Not My Gumdrop Buttons
A week of Christmas cookie posts would not be complete without at least one classic – the Gingerbread man! Gingerbread recipes are abundant, but this is by far my favorite. It is not cloyingly sweet, has the perfect amount of spice, and creates a soft cookie – my favorite way to have gingerbread. My sister and I have been making this recipe for years, and always love the results. The original recipe calls for vegetable shortening, but we forgot to check Mom’s cabinets before we started baking this year. With no shortening and no energy to run to the grocery store, we decided to substitute butter instead. My mom Googled shortening substitutes on her iPad and informed us that this would be okay, but that it would make the cookies soft and a bit harder to work with. (Seriously, what did we do before Google?!) We crossed our fingers and hoped it would work!
The dough has to be chilled at least overnight, but ours ended up staying in the fridge for about 2 days, the outer limit of what the recipe allows. When we finally started to roll the dough out, we definitely saw the difference in texture that the shortening makes. The dough was very soft and sticky, and would stick to the counter and rolling pin without copious amounts of flour. However, my sister’s patience paid off! She came up with a system: The dough was split in two so she could work with one log at a time. She sprinkled a ton of flour under the dough and over the roller, and then worked quickly to cut out the cookies and place them directly on a baking pan. She would alternate between dough logs, keeping the other one in the freezer for a blast chill in the interim. After 10 minutes in a hot oven, we were greeted by the best gingerbread cookies we have made to date! Although the dough was hard to work with, the taste was by far superior to other doughs we have made with shortening. There was none of that shortening aftertaste that can haunt gingerbread recipes, and the texture of the cookie was perfect.
Our final step was decorating. Let’s just say we have come a long way in our piping skills in the past few years! We spooned a classic Royal icing into sandwich bags, cut a small slit in the corner, and piped classic gingerbread men with simple outlines and faces. We used to go all out with colored sugars and candies, but we decided to stick with classic elegance this year. We couldn’t be completely uniform, though, and so had a bit of fun making a few characters! Any cookies that baked into funny positions we turned into named and specially decorated “gingies”. My favorites: a cookie with a “bullet hole” adorned with a Temple T in honor of the dangerous reputation that my sister’s school gets, the running man gingy donning running shoes, a few German gingies with curly hair and lederhosen, and a few wintertime guys with scarves. Still kids at heart, even with our much improved decorating skill!
With so many cookies fresh from the oven, we made up a bunch of plates and boxes to send off to friends and family! A few boxes were put in the mail, a few plates were made for co-workers and neighbors, and the rest were hidden from mindless nibbling in the basement fridge. I think I am baked out for a good while now! Hope you have made a bunch of fun treats to enjoy over the holiday weekend. I am looking forward to enjoying Christmas cookies and spending more time with family and good friends, celebrating the greatest gift of all – the birth of my savior, Jesus. Have a great holiday!
Question: What are your Christmas plans? Does your family have any fun holiday traditions?
adapted from an old church cookbook
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened (original recipe calls for 1 stick butter + 1/4 cup shortening)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 egg whites
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper through a wire sieve into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light in texture and color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, overnight or up to two days.
On the day you make the cookies, also prepare the Royal icing. Add the egg whites to a stand mixer and begin to beat. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until a stiff icing forms. The Royal Icing should peak and not drip off the beaters when lifted.
To roll out the cookies, work with one disk at a time, keeping the other disk refrigerated. Place the dough on a well floured work surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick, being sure that the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface (run a long meal spatula or knife under the dough occasionally just to be sure, and dust the surface with more flour, if needed). For softer cookies, roll out slightly thicker. Using cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and transfer to nonstick cookie sheets, placing the cookies 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and form into another disk. Wrap and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes before rolling out again to cut out more cookies. Bake until the edges of the cookies are set and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely. Decorate with Royal Icing, spooned into a sandwich bag with a small slit in the corner. Store between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container.