Ah, what would Christmas be without gingerbread cookies?
Much as I wish it were the case, the recipe I use is not something scribbled on a notepad from a dear relative. Instead, it’s one that I have adapted from the ever-reliable Joy of Baking website. I cannot rave about how good that resource is – everything I’ve made from that site has worked like a dream, and there is a treasure trove of seasonal and international goodies.
So what have I changed? Well, mainly made it to my taste and used ingredients that are easier to find here in the UK. Firstly, I played with the spices. I use more ground ginger, mace in place of nutmeg, and I added a good dash of my German spice mixture. I also replaced the molasses with a mixture of black treacle, golden syrup and honey. In part, this is because we don’t have such easy access to molasses in Britain. Black treacle looks the same, but it has a very strong peppery flavour which is best balanced with a lot of other lighter syrups, hence our much-loved golden syrup and a couple of spoons of good heather honey.
A nifty thing about this recipe is that it allows you to make a range of shapes successfully, so it’s a good one if you like to make cookies with a little hole at one end so you can tie them to the Christmas tree with a ribbon. They puff up a little, but keep their firm, allowing you to make all manner of nifty cookies. Gingerbread men? Check. Stars and crescents? Check. Iittala shapes. Check.
Yes, I have an Iittala cookie cutter! It’s possible. This is one of my most treasured kitchen possessions, based on the classic shape designed by Alvar Aalto. How did I come by this? I was on a night ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, and saw it in the duty free shop. I umm-ed and aaaah-ed for a while, but didn’t buy it. Then, I found 20 cents in a corner. Beckoning along the deck were slot machines. Coin popped into slot, lever pulled, and I won four euro. Which, magically, was the price of the cookie cutter. I took this as a sign, bought it, and it now enjoys its special place in my kitchen, all the more so since it ceased production.
Back to the cookies. To finish them off, there are two ways to go. Either go traditional, with a thicker icing that you can pipe for finishing off gingerbread men, or you can achieve the “frosty” look by brushing them when they are hot with some runny icing. The cookies will be shiny and, as the icing cools, it will develop a festive “frosty” appearance, just like my star cookies. Ho ho ho!
And just in case you are wondering what happened to all of the cookies I have been making recently, they were all served up at Christmas drinks at my place. Something like this…
To make gingerbread cookies (adapted from Joy of Baking’s recipe):
• 390g plain flour
• 1/4 teaspoons salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon Lebkuchengewürz (optional)
• 115g unsalted butter, room temperature
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 70g black treacle
• 145g golden syrup
• 10g honey
Mix the flour, salt, baking soda and spices in a bowl, and sift well.
In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy (if the sugar has lumps, best to pass through a sieve first). Add the egg, treacle, syrup and honey and beat well until creamy. Finally, add the flour mixture a third at a time until everything is combined.
Wrap the dough in cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for two hours (or overnight). It makes life easier to freeze in portions, so that you can work with portions of the dough when baking cookies.
To bake, preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper, and grease with butter or non-stick spray.
Sprinkle the worktop with flour and roll out portions of chilled dough until just more than 1/2 cm, and use a cookie cutter to cut out the desired shapes.
Lift the cut cookies to the baking sheet, leaving sufficient space between each.
Bake for 8-12 minutes, according to the size of your cookies. They are ready when the edges are just turning brown.
Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the tray, then place on a rack and leave until cold.
To make a “frosty” glaze: combine 60g icing sugar with 3 tablespoons of kirsch (non-sweet) or water. Brush over the hot cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. As it dries, it will take on the flecked “frosty” look.