When you're a child there is nothing better than the smell of cookies. The warm smell of the holidays would waft throughout the house and bring forth the magic of Christmas. And so it was in our home.
Every year my mom would create an army of men, dressed in icing, currants and hot little cinnamon candies. Sometimes she would let us help putting on the candies but it never lasted long when we started eating more than we decorated with. I can remember the anticipation of receiving the first little man in my hands, smelling the warm spices of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. However, it was much more important to decide on the approach of systematically destroying this cookie.
As a child I believed everything had feelings.. even a gingerbread man. I mean, he had a face, so naturally the head would be the last thing to be eaten. I would nibble at the feet and the arms, working my way around the scant bit of icing. The body came next, savoring the belly of icing and currants. Lastly, much to my dismay I would succumb to the realization the head was about to go and would pop the whole thing in my mouth with the cheshire cat smile of satisfaction. I don't think my mom ever knew how much this calculated enjoyment of her little army of men meant to me.
I made these a few times with my children when I became an adult and as they got older we just stopped making them. Maybe it's the awful year we've had, maybe the memories of childhood and traditions, maybe the loss of family, but for some reason this year I have a huge desire to make them again. I want to create the little army of men just the way my mom did and I can assure you, when I do, I will still eat the head last.
So on this third day of Christmas I give to thee..
Servings: About 45 cookies Prep Time: 30 Minutes Cook Time: 20 Minutes Total Time: 50 Minutes, plus at least 1 hour to chill the dough and time to ice the cookies
2-3/4 leveled cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
6 tablespoons molasses, such as Grandma's Original
Royal Icing or store-bought icing, currants, raisins, hot cinnamon candies, metallic silver dragees, etc for decorating
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and black pepper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses.
Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Divide the dough in half and shape into two discs. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour or up to three days.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F ; set two racks near the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. (If the dough has been in the fridge for longer than an hour, you'll need to let it sit out at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes and knead it briefly until it is supple enough to roll.) Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Dust more flour over the dough. Roll, turning and adding more flour under and over the dough as necessary, to about 1/8-inch thick (or for softer cookies, roll to 1/4-inch thick). Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, using a spatula if necessary. Gather the dough scraps and knead into a ball, then roll out and cut again, adding more flour as necessary. Repeat until scraps are used up.
Bake the cookies, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back midway through, for 8 to 10 minutes or until they feel firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for several minutes until set, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
When the cookies are completely cool, decorate with icing. Let the icing set completely, a few hours, then store in an airtight container.
ROYAL ICING RECIPE
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons meringue powder
Beat all ingredients together until icing forms peaks
Let sit for about 15 minutes to an hour and let air bubbles rise to the surface naturally. Or you can tap the bowl every so often to bring the air bubbles up. Stir the top surface to release the air.