Things are starting to get a little crazy around here. I have been and continue to be pretty busy at work. I’ve started
freaking out about studying for the California bar exam. With my move less than a month away, I’m dealing with a bunch of moving logistics, getting rid of stuff I don’t want, and finally nailing down an apartment in L.A. I have done absolutely no Christmas shopping, which is unlike me. I feel like I have too many tasks vying for my attention, and, being a worrier, I’m probably getting more stressed out than I should be.
But I’m still making time to bake. Do you remember the Gingerbread Man fairytale? The one where he dodges people/animals who want to eat him and taunts them by saying, “Run, run, as fast as you can/You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man”? I had a beautifully illustrated copy as a very young child, which I loved reading over and over again with my dad. I’m not sure why I was so taken with the story – it’s kind of morbid if you think about it, as the main character gets eaten by a fox at the end. But honestly, I think it’s because the gingerbread man looked so darn good in the pictures. Nevermind the fact that I had not yet tried gingerbread at that point in my life. I just had a feeling that it would be tasty.
Well, I was right. As I grew up, I fell in love with gingerbread cookies. Though to be honest, I spent a lot of time eating the Little Debbie gingerbread men that always appear in stores during the holidays – cookies that, while super-soft and moist and sweet, are not what one would call quality gingerbread. I still have a soft spot for those. But homemade gingerbread? It exceeded the expectations of a little five year-old girl looking at pictures of a cookie running through scenic countryside.
Last year, I made my own gingerbread men for the first time. And I made them again this year, which speaks volumes about how great they are because there were so many other holiday recipes I was dying to try. They’re soft, spicy, and subtly sweet. They look and taste like the epitome of the holiday season. You can decorate them according to your whim. The best part, of course, is eating them (I like to bite the head off first to put him out of his misery, then proceed with the limbs). So catch these gingerbread men if you can – they’re definitely worth the chase.
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Yield: I got around 20 3.5-inch cookies
3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teapoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
Optional decorations: candy pieces, chocolate chips, frosting, etc. (I used M&M’s for buttons)
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs and molasses. Gradually add the flour mixture in thirds, combining on low speed.
Divide dough in thirds; wrap each in plastic. Chill at least an hour or overnight. Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. If after refrigerating the dough still feels too soft to roll out, add a little more flour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust work surface with flour and roll dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies with cookie cutter and transfer to baking sheet. Press in candy pieces, chocolate chips, etc. if desired. Bake until crisp but not darkened, about 8-1o minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely. If you are decorating with icing, wait until cookies are completely cool before doing so, otherwise the icing will melt.