When most six-year-olds were running around and playing outdoors, Jack Witherspoon was fighting leukemia for the second time. After his first leukemia relapse in 2006, “Chef Jack” started cooking comfort food as a way to feel better.
Seven years and a published cookbook later, the inspiring young chef is still whipping up delicious original recipes.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, we asked the ambitious middle schooler to share the love (and an original recipe) with us. Jack recently spent a weekend baking his Sensational Sugar Cookies with Hard Cookie Icing—check out his recipe below and read on for our interview.
Sensational Sugar Cookies with Hard Cookie Icing
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
What You’ll Need:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for rolling dough
Hard Cookie Icing (recipe follows)
What You’ll Do:
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir with a whisk to blend. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until well blended. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a ball. Divide in half and flatten each piece into a disc. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease 2 baking sheets.
3. Remove one half of the dough from the refrigerator. Sprinkle a work surface with powdered sugar. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.Cut into your choice of shapes with cookie cutters. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared pans.
4. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or just until the cookies begin to brown on the edges. Let cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely before icing.
Hard Cookie Icing
For about 3 dozen cookies
What You’ll Need:
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk at room temperature
7 1/2 teaspoons corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or fresh lemon juice
Food colorings of choice
What You’ll Do:
1. In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar and milk and stir until smooth. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth. If the icing gets too thick, add more corn syrup.
2. Divide the icing among separate bowls and add food coloring to the desired intensity. Using a pastry brush, paint each cookie with the icing. If you want to add colored sugar or sprinkles, wait about 1 minute for the icing to begin to dry so the colors won’t run.
What first sparked your passion for cooking?
For more than a year, each month I had to have regular hospital stays, so I wound up watching a lot of TV. One afternoon, I happened to stumble on the Food Network. I had never seen a whole channel devoted to cooking before—it totally fascinated me! It didn’t take long before I decided I wanted to give cooking a try myself. I loved it and I’ve been hooked ever since. My mom has been a great teacher for me too and she’s an awesome cook.
What is your favorite part about being in the kitchen and cooking?
I love the creativity of cooking and how food brings people together. When I cook at home we make it a whole family experience.
Congrats on your new cookbook! How did it feel to publish a book at such a young age?
Publishing my book has been my dream come true—and I’m happy that part of the proceeds are donated to pediatric leukemia research! My book tells my story as well as being a collection of all of my favorite recipes. In December, I found out “Twist It Up” won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in France for best charitable cookbook in North America! That was very exciting!
Do you have a favorite recipe from the book?
If I had to choose one it would probably be my BBQ Ribs. Ribs and pasta are my favorite foods. Moms will love them too because they’ll please even the fussiest eaters!
What are you baking for Valentine’s Day this year?
Valentine’s Day is a holiday that makes me think “sweet”—and what better gift than my sugar cookies cut out in heart shapes and topped with my colorful icing? There’s no better way to show someone you care than by cooking or baking something for them.
Tell us about your frosted sugar cookie recipe. What makes it extra delicious?
There are two things that make my frosted sugar cookies extra delicious. First, I roll the dough out really thin, between 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch thickness. Right when the edges start turning a light golden brown I take them straight out of the oven. Now you’ll have a wonderful light and crunchy cookie that is a great foundation to build on and to decorate. The second thing that makes my cookies so amazing is topping them with shiny, hard icing. It is the perfect pairing of tastes—they’re sweet and crunchy and downright addicting!
Are you a dip-spoon-in-the-frosting type of chef?
Oh yeah!! I always taste when I cook and when I make my frosting it is no exception. Tasting is important in baking too—it will make you a better chef too.
What is your favorite Valentine’s gift?
My favorite kinds of gifts to receive (or to give) for Valentine’s Day are ones that are handmade. I especially love it when someone cooks or bakes for me, it shows me they care.
What are you getting your classmates this year?
I’m in middle school now, so you don’t really get each of your classmates cards or candy like you did when you were in elementary school. I did make a platter of my sugar cookies though and dropped them off at my school’s office. I could tell they liked them and they really appreciated it!
Need to find a last minute gift for teachers or classmates? Check out a few lovely options below!