We are in full fledged holiday mode. Christmas tree is up (see below), gift shopping and wrapping done, Advent calendar opened, and now it’s time for holiday baking. This weekend afternoon was spent preparing homemade gingerbread. I participated by practicing my cookie decorating skills, which turned out more in line with that of a contestant on Nailed It!
As for today’s food history lesson, here are some fun facts courtesy of Wikipedia.
- Gingerbread is claimed to have been brought to Europe in 992 CE by Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis.
- In the 13th century, gingerbread was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. In Germany itself, a gingerbread guild existed to control production.
- The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 17th century. They were commonly sold in monasteries, pharmacies, and town square markets.
- In Medieval England, gingerbread was promoted as having medicinal properties.
- Gingerbread finally came to the Americas with settlers from Europe. Because they were less expensive than sugar, molasses soon become the more common ingredient, used to produce a softer cake.
Serves: Approximately 18 medium cookies | Prep time: 30 minutes | Ready time: 2 hours
Adapted from Serious Eats.
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ⅓ cup baking molasses
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon orange zest
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- A few cracks of medium-grind black pepper
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Adapted from Serious Eats.
- 4½ cups powdered sugar
- ¼ cup egg whites from 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons silver rum or water
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1) Combine butter, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla extract, orange zest, ginger, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, and black pepper in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to moisten.
2) Increase to medium and beat until fluffy, soft, and light, about 5 minutes, pausing to scrape the bowl and beater about halfway through.
3) Reduce mixing speed to low and add the flour all at once. Continue mixing until well combined.
4) Scrape the bowl and beater well with a flexible spatula, then knead against the sides of the bowl to form a smooth ball. Divide in half and flatten into discs.
5) Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
6) On a flour-dusted surface, roll a portion of dough into a 7-inch square. Sprinkle with flour, flip to sprinkle the other side, and continue roll until 1/8 inch thick, repositioning as needed to ensure the dough does not stick. After rolling, brush away the excess flour and slide an offset spatula under the dough to loosen before stamping into desired shapes with cookie cutters.
7) Arrange cut-outs on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan, leaving at least ¼ inch between each. Gather scraps, knead, re-roll, and cut as before. Repeat with the remaining portion of dough.
8) Bake the gingerbread until firm and dry to touch, about 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature directly on the baking sheet.
Prepare icing while cookies are baking.
Measure out 4 cups of powdered sugar and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add egg whites, rum, vanilla, salt, and cream of tartar. Stir with a flexible spatula to form a smooth paste, then set over a gently simmering water bath in a 3-quart saucier and stir until paste is hot to the touch, or about 150°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Transfer to stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add remaining ½ cup powdered sugar, and mix at low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium and beat until thick and frosting-like, about 20 seconds or until the mixing bowl feels cool to the touch.
9) Decorate cookies with icing and allow to dry completely. Store at room temperature in an airtight container until ready to serve.
👩🏻🍳 Notes from Chuckles
Refer to the original recipe for tips on how to thin the icing or add colouring. Please don’t laugh at my subpar icing application skills. I’m definitely not a Pinterest level baker.
At least our Christmas tree turned out nice!