Gingerbread brings joy to the holidays

The sweet smell of ginger, cinnamon and cloves fills the air as I open our back door. My girls quickly drop their school bags and coats as they scramble in the house. Joyful grins light up their faces as they catch a whiff. The familiar spicy fragrance means something wonderful is coming - gingerbread.

Baking gingerbread cookies with my daughters is one our family's most beloved holiday traditions. It doesn't matter how many things I have left to do on my holiday list or how messy my kitchen looks. When it's covered in powdered sugar, when I sit down to decorate cookies, it all fades away.

Gathered around our little kitchen table, what would have been an ordinary afternoon is suddenly a cookie party. There is so much excitement as the mixer whirs and whips up the frosting. I spoon the icing into pastry bags as fast as I can. We talk and laugh as we pipe little dots, dashes and swirls of icing. Fueled by secret "quality assurance" taste tests, my cookie artists soon create a trayful of masterpieces.

The story of this gingerbread cookie tradition began when I was in high school. However, now that my daughters love it as much as I do, it has become even more meaningful. Over the years they have helped me bake, taste and create our own ultimate gingerbread cookies recipe. The key I have found is rolling the dough out thick and then being careful to pull them out the oven the moment they begin to show signs of a crinkle on top.

So, share a little happiness this holiday season with our family's gingerbread cookies. Baking Christmas cookies makes the world a little sweeter and brighter. One chewy, gingery bite and these cookies will have you signing a holiday tune and wanting to host your own cookie party.

- Amy McCauley of Hinsdale is the paper's food columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]