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Gingerbread Cookies

by Affluent Magazine

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Gingerbread Cookies

Christmas baking wouldn't seem complete without a batch of gingerbread men. They are fragrant with ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; the amount of which can be adjusted to suit your own individual taste. This classic gingerbread cookie recipe will become an instant favorite of your family and friends during the holidays.

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen (3-inch) cookies

Ingredients
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
• 8 tablespoons (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 unsulfured molasses
• 1 large egg 
• Royal Icing (recipe follows)

Accompaniment: Mug of hot chocolate (optional)

Preparation
1. Position the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.  

2. Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper through a wire sieve into a medium bowl. Set aside.        

3. In a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter and vegetable shortening until well-combined, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light in texture and color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours. (The dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.)    

4. To roll out the cookies, work with one disk at a time, keeping the other disk 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 3 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. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick, being sure that the dough isn't sticking to the work surface (run a long meal spatula or knife under the dough occasionally just to be sure, and dust the surface with more flour, if needed). For softer cookies, roll out slightly thicker. Using cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and transfer to nonstick cookie sheets, placing the cookies 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and form into another disk. Wrap and chill for 5 minutes before rolling out again to cut out more cookies.        

5. Bake, switching the positions of the cookies from top to bottom and back to front halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are set and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely.

6. Decorate with Royal Icing and/or other toppings.

Special Notes:
- The dough must be chilled for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days. The cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in an airtight container at room temperature. When the dough is rolled thin, it will bake crisp and almost crackerlike. Yet, when rolled thick, the cookies turn out plump and moist. In either case, the flavor will be complex and almost hot-spicy.

- If you like your gingerbread cookies on the soft side bake them a little less than the recipe states as the longer they bake the harder they will become.

- These cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in airtight containers at room temperature.

- To hang Gingerbread men on the tree or to use as gift tags, make a hole in the top of the cookie with a straw or end of a wooden skewer before they are baked.
 
Royal Icing Recipe
Using uncooked, unpasteurized eggs is considered unsafe by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As an alternative, you can make Royal Icing with meringue powder, which is essentially dried egg with sugar and gum added.

Yield: Approximately 3 Cups of Royal Icing

Ingredients
• 3 Tablespoons of Meringue Powder
• 1/2 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
• 1/2 Teaspoon of Lemon Juice
• 4 Cups of Confectioners' Sugar
• 1/2 Cup of Warm Water

Equipment You'll Need
• Mixer
• Pastry Bag or Plastic Bag

Preparation
1. In the bowl of the mixer, whip together the sugar and meringue powder.

2. Add the vanilla extract and lemon juice.

3. Add the water. Beat for approximately 5 minutes or until stiff peaks begin to form.

4. Transfer to a pastry bag.

* Traditional Royal Icing: Substitute 3 large egg whites for the powder and water.

Special Notes:
Remember royal icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as it will harden when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.
In addition to supermarkets, Meringue Powder is available at King Arthur Flour- www.kingarthurflour.com.

Decorating Tips Before You Bake
You can decorate your cookies before putting them in the oven. Try one of these pre-baking decorating techniques:

1. Sprinkle course colored sugar on your cookies.

2. Place nuts, colored sprinkles, raisins, or dragees on your cookies.

3. Mix beaten egg yolks with food coloring, and paint your cookies before they go in the oven.

Decorating Tips After You Bake
1. Add color to your royal icing. Take a portion of the royal icing batch and tint with paste food coloring until you achieve the desired shade. You can find paste food coloring (in many colors) at www.shopbakersnook.com and other specialty baking stores.

2. To attach candies (mini gumdrops, M&M's, Red Hots, peppermints, licorice, etc.) to your cookies after baking, use a drop of corn syrup or a dab of royal icing to hold them in place.

3. Dust cookies with powdered sugar.

4. Use a toothpick or small paintbrush to paint details on your cookies.
 



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