December 4: Gingerbread Men

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It’s just not Christmas without Gingerbread men.  (And as a writer, I can’t decide if I need to capitalize Gingerbread each time. Gingerbread. gingerbread. Eh. I’ll consult the AP guide later.)

I have a normal gingerbread recipe that’s been good to me over the years, but I realized I was out of cloves, and didn’t want to go out to get any. A few Google searches later, I found a recipe for Gingerbread men that did not have clove in it. 

After creaming and mixing and chilling, I pulled my dough out and rolled it.  No matter how careful I am, my dough always ends up looking like an Eastern European county when it’s all rolled out. 

And then, of course, the cats wanted to watch. I kept shooing them off, but they kept coming back. Zelda, the gray and beige Tortie, even tried to steal some dough. Once I threw her some on the floor, she left me alone. So my cat likes Gingerbread. Okay then. 

I cut them out and baked them and then it happened: Royal Icing Trauma. My friend Manda is a cookie baker too, but much more professional, and I asked her about her royal icing recipe. I made it, and tried to decorate my gingerbread people. 

They did not turn out well at first. 

This was so not Manda’s fault. I texted her some pictures and she told me that royal icing is something you need to thin. Once I did, they turned out much better. 

I had a lot of fun decorating these. Besides the traditional gingerbread man and woman, I made a skeleton, a queen, a Hawaiian girl, two reindeer, and some beach bums. For someone that never enjoyed coloring (it still stresses me out), this surprised me. 

The Perfect Gingerbread Cookie

(from Sweetapolita.com)

Ingredients

  • 6 1/2 cups (815 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (283 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (220 g) light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup (220 g) cooking molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In large bowl, sift together flour, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping sides of bowl between additions. Add molasses and vanilla and beat until completely incorporated.
  3. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Dough should be soft (not dry or crumbly) but not sticky. If sticky, add a few tablespoons of flour until desired consistency is achieved.
  4. Divide the dough in 2, place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap, press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2″ thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Chill the discs of dough for at least 2 hours.
  5. Remove one disc and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of lightly floured parchment or wax paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn’t slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit.), then place two 1/4″ wooden dowels on either side of your dough, then another sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) so it’s flush with dowels–they will ensure that your dough is even thickness.
  7. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or freezer for 15 minutes (or more).
  8. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two or three baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment. Remove the rolled dough from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters or template of choice, placing them on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the edges just start to brown, about 8 minutes for medium cookies, and 10 minutes for larger cookies (such as those in the photos).Be careful not to over-bake, or cookies will be dry. Collect remaining dough and re-roll once, repeating cutting and baking steps. Dough rolled out more than once will be a little tough, so it’s best to keep it to a 2-time roll-out maximum. 
  9. Cool sheets on wire racks for 20 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling. If cookies are too fragile, you can cool completely on trays.
  10. Decorate with royal icing, candies, sprinkles, and more.

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