gingerbread cookies

Dear Readers,

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all get to spend time with loved ones, family, and friends. Howard and I have been really fortunate this holiday weekend to share a meal with those we care about. We went over to a family friend’s house on Friday for a delicious pot luck. There were so many good laughs and sneaky behaviours during our board game session. Christmas Eve was spent with Howard’s family where we cooed and ahhed over our little nephew in between hot pot. At 21 weeks old, he’s already mastered rolling! Christmas Day, we’ll be going over to my parent’s house tonight. We’re also looking forward to New Year’s Eve where it’s been tradition for us to get together with our best friends.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

I won’t be seeing my colleagues for a week, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss them! This year, I made some Totoro gingerbread cookies to hand out as a token of my appreciation. The reactions were pretty priceless. I love how Totoro brings a smile to everyone’s face.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Did I mention that I have never made gingerbread before? I remember decorating it in grade one or two, our classroom smelled so good. But we never got to eat them because they were used as decoration in our class and were rock hard by the time I could take it home. I don’t think I’ve even eaten gingerbread in the last decade, but we had a fun work event this year where I was in charge of the gingerbread station – I got to teach people how to pipe and watch them ice their own gingerbread man. This really inspired me to make some at home.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

The ones at work were from Bobbette & Belle which everyone was raving how delicious they were, so I cracked open their cookbook and got baking!

Gingerbread Cookies
Makes about a dozen cookies
Recipe adapted from Bobbette & Belle: Classic Recipes from the Celebrated Pastry Shop

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup fancy molasses
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, (they also add ¾ teaspoon of baking soda, which I omitted), salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves – whisk!
  2. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Pour in the molasses and vanilla, beat until well blended. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until the dough forms. Take the dough out, flatten it into a disc shape, and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (I left it overnight).
  5. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut out your shapes (freehand or by tracing templates) or use a cookie cutter. Place on the parchment paper, leaving about an inch between each cookie.
  7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Allow the cookies to cool before transferring them to a wire rack. The cookies can be stores in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

I actually made the recipe twice so that I would have lots of dough to work with. I made Totoros, trees, penguins, and polar bears. Howard took the bulk of it to work to hand out to his colleagues.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

You guys, I haven’t made royal icing in so long (probably 7 years)! I went out to get some meringue powder since I just don’t feel right about using uncooked egg whites. You basically mix meringue powder, confectioner’s sugar, and water until you get the consistency you want. Less water if you want the icing stiffer for creating borders, more water if you want it runnier to flood the area. It’s a lot of guesswork and experience, because it’s based on the feel when you’re working with royal icing. I started with the drier icing to pipe designs and outlines. It also acts as a good glue at this point, so I used it to attach sprinkles. Flooding was a bit trickier, but I think I got the hang of it! If only my outlines were cleaner!

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Totoro is moderately easy to make. You pipe two eyes and insert a black/brown sprinkle in. Then pipe a nose and a small dot on the top of his head. Most people add a leaf on his head, but since it’s Christmas, Totoro got a holly. If you have red sprinkles and green Christmas-tree-shaped sprinkles, you’ll be able to make a holly. I outlined an oval for his belly and then flooded it with icing. When everything was dried, I drew on his belly marks with an edible colour marker. You could pipe them on with black icing, but I trusted myself with the marker more!

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

I experimented with a lot of designs on the Christmas trees. Some just got zig-zag’s, others were outlines, played around with the sprinkle ornaments, and even tried some snowy ones.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

What do you think? I eventually got bored of doing the same thing over and over again, hence the variety. I don’t know which one I like best.

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Thank you again for following along this year! I’m hoping to do a bit more crafting and baking in 2017. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

Totoro Gingerbread Cookies

Sincerely,
Syl

totoro pear pie

Dear Steph,

Yay! It’s one of our favourite weeks of the year – Totoro Week! I still remember the first year you hosted it, I was making a big fuss at home (poor Howard couldn’t stop hearing me squee with delight) and showing everyone the photos online: You have to see this! Then again, it happens year round whenever I see Totoro toast, eggs, bento boxes, buns, pancakes, and tarts. I really do love how Totoro translates into food so well.

This year I was looking back on your posts to see what the exact week would be when you sent us a little reminder. I quickly told Howard to purchase me a Totoro cookie cutter using his PayPal account and proceeded to bug him for two weeks: Has it shipped? Is it here yet? Will it arrive by Friday?

Alas, it did not arrive last Friday so I am without Totoro cookies. I did try making your Totoro-in-a-hole with a pairing knife. But it’s just not the same.

My next attempt were Totoro Pineapple Buns or bo lo bao. But I totally screwed up the cookie topping. Using measuring cups versus a scale makes such a big difference. I knew there was too much flour . . . but I’ll try them again as the buns were deliciously fluffy.

So my last minute attempt are these Totoro Pies. I had purchased a box of large pears against Howard’s advice and still haven’t made any pear tarts or cakes with them yet. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity to pair my determination to create something for Totoro week.

Totoro Pie

Pie Crust

For three 4″ double-crust pies and one 8″ pie shell

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour
4 ml (3/4 teaspoons) salt
250 ml (1 cup) all-vegetable shortening
1 egg
30ml (2 tablespoons) cold water
15 ml (1 tablespoon) white vinegar

  1. Place the flour, salt, and shortening in a food processor and pulse until the flour is course and resembles a coarse crumb.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and vinegar. Pour into the flour mixture and pulse until the dough is combined.
  3. Divide the dough in half and flatten both into a disc. Cover the two discs of dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour (or overnight).

Totoro Pie

Pear Filling
Makes enough for three 4″ double-crust pies and one 8″ pie shell

5 Bosc pears
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. Peel and dice the pears into small chunks, place in mixing bowl.
  2. Add in the sugar, salt, flour, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Mix well with the pear.

Totoro Pie

Pear Pie Assembly

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

  1. Take out one of the pie dough discs out of the fridge and roll out so that it’s one inch bigger than your pie tin. Carefully transfer the dough into the pie tins, pat the dough down to fit along the edges, and trim off any excess dough. When making multiple pies, keep the ones that are done in the fridge to keep the dough cold at all times.
  2. Prick the base of the pie dough with a fork.
  3. Scoop in the pear filling until it reaches the top.
  4. Place tiny bits of butter on top of the pear filling.
  5. Take out the second pie dough disc from the fridge.
  6. For Catbus pie: roll out the dough and use a large cookie cutter to trim the dough for the top (if you’re making mini pies). Knead the dough scraps together and roll out flat again and use cookie cutters or a knife to cut out the eyes, mouth, and nose.
  7. For Soot spirit pie: roll out the dough and use a knife to cut out long strips. Trim to about an inch long and start laying them on top of the pear filling. Continue until the entire top is covered. Take the remaining dough scraps and roll it together again and use a cookie cutter to create the eyes.
  8. For Totoro pie: roll out the dough and use a large circle cookie cutter that will cover the top of your pie. Trim out the circle. Then about halfway on the circle, use that same cookie cutter to divide it into two pieces. Place the top half over the pie filling. Using a knife, cut out upside down V-shapes on the bottom half. Remove the excess dough and then place Totoro’s belly over the remaining pie filling. Gather up the leftover dough scraps and roll it together again and when flattened, use a cookie cutter to create the eyes and nose.
  9. Brush the top of the pies with the egg yolk.
  10. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake for 20 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake for 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the pies cool in the remaining heat for another 15 minutes before taking them out.

Totoro Pie
If you like apple pie, chances are you’ll like pear pie! You can also use nutmeg instead of cinnamon if you prefer.

Totoro Pie
Normally when working with larger pies, I roll the dough on a silicone mat or plastic wrap to help make the transfer to the pie tin easier. But since these were mini pies, a spatula was able to get under there and help lift the dough and prevent tears.

Totoro Pie
Giving the mini pies a good seal.

Totoro Pie
Catbus! I used a knife to cut in some whiskers and for steam to escape when the pie bakes.

Totoro Pie
My lil soot spirit pie!

Totoro Pie
Before they go in the oven, brush the dough with egg yolk.

Totoro Pie

Totoro Pie

Totoro Pie

I was lucky enough to go to the Donguri Republic store in Hong Kong earlier this year. I got that cute lil soot spirit, a watering can, and the fork (which is part of a utensil set that includes a spoon and chop sticks). AND I got my photo taken in the Catbus, it was the happiest day of my trip!

Sincerely,
Syl