If there is one baked good that universally signifies Christmas, it would have to be gingerbread.
Originally a German recipe, these aromatic cookies are very much a part of Scandinavian yuletide celebrations as well as those of the western world. Quite simply, these cookies just smell like Christmas.
This gingerbread cookie recipe is enough to make a whole gingerbread house, an army of gingerbread men, garlands of cookies for decorating the tree or plenty of cookies to decorate and give as gifts.
If you only bake one thing this Christmas, please give these a try. The recipe is easily halved. If you prefer a spicier biscuit, add more ground ginger. If you don’t like ginger so much, reduce to one teaspoon and increase the mixed spice to 3 teaspoons.
I’ve provided an indication of how long to cook the cookies for, but use your nose too – when you can smell them, chances are they’re almost done.
There are so many ways you can decorate these cookies. I sought some Scandinavian inspiration from an old cookbook but do whatever pleases you.
To get yourself in the festive baking mood, don't be shy about putting on some cheesy carols...my personal fave is Dean Martin. Yes, its only the start of October but with Deano crooning "Baby it's cold outside", it really will begin to feel and smell a lot like Christmas in your kitchen.
Recipe: Gingerbread cookies
Makes enough to construct a whole gingerbread house or 50+ medium sized cookies or 30+ gingerbread men.
250g butter, softened
1 cup, firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup treacle
2 egg yolks
5 cups plain flour, sifted
2 tsp ground ginger, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice, sifted
1 tsp ground cardamom, sifted
2 tsp bicarbonate soda, sifted
Extra flour for dusting bench
Icing sugar & small sieve or tea strainer
2 cookie trays and selection of cookie cutters
2 egg whites
500g pure icing sugar, sifted
½ tsp lemon juice
Piping bag and small, round piping tip
Silver cachous or other decorations, as desired
- Put on your favourite Christmas CD.
- Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the butter is incorporated.
- Add the treacle and egg yolks to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated.
- Add the sifted flour, spices and bicarbonate soda and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.
- Sprinkle your bench with a little flour and gently knead the dough til it looks smooth (this should really only take 20 seconds). The dough will be quite soft. Flatten out the dough with your hands and cut it up into four pieces. You only need to work with a small amount of dough at a time, otherwise you run the risk of overworking it.
- Wrap each quarter of dough in cling wrap and place your four precious parcels into the fridge to rest for an hour. This step is crucial. The gluten in the dough needs to relax, making it less tough.
- Set your kitchen timer for 45 minutes. When it rings, set the oven to 140°C (fan)/160°C and allow it to heat up for 15 minutes. Line your baking trays with paper/parchment and put them in the freezer to chill.
- Take out one parcel of dough from the fridge and unwrap. Rip off two large sheets of baking paper. Sprinkle one with icing sugar and place the dough on top. Sprinkle with some more icing sugar and cover with the other sheet.
- Using a heavy rolling pin, roll out the dough. After every couple of rolls, lift the paper away from the dough and sprinkle with a little more icing sugar. Recover and turn over the dough and remove the bottom paper and sprinkle it liberally with icing sugar. This helps to stop the dough sticking to the paper. Roll the dough to about 3mm thick. The bicarbonate soda is a raising agent so this will make the cookies puff up a little. If you like softer gingerbread cookies, roll to 5mm thickness.
- Take your trays out of the freezer. Cut out your cookies using a cutter dipped in icing sugar and place them on the baking paper lined tray. Leave a little space around them – they will spread slightly.
- Bake for 5-8 minutes, depending on size. Small cookies will only need 5 minutes, larger cookies will need closer to 8 minutes. Avoid over baking – they should be just firm to touch. You don’t want to see dark brown edges.
- Allow to cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Repeat for remaining three parcels of dough.
- Decorate baked cookies with royal icing and silver cachous as desired.
To make royal icing
- Put egg whites into your stand mixer bowl and insert the whisk attachment. Whisk the eggs until they start to foam. Gradually add the icing sugar to the eggs and whisk til the icing is smooth and thick. Stir through lemon juice. Keep in a sealed container when not using.
- Use a piping bag with a small round tip to pipe decorations onto the cookies. Allow to set before packaging or storing.
Freeze uncooked cut-out dough by flash freezing them at the end of step 10. Simply put the tray in the freezer for 10-15 minutes til frozen. Transfer the frozen cookies to a freezer-safe container, using baking paper or grease proof paper in between layers. Bake all or only some of the cookies straight from frozen whenever you need them in a 140°C (fan)/160°C oven for 8 minutes or until just firm to touch.