Friday, December 18, 2009

Ginger, cinnamon, molasses...wonderful scents of the season...will perfume your home if you make these cookies.

I've been making these for Christmas for a long time. I first found the recipe in a Woman's Day magazine December issue over 30 years ago, but later found it printed in Maida Heatter's first cookie cookbook called Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies.

The dough is easy to work with, something that is not true of all rolled gingerbread recipes. It's also fun to make these because when the baking soda is added to the boiling spice, sugar and molasses mixture it foams up dramatically! Try this with your kids (and if they are old enough be ready to explain about the chemical reaction of the acidic molasses and basic baking soda)...they will be fascinated.

These cookies can be baked thin and crisp or thin and chewy or thicker and more cakelike...it is up to you. Roll them thin and bake them longer for crisp.

This dough works well for making Gingerbread Houses, too. Use a sharp small knife to cut around cardboard templates...file folders make great template materials, then re-cut if needed, again using the templates, once the cookies are baked. Since the pieces for a Gingerbread House are usually large, you will probably need two batches of the dough and will want to bake them at a lower temperature (300 degrees F) and longer to have the house pieces nice and crisp and well shaped.

Royal Icing can either be used to decorate cookies or to be used as 'glue' to hold Gingerbread House pieces together and stick on decorations and for 'snow' and 'icicles'. I've made ornaments decorated with Royal Icing and cinnamon candies and silver dragees. I'll thread some fine ribbon through the hole to use for hanging them.

Decorating the cookies or gingerbread house can be a delightful project to do with children. If they are too little to cut out and bake the cookies, you can do that part and then have them help with decorations. The cups of a muffin tin are great for keeping small decorations like sanding sugar, mini dragees, mini M and Ms, cinnamon red hots, etc. handy for adding to the wet Royal Icing. The really good news is that these cookies not only look great and are easy to make, they taste wonderful! The spices and molasses give them some bite and depth of flavor.Sweetie has taste tested them for me and he assures me that they taste great undecorated, too.

Swedish Ginger Cookies
from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies
Note: because cookie cutters and thickness of dough will vary, a count of how many the recipe makes isn't possible.


2/3 cup dark or light molasses
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
11 tablespoons butter, at room temperature (almost a stick and a half)
¾ tablespoon baking soda
1 egg
5 cups sifted all-purpose flour

For regular sized cut-out cookies, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. If you will be making large cookies, preheat to 300 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet or cookie sheet with foil, parchment, or silicone mat.

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over moderate heat, bring the molasses, sugar, ginger, and cinnamon just to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut the butter into 10inch pieces and place them in a large mixing bowl. (I use my stand mixer, so I use the stand mixer bowl).

When the molasses mixture comes to a boil, add the baking soda and stir until the mixture foams up to the top of the saucepan. Then pour it over the butter and stir to melt the butter.

With a fork, stir the egg lightly just to mix and then stir it into the molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the flour with a rubber or wooden spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a large board or smooth work surface and knead lightly until it is mixed thoroughly.

If you are making thin cookies, work with half the dough at a time (this is what I did) but for thick cookies work with it all.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and form it into a ball. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to the desired thickness. (I baked mine about ¼ inch thick, but you can make them thicker if you like. If you are using this dough to make gingerbread houses, you will want it at least ½ inch thick and will want to bake the pieces at 300 degrees F for at least 15 minutes, but up to 45 minutes, until crisp. You will be able to judge by the feel of the cookie.) Cut the shapes you want, using cookie cutters or a sharp knife. You may find that you need to flour cookie cutters so they will release the dough.

Gather the scraps into a ball and roll out again, incorporating as little flour as possible. Repeat until dough is used up.

Place the cookies on the prepared cookie or baking sheets. At this point you can cut a hole in the cookie for hanging as ornaments if you wish (an icing tip makes a good hole).

Bake in the preheated oven, switching back to front half way through. Bake until cookies feel firm to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for a minute or two, then remove from the baking sheet with a spatula to finish cooling. If you are using them for ornaments, check as soon as you remove them from the oven to make sure the hole didn’t bake closed. If it did, recut the hole.

To Prepare Cookie to Be Used As Christmas Ornaments:
If you have cut a hole in the cookie and re-cut once out of the oven, it is pretty simple to put a thread, thin ribbon, etc. through the hole for hanging. You can decorate the cookies as you wish, but a traditional way is to use Royal Icing. The Royal Icing can be used alone for a brown and white design, or it can be used to ‘glue’ on small candies, dragees, gumdrop slices, etc. Use a pastry bag with an icing tip or place some of the icing in a reclosable top bag, close it tight and snip a small amount off a corner of the bottom, squeezing icing through that hole onto the cookies.

Royal Icing for Decorating (This makes a generous amount)
1 pound (3 ½ cups, packed) confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup egg whites (2-3 eggs), at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar.

Strain the sugar by pressing it with your fingertips through a large strainer set over a large bowl. In the small bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites with about half of the sugar at high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the cream of tartar. Continue to beat while gradually adding more of the sugar, about ½ cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, until the icing reaches the desired consistency…it should be thick enough to hold its shape without running or flattening on the cookie, but not so thick that it is difficult to use or will not stick to the cookie. Usually you won’t need to use all the sugar. If the icing is too stiff, add more egg white or a few drops of water, very little at a time. If it is too soft, add more sugar. Keep the icing covered with plastic wrap to keep a crust from forming. If desired, divide the icing into small bowls and color with food colors for several different colors.

5 comments:

Katie said...

They are so cute. I love the smell of baking gingerbread, its so festive.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Ooh, how I wished I'd seen this post earlier. I spent a sticky evening trying to help my daughter make gingerbread people to take as gifts to her friends at church. My son is begging for a gingerbread house, so maybe I'll still get to use it. Your decorating is lovely! Do you string the people together (wondering about the holes in their hands)?

Elle said...

Katie, Me, too...it smells like Christmas to me...along with evergreens. Have a Merry Christmas!

Lynn, I've never done this before as ornaments, but that's my plan, to string them together through their hands. Just put one of the decorated hearts on my door wreath...it looks lovely! Merry Christmas to you, your hubby and the kids! Hope you make the gingerbread house...it's fun!

Dharm said...

love the ginger bread cookies!!

Liz said...

Thanks for posting this recipe! It looks fun to decorate with these cookies too (usually my family and I end up eating them all...)