto a cut-out cookie with an icing spatula for an all-over coating that helps take a plain cookie cutter cookie to something a little nicer than plain.

If I feel like adding a few dots to give the illusion of buttons down the front of a shirt, or a barely parabola line to indicate a skirt hem, or a few corkscrew twists of hair, I can let the base coat dry completely before making a second batch of white icing base, coloring it, then piping it through a narrow icing tip to add the most basic of decorations.

Iced, your cookies will look fabulous whether you are a decorating pro or an all-thumbs bungler like me.

  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon milk
  • Food coloring (optional)
Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the milk in a small bowl until smooth.
For a white cookie glaze, stir in as much additional milk up to the full 2 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. called for in the recipe to reach the ideal consistency. You want a spreadable consistency without the glaze being too runny. Aim for something somewhere between stiff and gooey. The glaze will not look particularly smooth even at its best.
For colored glazes, add food coloring or gel paste if desired – BEFORE ADDING THE ADDITIONAL MILK – until the desired color richness is reached. Stir to blend well. Then add more milk to thin if necessary.
To decorate, spread one cookie with glaze, using a knife or small decorating spatula. The glaze should spread easily but also appear thick at first before settling down over the top of the cookie. If the glaze pours or drizzles over the cookie with ease, the glaze is too thin and will develop a spotty look when it dries.
Let glaze dry on the cookie before adding the second piped layer of details, i.e., dots to make buttons or facial features, lines that define clothing and hair. For the second layer, make a fresh batch or two of icing and color as desired.
You can divide an additional batch in two and color each one separately.
©2011 Jane A. Ward