When I was a little kid, there was a bakery several blocks from my house. I used to love to go that bakery and look at the gingerbread men, all lined up and ready to be eaten. Little did I know then that I’d be making my own version of gingerbread men!
The dough from my recipe is pretty sticky, and somewhat difficult to work with. I’ve learned through the years however, that the easiest way to handle the dough is to (1) ensure that it’s cold when it’s being rolled out; (2) roll it out on parchment paper, with another piece of parchment paper on top; (3) use rolling pin spacer bands to achieve the proper thickness of the dough; and (4) sprinkle the bottom parchment paper with confectioners’ sugar as opposed to flour.
I’ve tried decorating the gingerbread men different ways. My favorite way, pictured here is to keep it simple. I pipe the royal icing with a #4 plain tip. I use mini chocolate chips set in royal icing for the eyes, and red and green mini-M&M’s set in royal icing for buttons down the front.
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
⅔ cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
Royal Icing (recipe follows)
Mini chocolate chips and mini-red and green M&M’s or other decorations
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper through a wire sieve into a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter and vegetable shortening until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light in texture and color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours. (The dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.)
Preheat oven to 350º F.
To roll out the cookies, work with one disk at a time, keeping the other disk refrigerated. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature until just warm enough to roll out without cracking, about 10 minutes. (If the dough has been chilled for longer than 3 hours, it may need a few more minutes.) Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper, or other work surface dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle the top of the dough with confectioners’ sugar and cover with another piece of parchment paper or Saran wrap. Roll out the dough ⅛-inch thick, being sure that the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface (run a long meal spatula or knife under the dough occasionally just to be sure, and dust the surface with more confectioners’ sugar, if needed). For softer cookies, roll out slightly thicker. Using a gingerbread man cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and transfer to parchment lined cookie sheets, placing the cookies 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and form into another disk. Wrap and chill for 5 minutes before rolling out again to cut out more cookies.
Bake at 350° F until the edges of the cookies are set and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes; then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely. Decorate with Royal Icing, and other decorations. (The cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in airtight containers at room temperature.) Yield: 16 to 20 gingerbread men.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoons dried egg-white powder or merange powder
3 Tablespoons water
Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer until smooth. Add more water or confectioners’ sugar to achieve the proper piping consistency.
Make ahead: The icing can prepared up to 2 days ahead, stored in an airtight container with a moist paper towel pressed directly on the icing surface, and refrigerated.
This icing hardens into shiny white lines, and is used for piping decorations on gingerbread men or other cookies. When using a pastry bag, practice your decorating skills before you ice the cookies. Just do a few trial runs to get the feel of the icing and the bag, piping the icing onto aluminum foil or wax paper. If you work quickly, you can use a metal spatula to scrape the test icing back into the batch. Decorate the gingerbread men.