It occurs to me that I did not grow up eating gingerbread. I’m not sure I ever even had gingerbread until I was an adult, and possibly even as recently as within the last couple of years.
Is that weird?
What’s particularly significant about this fact is that it means I don’t really have a reference for what makes “good” gingerbread.
Last year was the first year I made and decorated gingerbread men. It was a recipe my mother found, and I’m not sure from where it originated. I do remember that it was quite good, and the resulting cookies managed to maintain their shape, while at the same time being soft and chewy.
This year, I chose a recipe from my old stand-by, The Joy of Cooking
. I’ve yet to make something from this cookbook that hasn’t turned out well, so I figured it was as good a place as any to find a gingerbread recipe. I also knew I wanted to adapt the recipe to incorporate white whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose. I’d had such good results with my Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
, and I wanted to see if I could achieve similar success with gingerbread.
The recipe in Joy is designed to be used for both gingerbread people and for building gingerbread houses. As such, I expected it to be quite hard once it was baked – and I was not disappointed. What was pleasantly surprising was that it was not at all tough – it was actually somewhat tender and crispy. And the beauty of it all is that it’s SUPER easy. I didn’t even use a mixer – just mixed it up by hand and let it rest in the fridge for a bit.
I love finding recipes that don’t require special equipment. I have some friends who don’t own so much as a hand mixer, and when I discover a recipe that they can easily mix up using nothing more than a saucepan, a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, it makes me happy. While I love my stand mixer and my food processor and all of the other various and sundry kitchen equipment that I own, sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics and make a recipe truly “by hand”.
prep time: 15 minutes
rest time: 2 – 24 hours
cook time: 7-10 minutes
yields: 24 3-inch gingerbread people, or one gingerbread house
1 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup unsulphured molasses
4 cups white whole-wheat flour
plus 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour for mixing and rolling
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- Combine butter, sugar and molasses in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir together until butter melts and sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool a bit.
- Combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the cooled butter mixture.
- Stir together using a wooden spoon. Continue stirring/beating until the mixture forms a ball and cleans the sides of the bowl.
- Work in another 1/4 cup or so more flour if necessary to form the ball.
- Remove dough from bowl and knead 3 or 4 times on the counter, until smooth and pliable. Wrap well and refrigerate until dough is thoroughly cool.
- Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
- Roll dough out, using a rolling pin, to 1/4 inch thickness.
- Cut out cookies using a cookie cutter and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on silpat-lined cookie sheets.
- Bake at 350F for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies have just barely darkened (for me, 10 minutes was too long).
- Decorate with Royal Icing (recipe below).
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon powdered egg whites/meringue powder
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat together in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Pipe onto cookies using a piping bag and a fine plain tip.
While I’m a fan of a chewy cookie, I thoroughly enjoyed these crispy treats. The ginger was prominent, with background notes of cinnamon and nutmeg peaking through. The teaspoon of salt was just enough to give balance to the whole thing. I think the extra molasses from the dark brown sugar helped keep the cookies lighter than they might have been had I used the original suggestion of granulated sugar. Most importantly, the whole-wheat flour worked itself seamlessly into the recipe – I couldn’t detect it in the flavor profile at all (sometimes I find that recipes that use whole-wheat flour in place of all-purpose have a bit of a raw flour flavor, but that wasn’t the case here).
In my uneducated (in terms of gingerbread) opinion, this is a recipe I would use again without hesitation. The flavor is complex, the texture is good, and the cookies hold their shape well (which I would think is an important factor in the world of gingerbread men and women).
If you end up using this recipe, let me know how it turns out.
I hope you enjoy!