Sunday, 25 December 2011

Mrs. Scrooge and the Gingerbread Men

I am not a Christmas person. At all. Several years of working retail during the Holidays and being subjected to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" twenty times a day left me with some permanent psychological scars. Here is a short list of Christmas-y things that I genuinely love, despite my allergy to the most wonderful time of the year...
  • Frank Sinatra singing Christmas songs. In my worldview, only Frank should be allowed to sing those sappy songs, and sadly, he's dead. Others who attempt to emulate him ought to have their lips sewn shut (I'm looking at you, Justin Bieber!).
  • Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (especially the Muppet version). Ironic, I know, given the fact the I am Mrs. Scrooge herself. But this story is about the true spirit of the Holiday, i.e. sharing and caring for each other. That Christmas spirit has been flat-lining for a while, as far as I can see when I look at the rabid masses of consumers who soured the season for me. I am sad to say that I can count the people who hold that old-school Christmas spirit on the fingers of one hand.
  • Holiday baking. Although, that's really just my gourmande streak speaking, as I bake all year long. But I do admit to having lots of fun with Christmas-themed baking (two cupcake recipes with special Holiday flavors are coming soon!).
Which brings me to my all-time favorite Christmas goodie: gingerbread cut-out cookies. I am ginger-crazy, so my love for those cookies goes without saying. But I am especially fond of gingerbread men (and women; I don't discriminate) because I can go all Dexter on them! I just love to dismember, decapitate and waterboard (or milkboard, in this case) my gingerbread men before eating them.

Yes, yes, I have issues, I know. But come on! Didn't you love the Gingy torture scene in "Shrek"? Now you can do that at home! This recipe was originally from "Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar", then reworked by Marilla of Cupcake Rehab, then played around with a little by me. Whew!

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 to 1½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
½ cup molasses
1/4 cup milk

Unroll a fairly large piece of plastic wrap and sprinkle lightly with flour. Set aside. Cream the butter & sugar until light and fluffy. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice and ginger together in a medium bowl; set aside. Add egg and molasses one at a time to butter/sugar mixture, beating after each until combined. Add flour mixture gradually, until a sticky dough forms. Add the milk and mix well by hand. Form a dough into a ball the best you can and place it on the plastic wrap, rolling it up tightly. Chill for an hour or two. Remove dough from fridge and if too firm, let sit for 20-25 minutes before rolling out. The dough will be quite sticky, so have flour on hand. Preheat oven to 350° degrees. Roll out the dough onto lightly floured surface to about ¼ – ½” thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes and using a thin spatula, carefully place onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. The cookies will be soft and sticky, so be careful if you want the shapes to stay nice. Re-roll the scraps left over until you haven’t got enough left to use. Just be careful to give your cookies plenty of space on the sheet and don't place them too close to the edges of the pan (bake in multiple batches, if needed). Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

I can't warn you enough about how sticky this dough gets. You will curse, and may require help. I thought that ball of dough would never let go of my hands. But once it was chilled, working it on the floured surface was no problem. Re-roll it into a ball and dust it with flour as soon as it becomes temperamental and you'll win.

They don't expand that much, but the shape gets funny if they are too close together. Also, when they come out of the oven, the cookies will be soft. Give them a few minutes to cool and they will solidify. Do not be tempted to overcook them, or they will lose their chewy bite. Depending on how thick you make your cookies, and how big your cookie-cutters are, you'll get 24 to 36 cookies out of one batch of this dough.

Of course, you can use cookie-cutters of any shape, and go as crazy or as minimalist as you want with the decoration. I did not have a lot of time of my hands, so I sprinkled red sugar, rainbow and chocolate sprinkles on the cookies before putting them in the oven. Easy-peasy. But if you want to go crazy with decorating, I suggest making some of the following simple royal icing, and getting your hands on a few different colored sugars. I personally love the white icing with brightly colored sprinkles on top.

4 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons milk or water
4 tablespoons meringue powder

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. If too thick, add more liquid, if too thin, add more sugar. Add food coloring if desired.

Keep the cookies in an air-tight plastic container when they are not being tortured and eaten.

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