Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gingerbread Cookies

I love gingerbread cookies.  Apparently they aren't for everyone since our house is usually split among those who love and those who won't take a bite. Interestingly, those who don't like them tend to also not like ginger in their food.  In my case, ginger is one of my all-time favorite spices.  I love the smell when I open the jar. I love to peel and slice fresh ginger. I'll even admit to smelling my fingers after putting finely chopped ginger in a pan.  As you can guess then, gingerbread cookies are my favorite Christmas cookies.

That being said, I am also very picky (and slightly snooty) when it comes to these classic cookies.  When I was little, we lived in a very small town in Alabama.  There were no malls and no big shopping centers like Wal-Mart at the time.  All of the big shopping had to be done in a town 30 minutes away.  Every Christmas season my mom would drive to Dothan for the entire day and do most of her Christmas shopping.  Although we hated not being allowed to tag along, we knew when she came home she always had a white paper bag for each of us with the biggest gingerbread men you ever saw.  They had raisins for their eyes and buttons down their tummies.  The smell in the bags was heavenly.  Best of all, when you bit into them, your teeth sank into the cookie.  They weren't crunchy and they weren't too soft.  They were just right with a slight chew to them and a wonderful spicy flavor.  First went the legs, then the arms, then the belly, and finally the head. Poor guy!

It's been my mission since I began baking to find a recipe that fits the cookie of my memories.  In my search, I ran across a recipe from Fine Cooking (  I think it comes the closest with a little extra spice added by me.  Without my added touch, the recipe is a spicier version than the typical gingerbread cookie recipe.  However, I needed more. I always need more. Also, the recipe published has more of a gingersnap texture, rolling the cookies to 1/8 inch thick.  In testing the recipe, I did some this way and some about 1/4 inch thick.  The less you roll, obviously the less crisp they'll be.  The 1/4 inch dough was perfect for me, but do whatever you like. Are you a snappy kind of person or chewy? You decide.

They do make a lot of cookies, especially if you use small shapes. I used a biscuit cutter for perfect circles, small stars, and Christmas trees for my shapes. You can do whatever you like. One of the best parts for the dough is that it can be frozen.  My tip is to cut the dough into thirds, roll each third into a flat disc, and then freeze.  Take the discs out and thaw for about 30 minutes at room temperature. They will be ready to roll and shape when needed.

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3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened for 30 minutes
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup robust molasses
1 large egg
Turbinado Sugar for sprinkling (optional)

1.  Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

2.  Beat the softened butter, brown sugar, and molasses at medium speed for about 5 minutes.  You want the mixture to look light and fluffy, whipping air into the butter/sugar mixture.  Beat in the egg until throughly combined.

3.  Turn your mixer to a low speed and gradually beat in the dry ingredients until blended.

4.  If you plan to cut out your shapes right away, split the dough up into thirds and flatten the dough into a small disc using the palm of your hands.  The dough is easier to work with if you do it all in portions.  Wrap the discs with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  If you'd like to freeze the dough or one of the discs, be sure to wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.

5.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.  You can even use parchment paper to roll out the dough. Use one sheet underneath and one on top.  No stick. It's good stuff.

Using a rolling pin, roll your cookies to about 1/4 inch thick. If you want them crispy, you can roll them a little thinner. If your shapes are firm after you cut them, use a flat spatula to transfer them to the cookie sheet. If they are sticking to the paper, put your sheet in the freezer for about 10 minutes.  They'll pop right off onto your pan. Well, you'll have to move them there with your spatula, but you know what I mean. Space your cookies about 2 inches apart.
A little sprinkling of turbinado sugar gives a nice decorative effect

6.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on your oven.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or in your mouth.