When I was a little girl, we lived in a small town in Alabama called Enterprise. Enterprise was such a small town that we didn't have a mall and didn't even have a Walmart until close to the time we moved away. At the time, we had two movie theaters with two screens where my brother and I were "dropped off" to watch Empire Strikes Back at least ten times if not more. Friday nights were spent roller skating at Skateland where you could play video games, watch hot dogs spin around in a machine to make sure they were hot all the way around, and you avoided the middle of the rink for fear some very tall high school kid was going to knock you down and you'd never be able to find your way back to the railings.
Some time in late fall my mom would announce that she was on her way to Dothan to go Christmas shopping at the closest mall, which was 30 minutes away. My brother and I would immediately get excited and wait for her return because she always brought back our favorite treat: giant gingerbread men. They came from a bakery at the mall. They weren't decorated in any special way, just some raisins on the body and a little smile on the face. They were bald as a bat and weren't covered in icing the way I see most gingerbread people today. She would come home with a white paper bag and hand each of us our gingerbread people. Brent would go for the head first. I liked the feet.
To this day, I have tried and tried to find gingerbread that tasted the same as those. You can read about it in a past post of mine (
gingerbread cookies) from two years ago. Those gingerbread cookies were great, but they were more adult in texture and taste, meaning all of the grown-ups loved the intense flavor but my kids wouldn't touch them. They were more like a gingersnap than the memory of my childhood cookies. And, I was beginning to wonder if my memory of that chewy spiciness was just a memory or if they really were that good. It wasn't just about the perfect mix of spiciness I was searching for. It was also texture. I wanted to bite into it and not feel a crunch, and I didn't want it to be super soft. I wanted chewiness. I wanted something that would stick in my teeth and not crumble in my lap.
In my bar obsession mentioned earlier this week, I came across some ideas for gingerbread cookie bars that made me think why not try these? And, why not add a cream cheese frosting to these bad boys just to complete the idea. Never did I think the cookie bar would completely remind me of those elusive gingerbread men. I pooled together all of the recipes and came up with a version that hit the mark. Wow! I wish you could have smelled my kitchen. Sublime. That's all I can say.
The gingerbread is definitely not cake, even if it's shaped like a cake with frosting. They are dense cookies. Buttery, chewy with molasses, and spicy from the ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. This morning, I had one for breakfast. Yes, I did! It paired perfectly with my extra dark, black coffee. They went over so well with the family that out of the sixteen we started with, we are now down to zero in one day. Make these for Christmas. Make them for Thanksgiving. Make them to celebrate fall and winter. Make them to remember being a little kid again when excitement came from small gifts in little white packages.
Gingerbread Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 cups All-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
- 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
- 1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar
- 1/2 cup Butter, softened
- 1/4 cup Molasses
- 1 Egg
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- For the icing:
- 1 cup Powdered Sugar
- 4 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
- 4 Tablespoons Butter, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
For the cookies bars:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a 12.5 x 8 inch jellyroll pan by placing a sheet of parchment paper on top and spraying with cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt, and spices. Stir to combine and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until they are fluffy and light in color. Add the egg and mix at medium speed just until mixed in. Stir in the molasses and vanilla. Slowly add in your flour mixture and mix until combined.
4. Using a rubber spatula, turn your dough onto the pan and begin spreading it out to the edges. Using your hands is perfectly fine. Make sure it is spread out evenly.
5. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Cool completely before adding the frosting.
For the frosting:
1. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese at medium speed. Add in your powdered sugar and cream until you get the consistency you are looking for in your frosting. Stir in the vanilla extract.
2. Once the baked cookie bars have cooled completely, frost the entire cookie while still in the pan. Slice into bars, removing them from the parchment paper.