Saturday, December 03, 2011

Behind The Scenes: White House Pastry Shop Goes Into Overdrive For Holiday Cookie Operation

The President and First Lady will entertain thousands of guests for holiday parties, and the pastry chefs hand-decorate every cookie...
In the next three weeks, the President Obama and First Lady Obama will welcome thousands of guests for afternoon and evening holiday receptions. Lucky recipients of the coveted invitations will be treated to all kinds of delights from the White House kitchen, but few are more labor intensive--or ephemeral--than the holiday cookies that will be served. Thousands of the decorated delights--shaped like First Dog Bo, Christmas trees, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, snowflakes, candy canes--are each hand-made in the White House pastry shop. It has become a high-volume production operation, a sugar-drenched version of Santa's workshop, where cookies stand in for toys. (Above: Mrs. Obama decorated cookies with her first holiday guests on Wednesday, children from military families, joined by Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, left, and assistant pastry chef Susie Morrison)

"We'll be baking between fifteen and twenty thousand cookies," Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses told Obama Foodorama.

Cookie operation started in early Fall...
The pastry shop is located in a relatively tiny space on the ground floor of the White House, where space is tight and work surfaces limited. The chefs started making the sweet dough three months ago, and it was frozen in anticipation of December's cookie mania, Yosses said. All the same, those in the sugar shop are working very long hours throughout the holiday season. The cookie dough is defrosted on a daily basis, then cut into shapes. Tray after tray is loaded into the ovens and baked. (Above: A tiered serving tree of holiday cookies)

After cooling, each cookie is then hand-decorated with icing and sparkling sugar. There's no getting around the intense individual labor each cookie requires, to put on the base-coat of colored sugar, and different colored accents. Some cookies are more labor intensive than others: The cookie shaped like Rudolph has four colors. There's brown sparkle for the body, and white and black accents for antlers, hooves, and face. The red nose contains little flecks of sparkle, and each cookie also wears a red collar with white dots. Even for pros used to wielding pastry bags, it's a ton of effort for treats that literally vanish in seconds. (Above: The complicated Rudolph cookie is visible on this cookie platter, as are Bo cookies, snowflakes, holly leaves, and chocolate chunk cookies)

Guests tend to eat multiple cookies--as well as, er, pocket them--so the pressure is on to bake enough each day so the serving platters are kept filled.

Bo cookies are the most popular...
Bo, said Mrs. Obama this week, is "the most famous member of the Obama family." The Bo-shaped holiday cookie, decorated with a little red collar with a holly leaf, is the most popular with guests. There are also cookies shaped like bees in honor of the first-ever White House beehive, which sits on the South Lawn beside Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden. (Above: Bo and bee cookies)

"Everyone loves Bo," said Yosses.

Images of the First Dog are featured throughout the White House decor, which has the theme of "Shine, Give, Share" in honor of military families.

The recipe for the holiday cookies, also used for the White House Halloween cookies, is here. Chocolate chip cookies, shortbread cookies, and Gingerbread cookies will also be served to guests. The Gingerbread recipe is here; it can also be used to make ornaments. It's the same recipe used for the walls and roof of Yosses' spectacular White House Gingerbread House. Special cookies will be cut when the President and Mrs. Obama host their annual Hanukkah reception. (Above: A member of the Residence staff at a cookie station in the Grand Foyer; hot apple cider was also being served)

Regional foods spotlighted in buffets...
The President and Mrs. Obama will host about 17 receptions and open houses before departing for a vacation in Hawaii on December 17th, an aide said. Guests will also be treated to a big selection of foods that spotlight regional American cuisine, according to Executive Chef Cris Comerford.

These will be offered at laden buffet stations, and among other specialties will include smoked salmon; tiny lamb chops; sliced roast beef; plenty of roasted vegetables; tiny new potatoes and sweet potatoes; shrimp cocktail (more than 2,000 pounds of Gulf seafood was ordered to be served during last year's holiday season); artisan cheeses, and other holiday baked goods, such as lemon cake, chocolate cake, and Holiday Apple Cake with Maple Glaze. The recipe is here.

Click here to download the 2011 White House Holiday Tour Book for information on the decorations in each room. It also contains a recipe for a holiday pumpkin cake, and instructions for how to build the kind of paper Christmas tree that sits in the East Garden Room. (Above: A platter of holiday cookies)

Check the sidebar for more White House recipes.

CLICK HERE for all 2011 White House holiday posts. CLICK HERE for all Holiday Photos of the Day.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama