I haven’t made gingerbread since I was a kid. I always loved cutting out the cookies and decorating them, but I’ve always been a soft-cookie fan, so I never really liked eating them.
The history of gingerbread cookies is a long one, all wrapped up in my very English heritage. Martha Washington baked gingerbread cookies for Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolution. That particular recipe is known as Gingerbread Lafayette and I want to bake it, dammit! You can read more about the history on the PBS History Kitchen blog (which is my new favorite thing).
A few weeks ago, we went up to my sister-in-law’s house to do cookie decorating and I offered to bring all the materials for making the dough. In a stroke of genius, my mother suggested I make the dough beforehand and just bring it over to roll out, bake, and decorate.
It was all very new to me so I was very dependent upon the recipes in my Joy of Cooking book to guide me along. I made gingerbread and sugar cookies, since my sister-in-law doesn’t like ginger.
The recipe directed me to melt the wet ingredients over the stove before adding the dry. Being accustomed to the creaming method, this was new for me. The dough was really nice though because it didn’t stick to everything! The butter did a great job of reining in the stickiness of the molasses. The recipe made a monster amount and we only ended up baking a little less than half of it. I tried to save it in the fridge but it dried out really bad and I had to throw it away.
The sugar cookies I made would have worked out if I had not confused the baking powder for baking soda. (Mom brain – the struggle is real.) If you’ve ever done this before, you know exactly the kind of weird salty flavor I had to battle as I insisted on not throwing out the dough and starting from scratch.
My very clever solution was to roll the dough out in powdered sugar instead of flour, to counteract the nasty baking soda flavor.
It didn’t really work.
The taste of both recipes left something to be desired, which is honestly a frequent feeling I have when I cook with Joy of Cooking. It’s a great compendium and comprehensive in terms of basic cooking instruction but I really find that flavor is lacking. Sorry Great Grandma…
Despite the issues with taste, it was a ton of fun to roll out the cookies with my niece. She especially enjoyed using the rolling pin to wail on the big dough blob at the beginning to get started. I assured everyone that it was a legitimate technique because I’d seen it on the Great British Bake Off.
The frosting I made was really just powdered sugar and water mixed together until it was the desired consistency. I wanted to make red and green dyed frosting but my niece was much more interested in the neon food coloring I brought. We had fun with a sprinkles variety pack. My niece struggled to get the sprinkles to come out in a regulated way. It was like all or nothing.
My favorite cookies – and the ones we brought home to eat – were made with cookie cutters that are probably about as old as I am. I remembered them immediately when my mom gave them to me and they were a little rusty and misshapen – though nothing a firm twist couldn’t fix.
We made a cute teddy bear version of our new family, with Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear. AWWWWE.