Baked for centuries in Europe, crisp ‘n’ spicy gingerbread is still a holiday tradition. Aromas of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg permeate the air as trays of gingerbread cookies, cut into fanciful shapes, bake to crunchy perfection. And, of course, decorating is as much a part of the tradition as the baking. Colourfully decked-out gingerbread boys and girls look festive hung on the Christmas tree and make great present-toppers wrapped in Cellophane. Designer-style gingerbread houses, made with all kinds of tempting treats, are fun centrepieces – if they can survive intact!
We had delightful gingerbread men in mind for this recipe, so we’ve kept the spicing mellow to appeal to bakers of all ages. Or, try this as the base for a gingerbread house the whole family will enjoy decorating.
Preparation time 20 minutes
Refrigeration time 30 minutes
Baking time 7 minutes
Makes 95 (2-inch/5-cm) cookies ¾ cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup (175 mL) lightly packed brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup (125 mL) molasses
3 cups (750 mL ) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground ginger
2 tsp (10 mL) cinnamon
½ tsp (2 mL) each of allspice, salt and baking soda
1. In a bowl, using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, beat butter with brown sugar until blended, at least 2 minutes. Beat in egg. Stir in molasses. In a large mixing bowl, using a fork, stir 2 cups (500 mL) flour with ginger, cinnamon, allspice, salt and baking soda until evenly blended. Make a well in centre, then pour in molasses mixture. Stir until all flour is absorbed. Stir in remaining flour, ¼ cup (50 mL) at a time, until dough is no longer sticky but still soft. Divide dough into 4 portions. Form into balls. Wrap or place in resealable plastic bags. Flatten dough slightly and seal. Refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 1 week, or freeze.
2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease baking sheets with shortening or vegetable oil, or coat with cooking spray. Roll out 1 ball of dough until 1/4 in. (0.5 cm) for thick cookies or 1/8 in. (0.3 cm) for thinner cookies. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Place on baking sheets.
3. Bake in centre of 350F (180C) oven until deep brown around edges and firm to the touch, about 10 minutes for thick cookies, or 7 minutes for thinner cookies that are about 2 in. (5 cm) wide. Larger cutouts require more baking time. Repeat with remaining dough.
4. Remove baked cookies to racks to cool. Cool sheets slightly before preparing the next batch. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container in a cool dry place. They will keep well for at least 1 month.
Peppery gingerbread Stir 1 tsp (5 mL) cracked or coarsely ground black pepper into flour mixture, then proceed as above. Cut into small cookies and press a pecan into top of each before baking.
Orange liqueur gingerbread Stir ½ cup (125 mL) orange liqueur into molasses mixture and 1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated orange peel into flour mixture. This dough is soft, so it must be refrigerated until very cold before rolling out.
Candied ginger gingerbread Stir ¼ cup (50 mL) finely chopped candied or crystallized ginger into flour mixture. Proceed as above.
Chocolate gingerbread Stir 8 oz (250 g) coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, about 1 cup (250 mL), into finished dough before rolling out.
Building a house
Decorating a gingerbread house is a holiday activity the whole family can enjoy. Whether you buy a kit or make it from scratch, keep these tips in mind:
Blue print: Pre-plan construction. Whether you’re making a traditional house, apartment building (strange, but I’ve actually seen one), mansion or rustic cabin – try it out on cardboard first. Cut out the pieces and loosely put them together to make sure your idea is feasible. Terra firma: Before assembling the house, prepare a sturdy base to place it on, such as a piece of wood or thick cardboard covered with foil. That way, you can move the house easily without fear of breaking or damaging it.
Rolling dough: If making dough from scratch, roll between 1/4 to 1/8 in. thickness. Cut out shapes using a template made from heavy cardboard – lay templates on dough, then cut around them.
Assembling: As soon as you remove gingerbread from oven, make any trims or adjustments – such as evening out wall heights – while it’s still warm. Use a pastry bag with different shaped tips for decorating. If it’s an elaborate piece you’re working on, first decorate and let dry completely, then assemble the pieces to form a house.
Storage: To keep your house in top-notch condition, store in a cool dry place. At night, cover with plastic wrap to protect from bugs and dust.