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Gingerbread Man Cookie
Gingerbread Man Cookie

GINGERBREAD: A HOLIDAY CLASSIC

Gingerbread houses, gingerbread cookies, gingerbread cakes…there’s no better way to get in the holiday spirit than baking gingerbread for loved ones. Gingerbread is a tradition that brings family and friends together and kicks off the holiday baking season. To bring holiday bakers the very best, the McCormick Kitchens recommend this recipe for The Perfect Gingerbread Men. For more gingerbread recipes visit www.mccormick.com.

The Perfect Gingerbread Men

Preperation Time: 20 minutes
Refrigerate: 4 hours
Cooking Time: 10 minutes per batch

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons McCormick® Ground Ginger
  • 1 teaspoon McCormick® Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg

Directions:

  1. Mix flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Beat butter and brown sugar in another large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add molasses and egg; beat well. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Press dough to a thick flat disk; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness on lightly floured work surface. Cut into gingerbread men shapes with 5-inch cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges of cookies are set and just beginning to brown. Cool on baking sheets 1 to
    2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Decorate cooled cookies as desired.

Recipe makes 2 dozen Gingerbread Cookies

Egg Nog Thumbprint Cookies
Eggnog Thumbprint Cookies

I can’t imagine a holiday celebration without a glass of eggnog, sprinkled with the spicy, sweet flavor of nutmeg. As chief spice buyer for McCormick, what fascinates me most about this simple holiday pleasure is where nutmeg comes from – both geographically and botanically. And, that takes me to Eastern Indonesia, where the vast majority of the world’s nutmeg is cultivated.


DESTINATION: Eastern Indonesia
Nutmeg Field Report

Nutmeg, the fruit of a tall, tropical tree, Myristica fragrens, is the source of not just one, but two aromatic spices – nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is actually the seed from the fruit of the tree, which can grow to a height of 50 feet and live up to 75 years. Although the nutmeg producing tree bears some fruit year round, the main harvests are concentrated around March/April and October/November.

The annual world production of nutmeg is approximately 13 million pounds, relatively small when compared to the other holiday favorite – cinnamon. Indonesia grows about 75% of the world’s nutmeg, while Grenada is another major producer. Unfortunately, extensive tree damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 dramatically reduced the amount of nutmegs Grenada has been able to cultivate in recent years.

Native to the famous Molucca Islands, located in Eastern Indonesia, the first nutmeg trees grew on the eastern islands of Ternate and Ambon. Today, the majority of nutmeg trees are farmed in a series of small islands just north of Sulawesi, with one of the major islands being Siau. All the islands still border the Molucca Sea, and are located within 5 degrees north and south of the equator. Many have beautiful terrain, with lush green volcanic mountain ranges. Nutmegs grow best in elevations of 1,000 to 2,000 feet, and thrive very well in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil. The island of Siau has a large volcano which has been very active recently, making a visit there interesting to say the least! The only way to get to this island is by an all night ferry, in a pretty rough sea setting. Imagine arriving on this island exhausted, somewhat sea sick, only to be greeted by a very active volcano. Now this makes spice buying an adventure!

As I approach one of the many groves on Siau, I see tree branches full of yellow fruit, similar in size to nectarines. The outer portion of the fruit – the largest part – is fleshy and has the consistency of an unripe nectarine. It actually tastes like nutmeg! This part of the fruit is often used for making preserves and syrup.

When the fruit fully ripens on the tree, it naturally splits open, then falls to the ground where it is collected by the farmers. Breaking open the fruit reveals a lacy, scarlet red membrane that envelops a dark brown, brittle shell. The membrane is called the aril, which turns a dull red-orange when sun-dried by the harvesters. The dried aril is mace, which has a similar taste and aroma to nutmeg, but is slightly more delicate. After the mace is removed, what remains is the hard outer shell covering the nutmeg.

The nutmeg is extremely aromatic and has one of the highest amounts of volatile oil of all the spices. After sun-drying to develop its distinctive flavor, the outer shell is removed. Nutmegs are then sorted by size and visual appearance. The largest and most intact nutmegs are sold whole, and can be found in your local grocery store ready to be freshly grated. If you have a recipe that calls for mace, in a pinch, you can use nutmeg instead.

Nutmeg is one of the most popular holiday spices, and a part of nearly every cuisine. I enjoy nutmeg as a delicious flavor accent in vegetables, cookies, beverages and desserts.

Until our next adventure, happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year,

Al

Al Goetze is chief spice buyer for McCormick and Company, Hunt Valley, Maryland.