CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s that time of year again. Twinkling lights, arctic nights, a light dusting of snow over the trees, and a deeper dusting of flour all over the kitchen. Nothing says holidays like heaps of homemade cookies….buttery and crunchy, thick with frosting and piled high with brightly colored sprinkles. During the pandemic, some of us have carried on baking just fine, either solo or with the home pod. But what about the extended families who usually get together but can’t this year, separated by distance or circumstance. What about all those wonderful once-a-year cookies they always baked side by side every December?
Well, 2020 has taught us such a lot of important things. For instance, if you can’t be face to face, there’s always FaceTime. And that Zoom is more than just a very speedy verb. Modern technology, it seems, has come to the rescue to help keep our most cherished traditions alive. Can you even begin to guess how many turkeys got to strut their stuffing on the internet last month?
So for all you geographically estranged holiday cookie makers out there, we decided to check in with some experienced Zoom and FaceTime practitioners adept at the fine art, but pretty basic technology, of socially distanced baking. Pay attention, take notes. By the end of the article, you’ll be ready to put together some pretty fabulous holiday cookies with family and friends from Hoboken to Honolulu.
Glenn Hanniford of Kent, OH has been baking with his grandsons, John, 14, and Owen, 10, in Orlando, FL, since the pandemic began. It’s a fine opportunity to keep in touch with the boys, he says, and a great way for Glenn to maintain the skill set he developed with his church group, Men Baking Bread. The Hanniford men have successfully made several kinds of bread and even tried pretzel rolls, which went a little beyond their skill set and ended up as one of those oh well moments. Generally, Glenn advises, the recipe should fit the comfort level of the grandparent as well as grandchildren, and should, at least initially, be relatively simple.
However, using the wrong ingredient by accident or even failing sometimes makes the best stories, and being aspirational builds character. As Owen says, “Don’t be afraid to try something new. It’ll be hard because you’ve never done it, and you’ll mess up, but that’s OK. It’ll make you better.”
Glenn also recommends group-watching baking technique demos on the web. It’s a great way for everyone to learn something new. And clearly it’s a success. The two boys worked together like seasoned pros as they made their way through the project. When Glenn told them to pull out their cookie sheets, John asked immediately if they should be lined with Silpat or with parchment. It’s obvious that these boys, thanks to their grandpa, are going to be bakers for life.
Ellie Giles of Louisville, KY, is almost 10 years old and already an accomplished baker. She makes banana bread and lemon cake all on her own, including, admirably, the clean up. But she still enjoys baking online with her grandmother, Carol Doeringer, an expat Clevelander and sourdough bread specialist, who now lives in Michigan, not far from Kalamazoo.
“It’s great fun and a wonderful way for the two of us to spend time ‘together,’” says Doeringer. “Ellie FaceTimes me to chat often, though we do sometimes run out of things to talk about, and Ellie will often say, ‘Well… I guess we got to that awkward part when we don’t really have anything more to say.” She’s right, that does happen — but not when we’re doing a project together, like this weekend’s cookies or the other times we’ve baked together virtually. This kind of connection is truly the next best thing to being there.”
Good technical connectivity is important, she adds. “Both people should position their laptop/device so the camera can be easily moved, showing faces for discussion and hands for work. Also, we learned that it’s a good idea to make sure everyone has either a printed copy of the recipe or a second device if it was shared electronically,” to keep track of the recipe.
Ellie’s advice is to check and double-check that you have all the ingredients ready for the recipe. She knew she would need to have softened butter, so she made sure to take it out of the refrigerator in plenty of time. But even with the best pre-planning, things happen.
After plotting out a decorating scheme for her gingerbread men, the icing didn’t really cooperate, so she had to improvise her decoration. The resulting marbleized technique is impressive, to say the least. But ultimately, it’s the joy of the experience they share that matters most. As Ellie says “I have a great time baking with Nana. I can not wait till we do this again!”
For many years, Inbar Maayan would look forward to her grandmother’s annual long distance visits that lasted several weeks at a time. Even when she was very young, cooking together was high on their list of really important things to do when they were together.
Now they’re older, and geographically closer. Maayan is a scientist in suburban Boston, MA. Her grandmother, Shelley Segal, (who in the interest of full disclosure is also my mother) lives in Minneapolis, MN. In the past few decades, they would see each other frequently and pick up their baking projects pretty much where they left off.
This year, they’re not doing any formal remote co-baking (though they did share an afternoon discussing the relative merits of their cranberry cornmeal scones. It was agreed that they liked them very much and would revisit them soon), but they share tips on technique and discuss in exquisite detail their latest baking exploits.
Maayan is perfecting her brown butter dulce de leche sandwich cookies, and Segal, 91, who has a little more free time, just finished making and distance-distributing 25 loaves of pumpkin bread to various relatives and friends. Baking chats keeps them connected in so many sustaining ways.
It now appears there’s a light at the distant end of this pandemic tunnel and that it’s not an oncoming train. But even when we return to something resembling life as it used to be, long-distance baking may still be beguiling pleasure.
Who wouldn’t enjoy an opportunity to take the afternoon off on a cold snowy day to share warm fragrant fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies with someone you love, no matter how far away. Glenn Hanniford is counting on it. He’s currently making plans to begin zoom baking with his four and six year old grandchildren in California.
Hanniford Family Sugar Cookies
These cookies, made extra rich and special with the addition of cream, are from an heirloom recipe passed down to Barb Hanniford from her mother, Virginia Pelander. Barb’s husband, Glenn, has been baking these cookies with his grandsons, John and Owen, as a much-anticipated Christmas tradition for quite a while, though for the first time this year on Zoom. They are dazzling when decorated….and delicious.
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour, sifted
Instructions: In a large bowl, cream butter & sugar. Add eggs and mix till creamy. Stir in cream and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt, and flour. Blend dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Refrigerate the dough 1-2 hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out the dough on a sugared & floured board. Cut out with cookie cutters. Place on baking sheet (with parchment or silicone mat) Bake at 375° for about 8 minutes, or until cookies have lightly browned bottoms. Cookies may be decorated before baking by brushing with egg white, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, and sprinkled with colored sugar or other sprinkles. They can also be decorated with your favorite frosting or glaze after baking and cooling.
Classic Gingerbread Men
Carol Doeringer found this recipe online in The Plain Dealer files while looking for a fun cut-out cookie recipe she could make with her granddaughter, Ellie. Tender, sweet, lightly spiced, and abundantly decorated with classic royal icing, these gingerbread people have a lot of personal flair. They also go great with a big glass of milk.
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark (not light or blackstrap) molasses
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Red hots, sprinkles and other sugar decors for decorating
Icing Ingredients (optional):
1 tablespoon meringue powder
2 1/2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup powdered sugar
Instructions: Whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a medium bowl. Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add molasses, egg yolk and vinegar and beat until smooth, scraping down side of bowl once or twice as necessary. Stir in flour mixture 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Scrape dough onto countertop, shape into a 5-inch disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured countertop. Turn dough often, loosening it from the countertop with a large, offset spatula to prevent sticking. Use gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut dough, rerolling and cutting scraps. Place cut cookies on prepared baking sheets 1 inch apart. You can press sugar decorations and candies into cookies to make eyes, mouths, buttons, etc. before baking or wait to decorate cookies until after baking and cooling. Whichever approach you take, bake cookies until firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Slide cookies, still on parchment, onto wire racks to cool completely.
To make icing, whisk together meringue powder and water in a large bowl until frothy. Add confectioners’ sugar, whisk and then beat with an electric mixer on high until smooth and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Scrape icing into a pastry bag fitted with a small, plain tip and pipe decorations. You can also color the icing various shades with food coloring as Carol and Ellie did.
– Recipe from Plain Dealer wire services
Cranberry Cornmeal Scones
Shelley Segal and her granddaughter, Inbar, have their tried-and-true classic recipes that they share, but they also like to experiment. These iconoclastic scones from Joy the Baker caught their attention for the extra crunch that cornmeal brings to the scone experience and for the bright, tart, and seasonal appeal of the cranberry sauce topping. As Shelley writes at the end of every recipe she gives out: “enjoy!”
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, grated on a box grater
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup fine yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
3/4 cup canned or homemade cranberry sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice, plus more if necessary
Dash of vanilla extract
Instructions: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, grate cold butter (using the coarse side of the box grater) into the bowl. Add flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Toss to combine. Create a well in the butter and flour mixture and add the buttermilk. Use a wooden spoon to toss the wet ingredient with the dry, creating a thick but moist dough. Transfer dough to a well floured work surface. Roll to a 3/4-inch thickness and fold the dough in thirds. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and again roll the dough to a 3/4-inch thickness, fold the dough in thirds, and repeat one more time. Three rolls and folds.
Roll the dough one final time into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thickness. Trim the edges if necessary and cut 8 scone squares. Place on prepared baking sheet and use your finger to press an indentation into the center of each scone. You won’t press through to the sheet pan, just create an indentation. Spoon cranberry sauce into each indentation keeping the sauce flush with the edges of the scone, not really heaping. Brush the top of each scone lightly with a beaten egg. This will help the scones brown a bit more. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.
While the scones bake, make the glaze. Whisk together the powdered sugar, orange juice and vanilla extract. The glaze should be thick but still pourable. Add a dash more orange juice until you get the right consistency. Spoon the glaze into a ziplock bag and set aside. Glaze the scones once they’re mostly cooled by snipping a tiny corner off the ziplock bag and drizzling in stripes. Add a bit more fresh cranberry sauce atop the finished scones.
– Recipe courtesy of Joy the Baker
Nancy Hanniford’s Scandinavian Cookies
A variation on the classic thumbprint cookie, this recipe, replete with chopped nuts and your filling of choice (as long as it’s holiday red!), was gifted to Nancy from her in-laws, Barb and Glenn. It’s the one she makes first every Christmas.
1 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 cups flour, sifted
Chopped walnuts (1/2 cup or more, as wanted, can omit for nut allergies if needed)
Red jam or jelly of choice
Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and butter. Blend in egg yolks, then flour. Make into balls and roll in whisked egg whites, then in chopped nuts. Place on greased cookie sheet and press centers of each cookie with fingertip. Bake 5 minutes, then take out cookie sheet, press again, and fill the center with a red jam or jelly. Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and place on baking rack to cool.
Ellie Giles’ Banana Bread
This is Ellie’s go-to recipe. A very satisfying loaf, it’s heavy on the bananas as a good banana bread should be. She’s been making it all by herself from start to finish since she was seven years old.
2 to 3 very ripe bananas, peeled (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups mashed)
1/3 cup melted butter, unsalted or salted
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup if you would like it less sweet, 1 cup if more sweet)
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and butter a 4×8 loaf pan. In a mixing bowl, mash the ripe bananas with a fork until completely smooth. Stir the melted butter into the mashed bananas. Mix in the baking soda and salt. Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract. Mix in the flour. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 350°F or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes. Remove the banana bread from the pan and let cool completely before serving.
– Courtesy of Simply Recipes
Shelley Segal’s Poppy Seed Cookies
This is the Segal family heritage recipe, discovered in a 1972 community cookbook from Duluth, Minnesota. Thin and crisp, with just a wisp of sugar coating, it’s the cookie that everyone requests for every holiday–and most days in between.
1 cup granulated sugar + 1/4 cup more for sprinkling
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup poppy seeds
Instructions: Mix eggs, sugar, vegetable oil and water together. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seed together and then add to the above. Shape dough into a flat round, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Take out 1/3 of the dough, lightly flour countertop or other surface and rolling pin. Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters or knife or decorative cutter to form cookies. Brush lightly with water, then add a sprinkling of sugar. Place on parchment paper or silpat-covered baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes until cookies are light-to-medium brown. Let sit a few minutes and then transfer to cooling rack. Cookies will keep up to 2 weeks in tightly covered container at room temperature or up to 6 months in a tightly covered container in the freezer– if they last that long.