Cookies are magic.
We know it instinctively. It might be that some of us grew up believing that little elves who live in hollow trees make magic in the form of fudge stripes on shortbread and the like. For me, the magic is in the memory of family kitchens filled, especially at this time of year, with palpable enchantments; the lust of the forbidden cookie dough followed by that bewitching but tortuous aroma of cookies in the oven. Just writing those words makes my head spin like no love potion could ever hope to do. To this day, even the memory of that smell can cast a craving on me that won’t quit until answered.
And of all that aromatic cookie magic, the most potent is gingerbread. The secret, methinks, is in the formidable combination of ginger and molasses which creates a darkly sweet but lively dough that produces a rich baking aroma that gets inside of me and makes me feel warm and, of course, very, very hungry.
It’s not a new magic by any means, gingerbread in various incarnations populates the histories of many cultures. Likewise, the magic of shaping food into shapes for a little magical mischief is an ancient bit of sorcery. Of course, it probably all started with clay and idols, but those aren’t particularly tasty.
In Medieval England, ladies would sometimes eat gingerbread husbands in hopes of acquiring the real thing. I can’t imagine that was particularly efficacious magic – gingerbread is sweet and adorable and, from what I can tell, men in medieval England were not overly sweet as a rule.
But how gingerbread men came to be a part of the Christmas tradition is unclear – perhaps it evolved from the German tradition of creating gingerbread houses which were associated with the yuletide. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that happens – somebody put a cookie on a tree for decoration and, abra cadabra, a tradition was born.
But the real magic of gingerbread isn’t in the shape, per se – it’s in the creation, the fact of the making, the act of the shaping and most importantly, the cooking of it. The rich aroma of gingerbread in the oven is the aroma of home. And isn’t the magic of home a big part of what we observe this time of year? No matter what holiday we celebrate, it’s always better at home – whether that’s a family moment or time shared with close friends, perhaps even pets, spending time with those we love is the real enchantment.
Homemade gingerbread is the by-product of love, which, of course, is the greatest magic of all. And it’s never too late to find your inner wizard.
Gingerbread Cut Out Cookies
3 ¾ cups All Purpose Flour
1 cup, packed Light Brown Sugar
½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda
4 tsp Ground Ginger
½ tsp Ground Clove
4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 sticks plus 1 TBL Unsalted Butter at room temperature
3 TBL Whole Milk
1 cup Blackstrap Molasses
Mix together the Flour, Brown Sugar, Salt, Baking Soda and spices in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment until all the ingredients are mixed together well. On low speed gradually add the butter and beat until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Mix together the milk and molasses. With the mixer running gradually add the molasses mixture to the mixing bowl and mix until all the dry ingredients are incorporated and a soft dough is formed.
Divide the dough up into 2-4 balls. Flatten into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Dough can also easily be frozen for up to 30 days. Simply remove from the freezer 24 hours prior to baking.
When ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Line your cutting board with a sheet of parchment paper big enough to cover the board and also fit your cookie sheet. Remove your gingerbread dough from the refrigerator. Dust the surface of your parchment paper heavily with flour and roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness. Cut your desired shapes into the cookie dough, leaving ¾ of an inch, enough room for cookies to expand in the oven, between each shape. Remove the excess dough from in between the cookies shapes and reform the excess dough into a disk, which you can either re-roll out or refrigerate or freeze for future use. Lift your cutting board off of your work surface and gently tilt it towards your cookie sheet, sliding the parchment paper with the cookies onto the cookie sheet. Gently re-arrange the cookies if necessary, giving them enough room to expand in the oven.
Bake the cookies for 10 – 12 minutes for a soft cookie and 12-14 minutes for a crispy one. Allow cookies to cool. Ice with Royal Icing and decorate with sprinkles. Allow icing to harden and enjoy.
Check out our recipe for royal icing to decorate your cookies.