Cookie crews explain what makes Christmas cookies so special

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 22, 2016

 Shoppers at the Bishop Foley Catholic High School Cookie Walk and Craft Show can take as many or as few cookies as they like from a variety of bakers and pay for their haul by the pound.

Shoppers at the Bishop Foley Catholic High School Cookie Walk and Craft Show can take as many or as few cookies as they like from a variety of bakers and pay for their haul by the pound.

Photo provided by Bishop Foley Catholic High School

METRO DETROIT — Just as surely as holiday revelers can expect to see evergreen wreaths and sparkling strings of lights, they can count on being surrounded by a barrage of baked goods, made with love — and plenty of sugar.

Holiday treats — particularly Christmas cookies — are a tradition as old as the celebration itself. Whether you’re raiding  a stash of cookies left by the office coffee pot or toiling over an oven to bake gifts for family and friends, metro Detroiters are ready for a taste of the season.

Over at the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, executive pastry chef Mark Slessor is putting the finishing touches on his annual gingerbread creation, which, if you ask anyone who stops into the hotel during the holiday season, is really more of an art installation. 

“This year we decided to change up the gingerbread house display,” Slessor said of the annual gingerbread creation to support The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign. “Last year we did a lighthouse to give it a bit of a Michigan theme, but this year we wanted to go with a classical feel. So we’re doing the ‘Gingerbread Express,’ because everyone remembers trains from some point in their life, playing with them as kids or seeing them go around the Christmas tree or riding them at some point.”

The impressive sugar locomotive looks so real, Slessor said, that many onlookers can’t believe the exterior is entirely edible. The chef used real silver dust to create a metallic look on the engine and other parts. Chocolate was molded into knobs and nuts, and less edible bits were installed to give the train realistic motion.

Like many Christmas cookies, Slessor said, it was in the design that he went above and beyond when baking up the Gingerbread Express. When it came to the cookie parts, he kept it simple.

“You can add a little lemon oil or something to cookies to give it a different flavor, but honestly my favorite icing is the simple water and powdered sugar mix. Pour it over a shortbread cookie and you’ve got something classical and amazing. You don’t have to go difficult,” he said.

Christmas cookies aren’t just a snack at Bishop Foley Catholic High School in Madison Heights — they’re an excuse for a great party and a major fundraiser.

“Our annual St. Nicholas Cookie Walk is a big hit. People come back every year asking when it’s going to be,” said Samantha Sheehan, marketing and communications coordinator for Bishop Foley school.

The cookie walk is an event held the first weekend each December at the school, where parents volunteer to donate homemade cookies — about six dozen each — and shoppers can select which cookies they’d like to sample and take home. Cookies don’t need to be sold by the dozen — rather, just a few, if they like, resulting in a truly tasty variety of flavors. 

“There’s a wide array of family recipes: everyday cookies, Christmas cookies. Your picks get weighed at the end, and it’s typically $6.99 a pound,” Sheehan said. “It’s a good way to start thinking about Christmas. People come and taste the cookies, the choir usually performs, and we’ve added a craft show. It’s just a good way to get into the spirit.”

The Bishop Foley Catholic High School Cookie Walk and Craft Show will be held 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3. The craft show will stay open until 3 p.m. Admission to the cookie walk is free, and admission to the craft show costs $2, or is free with the purchase of cookies.

Bishop Foley Catholic High School is located at 32000 N. Campbell Road in Madison Heights.

The Gingerbread Express will benefit The Salvation Army, which serves communities across metro Detroit. Visitors to the Royal Park Hotel are invited to purchase a dessert from the Park 600 bar and kitchen through the holiday season, and $1 per dessert will be donated to The Salvation Army.

The Gingerbread Express will be available for viewing through Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.

The Royal Park Hotel is located at 600 E. University Drive in Rochester.

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