Gingerbread Man Cookies
No cookie says Christmas more than a gingerbread man cookie! It’s been thirty years since I last made gingerbread men, and it took all weekend to get this recipe right.
After starting with a truly terrible recipe from a 1974 edition of the Joy of Cooking (1/4 cup of butter for 3 1/2 cups of flour? – had to throw the whole batch out), I experimented until I came up with this recipe, which makes some rather tasty cookies.
My guess is that the Joy cookie was originally developed to be a tree ornament, not something you’d want to eat. These cookies on the other hand are a joy to eat. They’re deeply flavored with spices and molasses as a good gingerbread should be, and sweet enough to be a proper cookie. I baked them so they are more tender than crispy. If you want a little snap to them, just cook them a bit longer.
After running around to several stores looking for the perfect gingerbread man cookie cutter, and getting nowhere, I created my own stencils (see links below). To use them, print them out and fold them in half lengthwise to make it easy to cut along the lines (don’t worry if the lines don’t perfectly match up, I drew them freehand.) Place the stencil over the rolled-out dough and use a small sharp knife to cut along the inside of the stencil.
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature, softened)
- 1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
- Optional for decorating: raisins, currants, chocolate chips, candy pieces, frosting
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
1 Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices: In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
2 Make the dough: In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in eggs and molasses. Gradually add the flour mixture; combine on low speed. (You may need to work it with your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.)
3 Chill the dough: Divide dough in thirds; wrap each third in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. If after refrigerating the dough feels too soft to roll-out, work in a little more flour.
4 Roll out dough, cut shapes: Heat oven to 350°F. Place a dough third on a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper or wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate again for 5-10 minutes to make it easier to cut out the cookies.
Use either a cookie cutter or place a stencil over the dough and use a knife to cut into desired shapes.
Press raisins, chocolate chips, or candy pieces in the center of each cookie if desired for "buttons".
5 Bake and decorate: Transfer to un-greased baking sheets. Bake until crisp but not darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit a few minutes and then use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired.
The traditional way to make Royal Icing is to beat egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the powdered sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. With modern concerns about salmonella from raw eggs, you can either use powdered egg whites or heat the egg whites first to kill any bacteria.
With the heating method, mix the egg white and lemon juice with a third of the sugar, heat in a microwave until the mixture's temperature is 160°F. Then remove from microwave, and beat in the remaining sugar until stiff peaks form.
Using the powdered egg whites method, combine 1 Tbsp egg white powder with 2 Tbsp water. Proceed as you would otherwise. (Raw egg white alternatives from the 2006 Joy of Cooking)
If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency. Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes. (Or use a plastic sandwich bag, with the tip of one corner of the bag cut off.) Keep the icing covered while you work with it or it will dry out.