It's been a whirlwind of a weekend. I'm talking about candy, baking, sugar and spice. I threw a gingerbread party for four, which means I got up Saturday morning at the crack of dawn to sift, stir, roll and bake. The wood fire had been burning fierce that night, which had left the house with a mildly unpleasant heat when I arose. Even though it had been gracing us with much needed warmth, the mid-morning heat had left me feeling out of sorts and my dough extremely unruly. Luckily it had snowed the night before, so I brought my rolling pin and dough outside, and constructed my gingerbread foundation in the cold. There I stood at eight in the morning, my hair with a mind of its own, in my Sorrel winter boots, pajamas, a puffy winter coat and a warm fuzzy touque.
I floured the counter, traced my parts, cut the dough with extreme precision. I lifted the dough and gently placed it onto a baking sheet. I watched it puff up and bake in the heat, and fill the air with the most pleasantly festive aromas. After baking, lifting, and cooling, I constructed my house as if I was building it for myself. I secured the foundation with royal icing, covered the roof with pretzel shingles. I decorated the outside with brightly colored candy, because this is how I imagine my house. Bright, colorful, sweet, and lovely.
makes 2 small houses
recipe adapted lightly from Cooks Illustrated Holiday Baking
Prep time: 1 1/2 hours + 12 hours for chilling
Baking time: 8 - 15 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
12 tbsp butter unsalted, cut into small pieces and softened slightly
3/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp milk
ROYAL ICING INGREDIENTS
1 bag of royal icing mix
1/4 cup water
candy for decorating
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a food processor, mix the flour, brown sugar, backing soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves until well combined.
Add the small pieces of butter to the flour mixture one by one, on medium-low speed until the mixture is crumbly, around 1 1/2 minutes.
Measure out the molasses and add 2 tbsp of milk. On low speed, slowly add the molasses and then increase the speed to medium and mix until combined.
With a spatula, scrape the dough onto the counter and with your hands shape it together. Cut it in half, wrap with Saran, and place in the fridge over night, or a minimum of 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove one piece of dough from the fridge at a time. Cut the dough in half and place the rest back in the fridge. Make sure the kitchen, counter, and rolling pin are all cool. You will have a much easier time handling the dough.
On a floured work surface, roll out the dough. You can either roll out your dough thick or thin, depending on your preference. Thicker dough (1/4 inch) will result in a softer, chewier cookie, while a thinner dough (1/8 inch) will result in a harder, crisper cookie.
Once the dough has been rolled out, place the gingerbread house stencil on top, and cut out the desired shapes with a knife or a pizza cutter. Gently lift the dough with a spatula, and place it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
[If you are having difficulties lifting you dough off the counter, you may need to roll it between to pieces of parchment paper, use more flour, or re-chill the dough. You must word quickly, so your dough doesn't become to warm and soft. I prefer to quickly roll and then cut my gingerbread pieces, place them on a sheet of parchment paper and put them in the freezer while the others are baking. It's much easier to transfer to the baking pan.
If you are making thin gingerbread bake 8 - 10 minutes. If you are baking thicker gingerbread 10 - 13 minutes. Bake until the dough barely leaves an imprint when touched. Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire wrack. Let cool before icing.
You can make your own royal icing, or buy a pre-made package that only requires water to be added. Fill a piping bag with icing and then decorate your cookies.