We have a tradition that each year everyone in the family chooses a cookie to make for the holidays. That makes four cookies altogether, and it usually turns out to be a nice assortment.
I was feeling like baking something classic, so when I read all the 5-star reviews on the Holiday Ginger Cookies I decided that would be my pick. I made a double batch. The first batch was kind of a practice round I shared with teachers and for holiday hostess gifts. The second batch is in the freezer, waiting to decorate once the kids are off school closer to Christmas.
I like the way this recipe can be done in manageable bits and pieces. Day 1, I made the dough. Day 2, I rolled out the dough and made the cookies. Day 3, I made the frosting and decorated the cookies.
Day 1: The dough
To begin, simply put the sugar, butter, egg, molasses and vanilla in the mixer bowl and beat until creamy. Very easy.
After 3-5 minutes mixing on medium, scrape down the dough a final time.
Then add all the dry ingredients. I like to mix the dry ingredients with a whisk in a small bowl until combined before adding it, but this isn’t necessary.
Mix this flour mixture into the dough – starting slow to avoid a face full of flour – and the dough is ready.
The dough is fairly stiff already, but it needs refrigeration to firm up enough for rolling out. Divide the dough into two balls, wrap in plastic, and put them into the refrigerator. The recipe says to chill for 1 to 2 hours; I made mine on a Monday and rolled out on Wednesday. Again, I just squeezed the steps into my schedule throughout the week.
Day 2: Roll out and bake
Within two days of making the dough, take it out of the fridge and start rolling it out, one ball at a time. Keep your second ball in the fridge. When you start rolling, it is very firm and even breaks up a little.
I used my hands to push the dough back together when pieces broke off and continued rolling. As the dough softens a bit, you will soon have a silky sheet of dough about 1/8-inch thick.
I like my gingerbread boys chewy, so I made sure to err on the side of a little thicker rather than too thin. Now, just cut out a first batch of gingerbread boys, getting strategic about how you place the cutter so you can maximize the dough area. If you like puzzles, this is actually fun.
A real puzzle fanatic could improve on my yield, perhaps, but I was fine with my first attempt. Continue re-rolling and cutting. If it gets too soft at any point, just wrap it back up and let it chill again while you work on the second ball. When pulling the cut cookies out, it helps to remove the dough from around the cookie and then pull it out.
As you fill your cookie sheets, pop them into the oven for 6-9 minutes. I like to bake one sheet at a time, so if I get ahead of myself I just place filled sheets into the fridge to wait for the oven to be free. I like to use 3 or 4 cookie sheets, so that I never have to worry about cooling between batches. Another way to manage this is to just wash the pan in cool water and dry between batches.
I baked mine for about 8 minutes, pressing lightly on one cookie to make sure they were set. They start out brown, so color is not a good measure with these little guys. And overcooking is not good, especially if you want soft, chewy cookies. An amount of trust in the recipe is required to avoid baking too long. But, boy oh boy, this recipe is as good as the reviewers say!
After a minute or even a minute and a half, use a spatula to move the cookies to cooling racks or a cool surface. I like to start with the spatula under a leg rather than the head which is more likely to break off. I did lose one head while doing this, but I assure you it was not a problem. Just an opportunity to sample my cookies. The cookie was so good!
Let them cool for an hour or an afternoon, then get ready to frost or, like I did, pack them up in a container separated by waxed paper sheets until you have time to frost in the next few days. As I mentioned, I made two batches, so I packed one up and put it in the freezer for later in December.
Day 3: Decorating!
The frosting is just as easy as the dough. Just put all the ingredients in at once and – starting very slow – mix it all up. Add only 1 or 1 ½ tablespoons of milk to begin with so that the frosting doesn’t get too soft. Mine needed more milk after the first mixing.
I added another tablespoon of milk, ½ tablespoon at a time, and achieved the creaminess I needed for piping frosting on the cookies.
I don’t have any special frosting equipment, so I just put frosting into one corner of a plastic food bag and cut off the tip. Cut just a tiny opening; you can always make it bigger if you need to.
Now, pipe designs and faces or whatever you like onto your cookies. Bring them to life, so to speak! It might take a cookie or two to get the hang of this, but I always figure I need to save a cookie for each of my girls, and they never mind flaws on homemade cookies.
Very soon, you’ll have bunches of cookies. I made each of mine a little different, but you could also make them the same. I was wishing I had a skirted gingerbread girl cookie, too, but I’ll just be sure to put that on my Christmas wish list.
Silly and fun! I must say my frosting skills need work, but when I asked my daughter Kate to pick one she wanted to eat, she exclaimed, “Oooh, they’re all so cute,” so I must have done “ OK.” Here’s the one she decided was her favorite, but then she chose another one to eat because it had more frosting!
It is really starting to feel like the holidays. I packed up a few of the large cookies into a tin for a hostess gift for an upcoming party, using some holiday parchment I found at the craft store.
Then I put several on a plate for Zoey to take off to school for the teachers at her school. Gingerbread Boys are always a joy for teachers to have in class. And, Zoey’s teachers do so much for our family that it’s nice to surprise them once in a while!
Sharing cookies is such a personal and thoughtful way to thank all those people who make a difference in your every day. And, I find that to be able to give is in itself a gift. Bake these Holiday Ginger Cookies, or any other cookies, and let me know if you feel the same. Happy Holidays!
Check back in a few days when Julie makes another amazing holiday treat.
Liz is paid to write for the Land O'Lakes Recipe Buzz™ Blog.