The Comfort of Cookies—Then and Now

Christmas_sugar_cookies _January_2010Andrea/Cara here, musing today on cookies. First of all, it’s the season to think of platefuls of these delightfully delicious holiday treats! (What would December be without that tradition to add to the festivities . . . umm, and the waistline.) But I also got to thinking about how they are a balm for the spirit in any season. Admit it, a plate of warm cookies and milk (or cocoa) helps lifts the spirit in times of stress.

UnnamedAnd I confess, I’ve had some stresses lately. My websites were hacked by some malicious l malware and it’s been a nightmare trying to them fixed—apologies to all of you who got the December Wench newsletter and couldn’t get to the link for my free chocolate recipes. The problem is now fixed, and you can go there now and get it. Just click here.) Trust me, I had more than a few late night cookie breaks!

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Sugar and Spice . . . and Everything Nice

Mischief&MistletoeCara/Andrea here,
As many of you may have noticed, the Wenches have been making merry over the last two weeks in celebration of the recent release of our Christmas anthology. (Mischief and Mistletoe officially went on sale September 25.) The overall theme we decided on was a very simple one—a Wicked Wench at Christmastime—and then off we went to write our individual stories. (Trust me, the Wenchly brainstorming sessions on coming up with the concept for our anthology were highly amusing, to say the least!)

WritingThe result is eight individual stories tied together by this one holiday ribbon—and as a reader I find it delightful that each has its own unique interpretation of “wicked” and reflects the style of its author. I’m betting those of you familiar with the Wenches will be able to identify the author of each simply by reading a snippet!

I
Christmas-gingerbreadn my story, I chose to create a heroine whose “wickedness” is simply being a headstrong hoyden. She’s no proper lady—which tweaks the perfectly tied cravat of the oh-so proper hero. He believes in order and the rules . . . until a chance storm forces them to join forces in a desperate journey to reach London in time for Christmas.

GingerbreadmenNow, along the way, I actually have the hero do something a little wicked too—he purloins a sackful of freshly baked gingerbread .  . . which got me to thinking about this traditional English holiday treat. So I decided to do a little research on the subject and thought I’d share a few sweet facts.

According to the Smithsonian website, gingerbread is thought to have been brought to Europe by Crusaders returning from the Levant. Whatever its origins, it became a popular staple of  Medieval fairs and festivals. (It was a token of good luck for a lady to give her favored knight a piece of gingerbread during a tournament.)  Another source cites that the first record of gingerbread formed in the shape of a human figure comes from the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who is said to have presented important guests with their likenesses made out of the spiced dough.

Biber-2Gingerbread is still very popular traditional holiday treat throughout Europe and most countries have their own individual regional variation. In the Nordic countries, a thin, crisp pepper-spiced biscuit is an integral part of the Yuletide celebrations, while in Germany, a great favorite is a
Appenzeller_bibersoft gingerbread known as lebkuchen. In Poland, the city of Toruń has been famous for its gingerbread since the Middle Ages, and in Bulgaria, the local specialty is made with honey and covered with a chocolate glaze. My Swiss mother adored biber, a marzipan filled gingerbread cake that is the specialty of the cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen—and so do I!

How about you—do you like gingerbread?  Have you a specific type that you enjoy during the holidays? If you’re not a big fan of gingerbread men, what’s your favorite holiday cookie?