Gingerbread Cookies and Rookie Mistakes

Gingerbread cookies are definitely my favorite Christmas cookie. I remember my mom used to buy us those boxes of Little Debbie Gingerbread Men when my sister and I were kids. They were my very favorite, besides the Oatmeal Creme Pies. The box used to bring about eight, and my sister and I would tear into those gingies within minutes. They were always pillowy soft, sweet, and just a tad spicy. After enjoying those cookies for years, I wanted to learn how to make them.

I started trying to bake cookies ever since I started baking. I always failed because of my fear of butter. Since allowing the sticks of golden, and sweet fat into my life, cookies have gotten easier. However, I made a lot of cookie rookie mistakes and learned some lessons along the way.

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Butter is of the utmost importance. Like I mentioned in my sugar cookies post, I didn’t use butter to bake because I was used to using vegetable oil spread, aka margarine, in my cakes. I learned the error of my ways soon enough. Butter is crucial for cookies to even happen. Unsalted unless specified in the recipe, please. If you can, use the best quality too, as it definitely makes a difference.

The refrigerator is your best friend. Ideally, dough is supposed to chill before rolling out, cutting and baking. All cookie recipes require this, except for some drop cookie recipes. The longer it chills, the easier it will be to handle. It will also give the ingredients a chance to develop a deeper, more delicious flavor. The freezer is also your new BFF if your dough softens on you. Dough that has gotten too soft can be popped in the freezer for a couple minutes to harden up for easier handling. It also helps to pop in your cutouts before baking, to ensure they keep their shape. I can’t tell you how much the freezer has saved me in a moment of cookie despair.

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Read the ENTIRE recipe before beginning. I feel embarrassed even typing this one out. This shouldn’t even be here, but sometimes we I forget. I chose Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Cookies recipe because, well it’s Martha. I only read through the ingredients because I needed to know how much molasses I was going to need. I made a quick run to the supermarket to replenish my stock, and then skimmed the recipe. If I had read the recipe in its entirety before beginning, I would not have needed to be saved by the freezer, and the process would’ve gone a lot smoother. Do as I say, folks and not as I do; it’s a timesaver.

Keep a ruler on standby. I try my hardest when I’m rolling out any sort of dough to stay consistent with thickness. I have issues every time but a ruler helps. Even with the assistance of a ruler, I sometimes end up with cookies that are too thin. Make sure that the dough is the same thickness all around.

Always have essential tools nearby. For cutouts, my essentials are: the cutters, a bowl of flour for dipping the cookie cutters, a rolling pin, a small spatula (offset works too), a bench scraper, a rubber spatula, parchment paper, plastic wrap, and the cookie sheets. I also keep a ceramic plate in the freezer on standby, in case I need to chill a hunk of dough between roll outs. I also have a rolling mat because I don’t have a clean, flat surface or counter to roll stuff on. Having all this stuff nearby helps because there is minimal movement and the cutout process will go by quicker.

With all these tips in mind, your cookie cutting process should go by a bit smoother. These gingies came out great, despite the bit of trouble I had with the dough. I played around with the recipe a bit, and got deliciously spicy cookies. It’s a subtle spice at first but the ginger kicks in towards the end, in the back of your throat. It’s a nice surprise that reminds you that you’re eating a gingerbread cookie. The cookies can be soft or crunchy, depending on how thick they’re rolled out. I also made a rather feeble attempt at a gingerbread house. It looks more like a tenement, to be completely honest. I’ll probably do more planning to produce a well structured house next year.

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Gingerbread Cookies – adapted from Martha Stewart

makes about 24-36 cookies, depending on cutout size

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling and dipping
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in molasses and egg. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients; mix just until a dough forms. Place dough on floured plastic wrap; pat into an 8-inch square. Wrap well; chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time (rewrap and refrigerate other half), place dough on floured parchment or waxed paper; roll out 1/8 inch thick, turning, lifting, and flouring dough (and rolling pin) as needed. Freeze dough (on paper) until firm, about 20 minutes.
  3. Loosen dough from paper. Cut out shapes, and transfer to baking sheets. Decorate with sugar or sprinkles, as desired.
  4. Bake until firm and edges just begin to darken, 10 to 18 minutes, depending on size. Cool completely on baking sheets before decorating with Royal Icing.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • If you neglected to read the recipe in full, like I did, you can still make this dough workable. Pop it in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to rolling out. 
  • Keep plenty of flour on hand to flour the rolling surface, rolling pin, and cookie cutters. 
  • I only had extra large eggs on hand, so I beat the egg in a small bowl and removed about a tablespoon’s worth before incorporating into the batter. 
  • Don’t have dark brown sugar? Increase the molasses to about a 1/2 cup. Alternatively, you can make your own dark brown sugar by blending molasses into your light brown sugar or white sugar in a food processor. Add in the molasses in tablespoons, until it reaches the desired color. 
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6 thoughts on “Gingerbread Cookies and Rookie Mistakes

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