by Debbie Marcus
Christmas of 1984 may be a thing of the past for some of you, but for those fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of visiting the Deming home during the holidays, Christmas is still a bright memory for them and one they’ll remember for years.
Kristen Deming believes in old fashioned Christmas where the tree is filled with homemade gingerbread cookies in historic sizes and shapes, all figures from American history, and the buffet table is laden with traditional American holiday fare — a labor of love that takes her many days of preparation.
And the biggest hit with her family and friends every year are her gingerbread cookies.
Kris’ creativity, which surfaces in her poetry and pottery, has been extended to cooking for quite a few years now. When she and her husband were living in Washington, D.C., before coming to Japan. Kris started experimenting with an old family gingerbread recipe. She began sculpturing caricature cookies and soon thereafter formed her own company called “Art to Eat.” Her cookie creations were the talk of the town.
During an election year she was commissioned to sculpt political caricature cookies which hung from tree on Capilol Hill. These were very successful as it gave people a means in which to bite back. (Sorry.)
Kris was also commissioned by the Library of Commerce to do Adam and Eve cookies. She made Jimmy Carter cookies for a fund raiser; Kissinger cookies for a dinner party; Tip O’Neill cookies for his staff; Ronald Reagan cookies; cookies of the Vice Presidential mansion ordered by Vice President Monday’s wife, Joan, and one-foot-high Miss Piggy cookies for bachelors.
When the Demings were transferred to Japan, Kris had to leave her thriving business but she brought with her the desire to continue this art form in Japan to show the Japanese something American and traditional and most of all something of her own. “Cookies have a ceremonial function in history,” she says. “Beautiful elaborate works of art have been made from gingerbread for 2,500 years. In fact, gingerbread was used, in art form, to commemorate the birth of Peter the First of Russia.”
She spends at least one hour on each cookie. After the gingerbread is made she puts a pattern on top of the dough and cuts the shape out. She then uses Japanese yakitori sticks for body shapes and a garlic press for hair. This artist has also incorporated her talent into Things Japanese with her sumo wrestler cookies and her cookie ikebana creations.
Being the wife of Rust McPherson Deming, Chief of the External Political Section with the U.S. Embassy, and the mother of three children (two of whom are twins) keeps Kris Deming so busy she has yet to find time to look for a publisher for her new book.
This award-winning cook has written a how-to book called “Art to Eat” that will include not only her secret gingerbread, vanilla and chocolate dough recipes, but also the patterns she uses for several of her outstanding cookie sculptures.
Parties at the Deming home are inspirations to all those who despair over making dessert dishes. Kris’ dessert recipes are all excellent, but we selected these four as the easiest, the fastest and the yummiest!
2 sticks butter (you must use butler) at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Dash of cinnamon
2 oz (or one small bag) slivered almonds
Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). Cream butter and sugar together. Add yolk and mix well. Blend in vanilla. Add flour and cinnamon and stir until smooth. Transfer dough to an 11″x15″, 1/2″-deep lightly greased baking sheet, spreading evenly to edges. (Press into pan with fingers, cover with waxed paper, then use rolling pin to roll out evenly over the pan.) Whisk egg white until foamy. Brush over dough then sprinkle with almonds. Bake until top is light golden and tester inserted in center comes out clean. It takes about 25 minutes. Be careful as it is easy to overcook these cookies. Cut into bars while still hot.
CHOCOLATE MACAROONS MONTE CARLO
2 1/2 oz (2 1/2 squares) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup almonds, blanched, ground
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup egg whites (2 to 3 extra large eggs, measured carefully)
1 tsp additional granulated sugar for topping
6 candied cherries, cut into halves or quarters (optional)
These should be baked on heavy brown paper (or substitute grocery bags). Cut 2 pieces to fit two 12″ x 15 1/2″ cookie sheets. Iron the paper if necessary.
Place chocolate in the top of a small double boiler over hot water on moderate heat. Cover and let stand only until melted. Remove the cover, remove from hot water and set aside until it becomes cool.
Grind almonds to a fine powder in a food processor, blender or nut grinder. Place the ground almonds in a mixing bowl with the sugar and stir to mix well.
Add the egg whites, vanilla and almond extract and the melted chocolate. Stir thoroughly. The mixture should be firm enough to hold a soft shape — or semi-firm.
Keep your hands wet while shaping the cookies. Form 24 mounds of the mixture, using a rounded teaspoon for each, and place them on waxed paper. If the mounds are too sticky to handle, let them stand for about 15 minutes (or longer if necessary) to dry a bit.
Shape mounds into balls by rolling them between wet hands. Place macaroons 2″ apart on brown paper. (Do not place macaroons on the scam when the paper is double as they’ll slick to the paper there.)
Sprinkle the tops very lightly with a bit of the additional sugar. If you wish, top each one with part of a candied cherry, curved side up.
Bake 19-20 minutes in a preheated 325°F (165°C) oven, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back to ensure even baking. When done, the macaroons should be dry on the outside but moist and soft in the centers. They will harden somewhat as they cool. Don’t overbake.
Slide papers off the cookie sheets. Let stand for about a minute. The macaroons will be stuck to the paper. To remove them, turn each piece of paper upside down. Brush paper beneath each cookie with water. Let stand briefly. As you see the paper dry out over the cookies, wet it a second time. Let stand until the paper can be easily lifted off without tearing bottoms of the macaroons. Cool on racks. Makes 24.
LEMON ALMOND CAKE
8 Tbsp melted butter, plus 1 Tbsp softened
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) almond paste
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp lemon rind
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1/4 cup cornstarch
4-5 Tbsp apricot preserves (more if needed)
1/4 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Prepare a 9 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ round spring form pan by greasing it with 1 tablespoon softened butter and sprinkling 1 tablespoon flour around the inside. Roll the flour around the bottom and inside edges of the cake pan. Shake out any excess flour and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the almond paste with 1 egg yolk. You might have to do this with your hands as the almond paste is hard to work with a fork or whisk.
Add the lemon juice and rind to the almond paste. Then whisk in the melted butter with a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Whisk the 4 eggs and the remaining yolk with the sugar in the top part of a double boiler set over simmering, not boiling, water. Beat the eggs with a hand mixer until they have doubled in volume and turned an ivory color.
Remove from the heat. Fold one-quarter of the beaten eggs into the almond paste batter to lighten it, then fold in the rest.
Sprinkle the nuts over the batter and, using a sieve, sift the cornstarch in as well. Very quickly fold all these ingredients together until no cornstarch shows. Work fast so that you do not deflate the eggs.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until cake tester, when inserted into the center of the cake, comes out dry. Keep a sharp eye out as it may take less than 30 to 40 minutes. If the cake browns too quickly, cover it loosely with a piece of foil.
While the cake is baking, strain the apricot preserves through a fine sieve to remove any large pieces of fruit.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then unmold it and spread the strained apricot preserves around the sides and on top of the cake to glaze it. Pat the sliced almonds onto the apricot preserves around the sides of the cake.
May be served on a doily-covered round platter. Garnish with little fans of fresh lemon. Cut cake into small wedges.
POT DE CREME AU CHOCOLAT
For 4 servings:
2 cups heavy cream
4 oz melted sweet chocolate (best quality chocolate is recommended)
4 eggs, yolks only (make macaroons with the whites)
2 Tbsp rum or brandy
Heat cream in double boiler. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Beat egg yolks until creamy yellow and pour hot cream and chocolate mixture over them. Add rum or brandy.
Pour into pot au chocolat cups. Place cups in hot water about 1 inch deep. Put in oven and bake at 325°F (165°C) for 30 minutes. Serves 4 people.
If you don’t have pot au chocolat cups, substitute a Pyrex baking dish with a lid. Place the chocolate mixture in Pyrex dish, cover and put dish in pan with 1 inch hot water. Bake at 325°F (165°C). (If using a Pyrex dish and doubling the recipe, bake for 45 minutes. If cooking for 4 people, use a smaller baking dish and cook for 30 minutes.) Spoon out into your favorite imari soba cups. Top with whipped cream and a candied violet or something similar. Can be served either warm or cold. One advantage to serving it cold is that it can be prepared ahead of time.