There was a lot of holiday cookie talk on Twitter yesterday, which reminded me that I wanted to share a fantastic recipe for gingerbread people (we're equal opportunity bakers around here). Derived from my trustworthy Baking Illustrated, what I love about these cookies is that they aren’t rock hard crunchy -- testing your dental strength and spraying crumbs all over your shirt with each bite. These cookies are a touch crispy around the edges but chewy throughout, and the sweetness level (not overly sweet) is just right. Laurel and I made these cookies for a holiday party last weekend and people went crazy over them.
I used the cookie recipe from Baking Illustrated, and in the absence of an accompanying icing recipe (odd!), dug up an icing recipe in Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake (I’ll also need to test Nick’s gingerbread cookies some time). I was a little weirded out by the idea of using raw egg white in the icing but apparently that’s how it’s done. The icing hardened up beautifully, just like bakery cookies.
Laurel had a grand time decorating the cookies; I simply cut the corner off a plastic bag and filled it with frosting. She has a remarkably steady hand and decorated the entire batch herself.
Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies*
*I'm listing the title as it appears in the book so it's easy to find if you purchase Baking Illustrated, but I modified the process and directions from the original since I wanted thinner cookies (the original recipe calls for rolling out dough to ¼” and no additional flour is used in rolling out).
1. Process dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds. (You can also follow this process with a hand mixer.)
2. Divide dough into four pieces. If dough feels sticky, sprinkle with flour until it firms up a bit (and isn’t spiky sticky). Then roll out dough between two sheets of parchment until about 1/8” thick. Leave dough between parchment layers and place in freezer until firm (about 10 minutes). You can also make the dough the day before and refrigerate sheets overnight. Note: this refrigeration/freezing process is important! The dough will cut and release easier from the cookie cutters when very firm.
3. Adjust oven racks to upper and lower positions and heat to 350 degrees. Spray baking sheets with nonstick spray, or use a Silpat mat (I adore these mats; they make cookie edges come out perfect every time). Remove one dough sheet and peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay back in place. Flip over and peel off other sheet. Cut gingerbread shapes (we used 3 inch cookie cutters). Transfer shapes to sheet, spacing about ¾ inch apart. Collect scraps and roll out between parchment and freeze as above. Repeat process until all dough is used up.
4. Bake cookies until set in the center and dough barely retains an imprint when touched very gently with a fingertip, about 8 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.
Malgieri's recipe calls for 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, 3 large egg whites, 1 drop of lemon juice or vinegar (and food coloring if you wish). Simply mix together until smooth. I cut the recipe in half and it was plenty. If you’re just doing simple line and dot decorations (i.e., not covering the whole cookie) as Laurel did, you could go with 1/3 of the recipe so you only need to crack one egg. That is what I will do next time.
My little worker bee...