Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread cookies are no doubt a classic around the holidays. Who can resist shamefully biting off each limb of the helpless gingerbread man, before finishing him off with one munch of his head? What a way to go!

I love these old fashioned gingerbread cookies because they're not hard and crunchy. The secret is rolling the dough no thinner than 1/4 inch. This ensures that you'll get beautiful gingerbread that is soft and chewy (if you prefer them crunchy- roll them thinner). This recipe is pleasantly gingery without being overwhelmingly hot. The dough is smooth and easy to work with. You can cut the cookies into a variety of shapes and sizes and are just as fun to decorate as they are to eat. I love decorating them with royal icing, but if you're looking to save time, simply dust them with confectioner's sugar. 

The dough freezes exceptionally well, making it easy to have a nice quantity on hand to make cookies at a moments notice. You never know when unexpected guests are going to pop in, especially around the holidays. I often double this recipe and bake half in mid December and the rest on Christmas Eve.

Guess which one Aaron decorated?

Adapted from Sylvia Sebastiani, Mangiamo, Let's Eat!

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. molasses
5 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground ginger (see notes below)
¾ tsp. salt
½ cup cold water (set aside 2 tbsp.) 
1½ tsp. baking soda

In a large bowl, using a stand or handheld mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Stir in molasses. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in the 2 tbsp. of cold water and set aside.

Sift flour with spices and add to creamed mixture alternatively with the remaining water, stirring well after each addition. Stir the dissolved baking soda into the dough and mix well. Refrigerate 30 minutes to an hour before rolling out on a lightly floured surface to ¼ inch and cutting into desired shapes.

Place cookies on parchment lined sheet pans and bake 10 to 15 minutes in a 325 degree F oven. Let cool completely on wire racks before decorating with royal icing. Allow icing to dry and store in well sealed containers. 

Yield: about 30 cookies

Courtesy, Martha Stewart Living, March 1997

2 large egg whites, or more to thin icing
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar, or more to thicken icing
1 lemon, juiced (if you don't prefer lemon, use 1 tsp. vanilla extract instead)
Food coloring, as desired

In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually add sugar and lemon juice (or vanilla extract) and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny. Increase speed to high and beat until mixture forms stiff peaks, about 5 to 7 minutes. If icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it's too thin, add more sugar. Add food coloring if desired. Transfer to a pastry bag or a zip-top bag (with one end snipped off) and pipe onto cookies. The icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Yield: about 2½ cups

  • If you're opposed to using raw egg, substitute 5 tbsp. meringue powder and 1/3 cup water for the egg whites. Or use pasteurized eggs.
  • If you like your gingerbread cookies extremely gingery, add another teaspoon ground ginger. Taste the dough before you begin baking to see that it's to your liking. 

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