You’ll find plenty to whet your appetite in this section. There are the recipes attached to stories of departed family members who handed down details of their holiday favorites.
We visited the Spangler Candy Co. in Bryan, which produces more than 2 million candy canes a day. We checked in with the Hollywood Casino, whose bakers will produce more than 20,000 cookies and other sweet treats this holiday season.
We revisited our friends at Penta Career Center, which allowed its cooking classes to engage in a holiday “bake off,” supplying both colorful visuals and delicious recipes for this section.
At Owens Community College, both our journalist and their students received a lesson in cookie decorating, an essential ingredient in delighting both the eyes and the taste buds.
Best of all, we solicited recipes from readers and they answered the call.
More than 60 recipes arrived by mail and email over the past three weeks, many attached to family lore, others simply favorites culled from magazines or cookbooks over the years.
Clearly there wasn’t room to include every recipe in today’s special section, so we invite you to visit toledoblade.com/holiday-cookies online to explore an additional 40 recipes, along with those you’ll find in these pages.
Whether you celebrate Hannukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or some other variation of the holidays, our hope is that this special section will make the time with your family and friends just a little bit sweeter.
What’s left to be said but . . . enjoy!
“Anything artisan like this takes a lot of time and a lot of love. Because it is an art,” said Owens Community College culinary lab assistant Shelly Pierce.
She was talking about baking. But she could just as easily have been talking about the next step after the baking: decorating cookies, a favorite holiday pastime for all ages.
On a November morning, culinary arts students in the Owens baking lab were taking plain ol’ sugar cookies and transforming them into beautiful hand-painted works of art.
The class session was the first time that Michelle Skaggs and Chelsea Roberts had decorated cookies with icing. But no one would have known that to see their colorful cookies, festive with lots of flourishes and graceful swirls.
As they worked diligently with various cookie shapes and an array of colored icings that could only be described as merry and bright, the Owens staff and students offered some tips and tricks to aspiring cookie decorators.
Number one on the list: It’s important to start with a good base — the cookie itself.
Local chefs dish out family traditions
The madeleine may be small and delicate, but one nibble of the tea-soaked cake and French novelist Marcel Proust was flooded with childhood memories.
Cookies and candies are more than the sweet temptations that we liberally indulge in at holiday time. For many this Christmas, making holiday sweets is a tradition and a way to keep the spirit of a loved one alive. Toledo chef Elizabeth Gentry shared family recipes that trigger food memories.
Ms. Gentry, pastry chef at Element 112, has whisked dreamy confections at high-end restaurants like Michelin-starred L20 in Chicago and Torc in Napa. But her first taste of pleasing people with sweets came while she was a child at Grandma Lucile Quigley’s side. Her grandmother recently died, at the impressive age of 100.
Although today just about every Middle Eastern restaurant serves baklava to polish off a succulent meal, in Moussa Salloukh’s house, baklava was a nut-filled gift his mother, Sohame, bestowed upon loved ones primarily at Christmas.
“Growing up, being in a Middle Eastern family, that was what my mom would do. Around the holidays she would get a lot of small tins and make pan, after pan, after pan, and we would take it to our neighbors, to our friends’ parents, to our teachers at school,” he said. She even tied the tins with a bow.
She made so much, she would freeze it, he said.
Lebanese born Mr. Salloukh, chef and co-owner of La Scola Italian Grill and owner of Burger Bar 419, along with his sisters, grew up helping their mother make baklava. Mrs. Salloukh recently died at the age of 70. The layered pastry has a special meaning for him and making it is a way to honor her.
Imagine sliding down a chimney on Christmas Eve and then finding yourself at the North Pole, where all is merry and bright.
Holiday music playing overhead, elaborate gingerbread houses decorating the room, aromas of sugar plums dancing in the air. And busy elves, wearing Santa hats and red felt antler headbands, bustling about.
This was the scene in the Penta Career Center kitchen. But instead of making toys, the elves — er, students — were busily baking cookies. So many, many cookies.
The 11th-grade culinary arts students prepared dozens of different varieties for the Second Annual Penta Cookie Bake-Off. Iced stars, cake pops, gingerbread men, frosted candy canes, snowflakes, filled tassies, and glazed cut-outs were just a few of the offerings. Just as no two snowflakes look alike, each of the students’ entries had its own unique character.
Take a sweet trip to Bryan, and you’ll find sugar land, also known as Spangler Candy Co.
In the heart of Spangler’s candy-making operations, where the floors are seemingly slicked with sugar and the air is perfumed with scents of the day’s imaginative creations, you’ll find workers busily making one of the most iconic Christmas treats: candy canes.
Among its sugary temptations of hard candy, sweet and sour Dum Dums, marshmallowy Circus Peanuts, and Caramel Creams, the company produces millions of the ultimate sugar stick, with a twist.
Spangler produces 2.7 million candy canes a day, of which 1.5 million are produced in Bryan. (The others are produced at its factory in Juarez, Mexico.) The daily production ensures that candy canes are ready to hang on your Christmas tree, greet Santa, or be enjoyed by you in time for the holidays.
Traditionally, the white and red striped canes come in peppermint.
When candy cane cook Jeff Roddy began working at Spangler more than 26 years ago, there were only a handful of flavors. Today, if you can imagine it, they can make it, and in a rainbow of flavors and colors. Spangler ships candy canes all over the country and the globe.
Baby, it’s cold outside. But it’s warm and cozy in the Hollywood Casino Toledo baking kitchen, which smells of holiday happiness as flour and sugar are being transformed into sweet treats.
How many treats, you might ask?
Well, let’s put it this way: Even if you gathered your entire family together for a cookie baking frenzy and made a quadruple batch of every recipe in this Holiday Cookie and Candy Exchange, you wouldn’t come close to what the casino’s baking staff will produce.
Because those 12 bakers will work with precision, efficiency, and a good pinch of holiday spirit to make 21,000 cookies this season.
No, that’s not a typo.
As though that weren’t enough, they’ll also make 7,000 pies and 12,000 assorted goodies such as no-bake orange-scented haystacks and chocolate-dipped candy canes.
In order to make all of this merriment, the bakery will go through 7,500 pounds of flour, 2,500 pounds of unsalted butter, 1,500 pounds of dark chocolate, 600 pounds of white chocolate, and 10,000 pounds of granulated sugar.
Christmas is that time of year to dress your table with sumptuous desserts.
Area bakers and chefs share some of the ways they please their guests at the holiday table, or how their taste buds are entertained. These recipes are packed with ginger, spice, everything nice, and the No. 1 ingredient — love.
HOLIDAY SWEETS EXCHANGE TEAM
The Blade Holiday Cookie Exchange was made possible by a crew of cookie bakers and candy makers, including readers who submitted more than 50 recipes.
Blade staff involved in the project include:
Natalie Trusso Cafarello's writing career began under the Tuscan sun in Florence, Italy, where she delved into the food culture, writing about wine, picking grapes and olives, and learning about Italian foodways. A first generation Sicilian-American, she comes from a long line of self-taught cooks and bakers. As a Blade features writer, she is always seeking new dishes to sink her fork into, the latest cocktails to shake, and she keeps an eye on the Toledo food scene. She believes every dish is better when it is made with love. Ms. Trusso can be reached at: 419-206-0356, firstname.lastname@example.org, or share your food discoveries with her on Twitter @natalietrusso.
Olivia Herrera, news assistant and cook/baker extraordinaire. She kept track of the submitted recipes and photographs, called bakers for recipe clarifications, and showcased her amazing organizational skills while working on this project. Ms. Herrera, who has worked at The Blade for 25 years, often shares samples of her cooking and baking talents with staff members who are always grateful for her generosity. She can be reached at: email@example.com or 419-724-6120.