Thursday, January 5, 2012

What we ate for Christmas - cookies

The boys love decorating a gingerbread house at Christmas but I, for all of my culinary aspirations and experiments, do not. I find it a fussy, unpleasant task that fills me with rage. Last year when I found myself getting out the glue gun in an effort to make our darn gingerbread house stay together (after four kinds of icing failed) I vowed never again. I felt bad banning the gingerbread house from our Christmas repertoire but not for long since my proposal to make gingerbread cookies instead - shaped ones that we can decorate and actually eat - went over very well. We never ate our gingerbread house creations (particularly those that I stuck together with toxic glue, obviously) so I wanted a recipe that would make some good looking and good tasting cookies. I turned to my trusty Joy of Cooking for this particular task knowing that on page 828 is a simple recipe for Gingerbread People that delivers both great looking and great tasting treats.

You need to be a little bit organized to make these cookies since the dough has to stand at room temperature for at least two hours before you can use it. I made our batch a day ahead and let it chill in the fridge and brought it back to room temperature before baking.

Gingerbread People - from The Joy of Cooking

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
6 tbsp butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (I omitted this and the cookies were still tasty)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and egg on medium speed until well blended. Add the molasses and vanilla (lemon zest if using) and beat until well combined. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic and let stand at room temperature for 2-8 hours. Dough can be stored for 4 days but should be refrigerated; return to room temperature before using. (When I wrap my dough in plastic I tend to flatten the dough into disks rather than wrapping it as a ball. This makes it a bit easier to roll out later.)

When ready to bake, position rack in upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease cookie sheets.

Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface. Lightly dust a rolling pin and roll the dough to a scant 1/4 inch thick. (Mine was likely thicker. I'm not so good at being scant.) Add more flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking.

Cut out the cookies using gingerbread boy or girl cutters. Or whatever strikes your fancy. I have a rather large collection of Christmas cookie cutters so we made gingerbread men, mittens, snowflakes, angels, reindeer and even hearts. (Because we heart Christmas, I assume. Patrick grabbed that one.) You can see by the shapes below that I have a large gingerbread man cutter but only a small gingerbread girl cutter. I think she might be left over from the late 90's when I attended a gazillion bridal showers. I always made up a cookie baking gift basket, and I tied a ginger-boy and girl cookie cutter to the ribbon sealing the package to give a sort of bride/groom vibe to the gift. This cutter may have been an extra, or I may have misplaced my gingerbread boy. Either way, after Christmas I scored a large gingerbread girl cookie cutter for the whopping price of 50 cents so next year watch out - all of our gingerbread people will be the same size. Not that anyone but anal-retentive me noticed (cared about?) the difference.


Your cookies will be quite thin, so transfer them to your cookie sheet using a spatula. (I have an actual dedicated-to-cookies-only spatula. See above re: anal-retentive.) Bake 7-10 minutes, rotating the sheet half-way through baking for even browning. Roll the dough scraps and continue cutting out and baking cookies until all the dough is used. When cookies come out of the oven let them stand on the cookie sheet to firm slightly before putting them on a rack to cool entirely.

Once our cookies were baked and cooled the fun started. I set out various tubes of icing (not home-made - I'm no hero when it comes to cookie decorating) and sprinkles and let the boys have at 'er.

They had so much fun decorating (i.e. making a mess of the kitchen). You can see that David even got in on the action - that's his ginger-hab boy in the bottom right corner. One of our gingerbread girls turned into a hula dancer. And Patrick made a Luigi (from Super Mario Bros.) gingerbread boy. We're a creative bunch. These truly are great-tasting gingerbread cookies so the boys were very proud to share their beautiful and delicious creations with guests through the month.

Doesn't this guy look like he's trying to wave for help, perched up on the pantry shelf in his Tupperware prison? He knows he looks good and he's tasty, so he's a goner.

All things considered, I don't think the boys will be begging to do a gingerbread house next year. No-rage gingerbread cookies are so much more fun!

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