One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making giant gingerbread Christmas cookies with the kids. Even though my boys are no longer kids, they still love making these cookies and of course eating them. It's something that we do together on Christmas Eve and they always look forward to it every year. The house smells absolutely yummy and the cookies are really wonderful on a chilly Christmas Eve night. Here's the recipe, if you want to try it out yourself:
Gingerbread Man Cookies Recipe
Cookies3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour3/4 teaspoon baking soda3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature, softened)1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed1 Tbsp ground ginger1 Tbsp ground cinnamon1/2 teaspoons ground cloves1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper1/2 teaspoon salt1 large egg1/2 cup unsulfured molassesOptional raisins, chocolate chips, candy pieces, frosting, colored sugar sprinkles
Royal Icing1 egg white1/2 teaspoon lemon juice1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
1In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
2 In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in eggs and molasses. Gradually add the flour mixture; combine on low speed. (You may need to work it with your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.) Divide dough in thirds; wrap each third in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. If after refrigerating the dough feels too soft to roll-out, work in a little more flour.
3 Heat oven to 350°. Place a dough third on a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper or wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate again for 5-10 minutes to make it easier to cut out the cookies. Use either a cookie cutter or place a stencil over the dough and use a knife to cut into desired shapes. Press raisins, chocolate chips, or candy pieces in the center of each cookie if desired for "buttons".4 Transfer to ungreased baking sheets. Bake until crisp but not darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit a few minutes and then use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired.Makes 16 5-inch long cookies.
The traditional way to make Royal Icing is to beat egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the powdered sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. With modern concerns about salmonella from raw eggs, you can either use powdered egg whites or heat the egg whites first to kill any bacteria. With the heating method, mix the egg white and lemon juice with a third of the sugar, heat in a microwave until the mixture's temperature is 160°F. Then remove from microwave, and beat in the remaining sugar until stiff peaks form. Using the powdered egg whites method, combine 1 Tbsp egg white powder with 2 Tbsp water. Proceed as you would otherwise. (Raw egg white alternatives from the 2006 Joy of Cooking)If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency. Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes. (Or use a plastic sandwich bag, with the tip of one corner of the bag cut off.) Keep the icing covered while you work with it or it will dry out.
In our family, we take the Royal icing, and we make a lot of it, and divide a little into separate bowls and then color it with food color, red and green for Christmas, and some blue too. We then ice the entire cookies with a thin coat and before it dries completely, we sprinkle it with colored sugar sprinkles, or chocolate sprinkles, or any kind of sprinkles we want. The kids and I just make them into whatever we want them to be. We don't go by the traditional gingerbread man look. It's about just sharing and being together and making the cookies into an extension of the Christmas season and an extension of family. Try it out with your family this year. It just might become a tradition that you are never too old for.