Gingerbread People (and Bears)

We enjoy making gingerbread cookies every Christmas.  We like the spice combination in this gingerbread cookie recipe from Rose’s Christmas Cookies from Rose Levy Beranbaum.  The ginger flavor is not too strong, and the cookies are nicely crisp.  Rose is a perfectionist; each recipe in her books include charts for measuring by volume or weight (ounces or grams), how to mix with either an electric mixer or food processor, and detailed instructions and tips.  We’ve enjoyed several cookies from this book, but the gingerbread cookies are the ones that have become a tradition for us.  Rose’s recipe is for “Gingerbread People”, but most of the time we bake gingerbread Teddy Bear shapes.  I like the smaller size of the bears, and their limbs don’t break off as easily.  You can cut out whatever design you like—we’ve made these in pumpkin shapes for Halloween too.  The cookies keep for weeks, so you can bake them one day and decorate them on another.

These cookies are fun to decorate by piping royal icing through a tiny hole cut in the corner of a ziplock bag.  Cinnamon red hots make nice eyes or buttons for the cookies and stick on well with the royal icing.  The cookies become very individual, and make great gifts.  If you are feeling ambitious, you can scale the recipe up (omitting eggs and using less butter in the dough for a stiffer cookie) and make a gingerbread house.  There are directions for producing a gingerbread Notre Dame Cathedral in Rose’s book!

Gingerbread People (and Bears), adapted from Rose’s Christmas Cookies

3 cups bleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup unsulfured molasses (such as Grandma’s)
1 egg

Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl, using a fork or whisk to mix evenly.  Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl.  To measure the molasses, grease a liquid measuring cup with the butter wrapper or a little butter first, then pour in the molasses.  Add the ½ cup of molasses and the egg to the butter-sugar mixture and mix together, then gradually mix in the flour mixture.  Form the dough into a thick disc and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap.  Place the wrapped dough in the refrigerator for at least two hours (overnight is fine).  It is important to chill the gingerbread cookie dough before attempting to roll it out.  If it is not cold, it will stick to the rolling pin and the rolling surface.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 350°.  Butter a couple of cookie sheets.  I only butter them for the first batch—there will be enough grease on the sheet to keep the later cookies from sticking.

Roll the chilled dough out to about 1/8” thick, and use cookie cutters to cut out the dough and transfer to the cookie sheet.  I roll the dough out on a floured cloth, but you can use floured parchment or plastic wrap if you prefer.  Roll only a portion of the dough at a time, and keep the remainder in the fridge.  I re-chill the scraps to roll out for the last cookies.

Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes (or longer for larger cookies).  They should just be starting to turn darker around the edges when you take them out of the oven.  Let them cool for a minute on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

After the cookies have cooled, you can decorate them with Royal Icing.  Royal icing pipes easily, dries quickly, and is a good “glue” for sticking candies onto the gingerbread.  Zach likes the sugary taste of it too.

Royal  Icing, from Rose’s Christmas Cookies

2 egg whites
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar

Beat the egg whites and powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until blended together.  Then beat at the highest speed for 5-7 minutes, until the mixture is very glossy and able to form stiff peaks.  I use a stand mixer with a whisk attachment for this and shut the doors to the kitchen because it is a very noisy 6 minutes!

Put the icing into ziplock freezer bags, one bag for each person who will be decorating the cookies.  The icing will keep for up to three days at room temperature.

When ready to use the icing to decorate the cookies, cut a tiny hole in one corner of the ziplock bag and squeeze the bag to pipe designs onto the cookies.  You can get very creative with your accessories for the people (or bears).  When the icing has hardened, the cookies may be placed in cookie tins to store.  They will keep for weeks, but are so tasty that they won’t  last that long!

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2 Responses to Gingerbread People (and Bears)

  1. Diane says:

    This recipe is nearly identical to the one I use from Martha Stewart. She adds black pepper which brings in a nice little kick, though I cut her recommended amount in half. She also uses lemon juice in the royal icing, which complements the ginger if you ever want a variation. This is our favorite Christmas cookie of all, though I must admit I take a Jackson Pollock approach to decorating to save time. Plus it’s fun.

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