I don't mess around with Christmas cookies anymore.
This has become a Very Serious Business in our household. In the beginning of homemaking I would experiment with a couple new recipes a year for fun but now we're at the point where our family knows what we like and so that's what I make. At this point in life, I guess I'd rather spend my time and energy making ones I know we love and look forward to and get good at making those ones. And I think I can fairly say I've gotten good. Really good. The last, I don't know, seven or eight years, I have made just three types of cookies for the Christmas season - chocolate peppermint, peanut butter kisses, and these gingerbread men. We look forward to them all Advent long.
I'm quite sure now that I have the perfect recipe for those gingerbread men and it has become a staple of our Christmas celebrating. This one is not like those bland light cookies that pretend to be gingerbread. Oh no. This one is dark, soft, rich, and has a great ginger kick without being peppery or overbearing. It began, I think, as a Martha Stewart recipe but has gone through enough tweakings and changes that it has become my own. Among the plethora of gingerbread recipes now listed on her site, nothing seems to resemble this one anymore anyway.
So now I share it here.
I present to you
The Gingerbread Cookie Recipe You Need to Be Using
(makes approximately 2 1/2-3 dozen...I usually triple the recipe to last us through the Christmas season.)
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
2 cups flour (I use white whole wheat but all purpose is just fine, too)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Cream the heck out of the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in molasses and egg yolk.
Combine remaining dry ingredients and blend into the butter mixture and mix until smooth. Cover and chill about a half hour or so.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out about half the dough at a time on a lightly floured surface to approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, depending on preference. I like to use a piece of plastic wrap on the top as I'm rolling rather than flour to avoid dulling or drying out the dough. Cut into shapes and bake for 8-9 minutes. Every year I say I should cut some pieces of the dough for house building but I have yet to do that. They're usually just little men and angels and some random shapes that the kids pick out. This year we've got a moon, a butterfly, and a shamrock to add to the festivities. Allow to cool about a minute on tray before transferring to rack.
I usually make them a week or two before Christmas and store them in a plastic container until Christmas Eve. As long as they're well sealed, they remain soft and awesome. They can also be frozen.
(in case you've never made royal icing, here's the basic mix I use to decorate)
Powdered sugar (I eyeball it but probably about a cup.)
About 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Drizzle of water (Start with 1 tbsp. and add as mixing if needed)
Mix well adding a few drops of water only if needed. You want the icing to be pretty firm and not runny. Put into a piping bag and have at it. Let icing dry well (that should take a few hours though it'll feel like much longer when these guys are staring at you on the counter). Then stack and store in an airtight container. They stay good for 1-2 weeks.
I hope you enjoy!
If you have any questions I'll answer 'em right in the combox.
Please let me know if you use it what you think and I'd also love to hear what your Christmas cookie staples are!