Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Gingerbread Cookies!

For several years when I was still teaching I made these gingerbread cookies and gave them to my colleagues for Christmas.  It was a thoughtful and inexpensive way to say thank you for all of their help throughout the year.  These cookies were always a big hit!  

If you would like to make some, I should tell you that they do take a little more time than some other holiday cookies, but they are pretty simple to make.  White chocolate, instead of the usual sugar frosting, give these cookies a special and unexpected touch!

You can use any gingerbread dough recipe for these cookies.  My favorite is the one for "Gingerbread Cutouts" from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, which I have included at the bottom of this post.  Once you finish making the dough it needs to chill for at least three hours before you can roll it out and make the cut-outs.  I like to use a large star-shaped cookie cutter, but you can make whatever shape(s) you like.  I also sometimes make some gingerbread people.  I have found that lining my baking sheet with parchment paper, instead of greasing it, makes it easier to get the cookies off the baking sheet without breaking them.  I should also add that if you use the recipe below, and you use large cookie cutters like I have, you should expect to get about 10 cookies per batch of dough.

Once you have made your cookies and allowed them to cool, you can get ready to frost them.  You will need some white chocolate (or other candy) disks.  When I first began making these cookies I was able to obtain some wonderful white chocolate from a specialty chocolate store.  Unfortunately, the business closed some years back.  This year, I used some vanilla candy disks (the kind used to make lollipops) from the craft store -- technically not chocolate, but they were still yummy!  More importantly, they were inexpensive, easy to melt, and cooled quickly.

Melt the candy according to the package instructions.  Personally, I like the double-boiler method, but some candies you can even melt in the microwave right in the bag!  If you use the double-boiler method, once the candy is melted, pour it into a sturdy plastic bag (like a Ziplock-type bag).  You will use this just like a pastry bag.  

Cut a small, and I mean SMALL tip off the corner of the bag.  I learned the hard way to not cut the hole too big or you will have melted candy gushing out all over the place!  Use the bag just as you would a pastry bag for doing cake decorating, only decorate the cookies instead.  If the melted candy is oozing out too quickly, you might have to wait a few minutes for it to cool a bit, which should slow it down some.

Your cookies are decorated, so now what?  Well, what I like to do is take the time to get some really nice cellophane bags to package them in.  You should be able to find nice bags at a craft store like Michael's, ACMoore, or JoAnn Fabrics.  Then add a nice Christmas ribbon to finish it off!

 Here is a tip for tying the ribbon to the bag:  Gather up the top of the bag and use a clothespin to hold it in place while you tie the ribbon on.  I usually cut a piece of ribbon about 18" long.  You can always trim a tiny bit off after tying the bow to make the ends look even.  You can add a homemade label or gift tag to the bag as well.  I usually get some store-bought self-adhesive gift tags and stick them to the back side of the bag.

So there you have it!  A pretty inexpensive yet thoughtful gift to give someone you just want to say "Thank You" to.  These are perfect for co-workers, teachers, hairdressers, mail carriers, etc.  I can guarantee you they will love them!

The following recipe is my slightly altered version of "Gingerbread Cutouts" from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1996 edition).

Gingerbread Cookies

½ Cup Shortening                                ½ tsp. Ground Cloves
½ Cup Sugar                                        ½ Cup Molasses
1 tsp. Baking Powder                            1 Egg
1 tsp. Ground Ginger                            1 Tbs. Vinegar
½ tsp. Baking Soda                              2 ½ Cups All-Purpose Flour
½ tsp. Ground Cinnamon

In a mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed 30 seconds.
Add sugar, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves.
Beat until combined, scraping bowl.
Beat in the molasses, egg, and vinegar until combined.
Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.
Stir in remaining flour.
Divide dough in half.
Cover and chill for 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Grease a cookie sheet; set aside.
OR line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough at a time to 1/8 inch thick.
Using a cookie cutter, cut into desired shapes.
Place 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet.

Bake in a 375ºF oven for 5 to 8 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.
Cool on cookie sheet 1 minute.
Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.
If desired, decorate cookies with icing and candies.

For Gingerbread People:
Prepare as above, except roll dough to ¼ inch thick.
Cut with 4 ½ to 6 inch people-shaped cookie cutters.
Bake in a 375ºF oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

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