Holiday Classics: The Gingerbread Man

We'll be featuring some holiday cookie classics on Eating Our Words in honor of the season. And since I'll need something to bribe Santa with after a year of being a total bitch, I can promise you this: all of them will be equally delicious.

Last week we focused on the delectable Linzer Cookie. This week, we're featuring a classic dating all the way back to the 16th century; the Gingerbread Man.

According to Wikipedia, Elizabeth I of England commissioned gingerbread cookies to be made in the likeness of her important guests. Creepy much? These days, we continue the tradition by making our gingerbread in the likeness of cute little men and women that we then proceed to bite the heads and legs off of. Also slightly creepy, but tradition is tradition.

Since these little guys are adorable and are so much fun to decorate, they make the perfect cookie for any holiday. Here's how to make them:

Ingredients*recipe adapted from Rick Rodgers' Gingerbread Cookies 101

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper (optional -include for an extra kick)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 large egg
  • Icing (recipe follows)
  • Directions

    In a large bowl, using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter and vegetable shortening until well-combined, about one minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about two-three minutes. Slowly beat in the molasses and egg and mix until combined. Using a wooden spoon, slowly mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough.

    Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and salt into a medium bowl. Add pepper if desired. Slowly add into butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough is made.

    Because the dough has a nice amount of butter, it needs to be refrigerated and rolled out fairly quickly.

    Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about three hours. (The dough can be prepared up to two days ahead.)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position racks in the middle upper thirds of the oven.

    To roll out the cookies, work with one disc at a time, keeping the other disc refrigerated. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature until just warm enough to roll out without cracking, about 10 minutes. (If the dough has been chilled for longer than three hours, it may need a few more minutes.)

    Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. For softer cookies, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick.. Make sure the dough is not sticking to the surface by running a long spatula or knife under the dough. Dust the surface with additional flour if needed. I prefer my gingerbread cookies to be soft in the middle and slightly thick, but for thinner, crisper cookies, roll to 1/8 inch thickness.

    Cut out the cookies using gingerbread man cookie cutters and transfer to nonstick cookie sheets, placing the cookies one inch apart.

    Repeat with other disc. Knead the scraps of both discs together to form into another disc. Wrap and chill for five minutes before rolling out again to cut out more cookies.

    Bake until the edges of the cookies are set and crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool for two minutes, then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely. (The cookies can be prepared up to one week ahead and stored in airtight containers at room temperature.)

    Have fun decorating with icing (may add food coloring) and other goodies (think gumdrops, raisins, red hots, colored sugar, sprinkles, etc.).

    Ingredients for Royal Icing from Martha Stewart

  • 2 large egg whites, or more to thin icing
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar, or more to thicken icing
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Directions Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and lemon juice; beat for one minute more.

    If icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it is too thin, add more sugar. The icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

    Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

    KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
    Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
    Contact: Brooke Viggiano