I’ve pretty much always hated gingerbread, in all forms, until about 2 years ago. Maybe I had bad gingerbread in the past. Maybe I didn’t want to waste the calories on a non-chocolate cookie. Who knows. I had no interest in gingerbread. Plus, my attempts at icing a cookie would probably get me a star spot on a pinterest fail website. In other words, while I can cook, I cannot decorate. I don’t think I have the fine motor skills required for such precision work. So, these cookies were never on my “to make list” because they lacked chocolate and required decoration. One day I was looking at traditional Christmas fare and, well, gingerbread is pretty traditional and old. It should be something I tried. I tried making it, and… it was awesome, for a non-chocolate cookie!! While I still can’t decorate them well (see above), poor optics is a small price to pay for good cookies.
Despite all the grand varieties of Christmas cookies I am willing to make (and eat!!), the kids request this cookie first every year!
Gingerbread is a rather old food, some think as many as a thousand years old. It can be a crisp cookie or a thick bread. It can be dark in color or light. There’s really no one gingerbread. What I love about these cookies is that they aren’t particularly sweet, but very crisp and are bursting with traditional Christmas spices. Also, no mixer is used in the making of these cookies, allowing multiple cookie doughs to be prepared at one time!
As this is a very old fashioned recipe, it lacks a certain level of fussiness. No need to refrigerate the dough for an hour (or overnight). The dough is incredibly easy to roll out. It’s not sticky at all. It won’t mess up your hands or completely coat your dough roller. It doesn’t need to rise. You make it, you bake it. I cannot speak highly enough about this recipe.
Typically, I try to use historical recipes for my blog. However, when I looked through all of my historical recipe books for a really old gingerbread cookie recipe, the measurements were a bit scary. A peck of flour. Um, say again? A dozen eggs. How many cookies are we making?!?! So, I found a recipe on epicurious.com that used traditional methods but had actual measurements I could follow. I tweaked it and came up with the one below. I cannot stress how easy these are to make, but more importantly, how awesome they are to eat.
Having made this recipe lots of times, you really need to Martha Stewart the prep work and have it all done and ready to go before you begin. The recipe moves very fast. Again, it’s not hard, just fast.
Yield: Depends on size of cookie cutters
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 9-10 minutes per batch (turn cookie sheet halfway through at the 4 minute mark)
2/3 cup molasses (not robust)
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown with no adverse consequences)
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 3/4 all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a heavy bottomed 4 quart sauce pan, bring molasses, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once a boil is reached, remove pan from the stove and add the baking soda. The mixture will foam and “grow” at this point, as well as lighten in color slightly. If you have kids, this part is really cool. After the baking soda is incorporated, add the butter 2-3 pieces at a time. Butter should be completely incorporated prior to the next addition. Add the egg and combine well. Stir in the flour and salt.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough is soft and easy to handle. You may need to add some flour if the dough is too wet (no more than ¼ cup). I’ve never really had to add much more than an obligatory sprinkle on top, no where near the ¼ cup. Unfortunately, this isn’t an exact science, so I can’t give you a precise amount.
Divide the dough in half. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap and set aside. Roll the remaining dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8th of an inch. Use your favorite cookie cutters and cut shapes. Transfer the cookies to a lined baking sheet (with a silicone liner or parchment paper, etc.), and bake about 9-10 minutes. The directions of the original recipe advise to bake “until the edges are slightly darker”. Well, the cookies are really dark to begin with, so I never see much of a difference. They just look done at somewhere around the 9 to 10 minute mark.
Cool on wire racks and decorate. I use cookie icing products that have the tips built in. I know, it’s processed “food” and bad. I’m already eating a cookie loaded with gluten and sugar. We are beyond bad at this point. Besides, these products don’t taste that much different than homemade and are so much easier to clean up!!