A family Christmas tradition has always been to bake and decorate dozens of cookies to distribute to friends before the holiday season arrives. The decorating fails, broken cookies and extra ones grace our family table Christmas Eve and get nibbled throughout the night. The past few years have been busy, and sometimes the cookies haven’t gone out until Christmas week. This year I hope to do better, and have decided to get my recipes and supplies ahead of time, so I can do a batch here or there as time permits.
We always do several varieties each year, with the more unusual only being baked every few years. Of course some types make the holiday for me, and get done no matter how rushed things may get. One of the types of “must bake” cookies is the family gingerbread recipe. Clearly designed for a large family, party hosting, or serious gift giving, the basic recipe makes at least 6 dozen. The dough can bog down a small mixer, and decorating takes up my whole 102×60 dining room table for at least a day.
Even before I was a chef, I was allowed to help with the measuring, cutting and decorating of these cookies. They are rolled and cut with cookie cutters, so I have amassed quite a collection. My father made some with old coffee cans, which I still treasure. We were always on the lookout for copper ones (which released the dough best) in unusual shapes. When we traveled to Florida for Christmas, some of the extra cookies were always in the shape of palm trees and flamingos. Since more of my first 30 holidays were spent in the South than our NY home, these cookies are actually a more important seasonal tradition than seeing snow or decorating a Christmas tree!
1 1/2c brown sugar
1t ground ginger
1t ground nutmeg
1t ground cinnamon
1t ground cloves
Beat the above ingredients then slowly add in:
4 1/2c flour
1 1/2t baking soda
Make into several balls and wrap or bag. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours.
Roll out on a floured board or counter to 1/3 inch thick. Cut with desired cookie cutters. Start with larger shapes, and place smaller ones between them. Transfer to cool cookie sheets. Roll up the scraps and continue until dough or your patience is used up. Try not to re-roll too many times as the extra flour changes the texture. Lazy chefs can just roll small balls of dough and flatten on cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes for smaller shapes, up to 20 minutes for a large gingerbread person.
Remove to brown paper lined surfaces. Decorate once completely cooled.
3c confectioner’s sugar
4t shortening or butter, softened
liquid or paste dye colors
sprinkles, chocolate chips or candy pieces as desired
Beat the four frosting ingredients together, divide into separate bowls to dye for each color and pipe or spread onto cookies to make your masterpieces.
Photos by Jennifer Sternfeld