I have discovered and perfected a Gingerbread recipe. I've made a batch every year since I was a young girl. So many have enjoyed my cookies and houses over the years, and told me it's the best gingerbread they have ever had.
So I have decided to share with this instruction guide on how to make the most hauntingly yummy and fun edible art for Halloween, Christmas, or just change up your cookie cutter shapes for any time of the year!
This recipe will yield about seven large cookie sheets for a good few dozen medium sized cookies, or will be plenty for an average sized house cut outs in the rolling, with some additional cutter cookies for your scenery (and tasting processes lol).
You can double the recipe for an extra large batch (for a big party or a large family). Do not, however, 'triple' (or more) the recipe, as the dough mixing process will prove to be more difficult, and you won't blend properly. More than double is also really, really a lot of cookies to make at one time too.
Speaking of timing, timing is very important to the 'best' gingerbread method. You cannot make the dough right at the time you want to do the baking. You MUST make the dough the day before you plan to bake so it can refrigerate overnight (the dough can be refrigerated for up to three days).
6 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup solid vegetable shortening (lard)
1 cup molasses (the fancy table kind)
1 cup packed brown sugar (meaning as much as can press firm into 1 cup)
1/2 cup water
1 large egg (or extra large)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
My photo guide does not show pictures of the mixing ingredients process. This is because I was in a double batch for this bake session, and I had the opportunity to get someone do the hard part for me while I sat back and enjoyed a festive beverage :D
It's not THAT hard to make the dough, but you should know that the only way to get this mix right is to work it with your hands.
Start with the shortening (lard), molasses, brown sugar, water, and the egg. Put all the measured quantities in a large mixing bowl.
Use a wooden spoon to get them blended a bit. You can bring in an electric mixer for a few minutes at this stage to conserve your energy for later.
Once these things are blended stir in the vanilla extract, the spices (ginger, cloves, cinammon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt), everything except for the flour.
When you are confident all is blended evenly enough start adding in the flour bit by bit.
TIP ONE: Have the flour measured and set aside so you don't lose count how much has been added. The precise amount is important.
TIP TWO: Have a festive beverage at this stage. Now that the spices are in and the flour is measured you might as well have a fun moment, the important stuff is done.
CAUTION ONE: Do not spill the festive beverage in the mixing bowl :D
CAUTION TWO: Do not mix up the tablespoon/teaspoon quantities for the spices accidentally. I oops switched the amounts of ginger and nutmeg once and it was totally yikes :/
Keep adding in the flour and combining, when it gets too difficult to keep stirring in with your wooden spoon put that spoon away or you will break it. Time to use your hands and work the dough with fingers. There is no precise method here, it's not a fussy dough, just literally blend as evenly as you can.
After you have successfully mixed all the ingredients quantities listed above your dough should look smooth, consistent, and the same color as the above picture.
Divide the dough into rounds (like giant hamburger patties), 5 or six of them (for the proportion as single batch), and make them somewhere between 3/4 inch and one inch thickness.
Separate the rounds with plastic wrap or wax paper in between them and stack them all up together. Cover wrap all and set into the fridge overnight (or up to 3 days as previously mentioned).
When it's time to do the baking preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you are using a gas oven and not an electric turn that down just a touch and make that 345 degrees. For induction ovens the 350 degrees is fine, just watch that you don't over-bake at all.
Take the rounds out one at a time from the fridge. The chill and firmness is part of what makes the dough easier to roll out, not be sticky.
FLOUR is also the key to non stick rolling. On a smooth counter, table, or sheet board sprinkle a generous scattering of flour on your surface, place the dough on top and lightly flour the top too.
Spread the flour sprinkles with your hands, add to somewhat cover your rolling pin. Roll the dough until it is somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thickness.
Get the Halloween cookie shapes selection handy. Start cutting.
TIP: If you remove the excess dough in between your cut shapes first you can set it aside for a moment while you use a spatula to lift the cut outs, instead of trying to pick up each cookie within the lot.
Lightly sprinkle flour on a non stick baking sheet. Do not use butter or grease. If your cookie sheets are older and you are not confident that are non-stick anymore i suppose a little bit of cooking spray would be OK. I usually just keep a couple of cookie sheets strictly for use as designated gingerbread baking so haven't had issues what to do if they stick to the bake-ware :D
Here (above) is a better look at the ideal cookie thickness on the sheet before it is baked. These will rise just a little bit and be thicker when they are done.
Arrange the cut out shapes nicely on the sheet. Give them a little bit of enlarging room. They won't rise and grow a lot but they bake better when they have their own personal space.
A sheet goes into the preheated oven for 13 minutes. Using a timer is recommended. If you have made larger sized cookies or house shapes pieces you might wish to add an extra minute or two go for the baking.
In that short baking time see how the color has changed, the cookies are more puffy soft slightly risen in thickness.
Let them stand for a minute or two before removing them from the baking sheet. This is their most brittle stage, or tendency to crack. They don't have to completely cool before you spatula or hand remove them from the sheet (you likely need that cookie sheet back for the next set of cut outs).
TIP: If you get restless waiting for the sheet to cool enough try having another festive beverage moment :D
After all the cookies are baked store them in air tight sealed container(s) for a few days before decorating, since the day the cookies are baked is their most dry and brittle one. They will remain a little bit on the dry side until they have been decorated and spent another few days back in their storage container(s).
To make icing you will need:
3 Large Eggs (using their Whites part only)
1/2 teaspoon Cream Of Tartar (the hardening agent)
1 lb bag Icing Sugar (not the smallest one lol)
Food Coloring (Optional)
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and get the whites into a mixing bowl. I have no idea what to do with the yolks other than make fried zucchini the next day, use them for the batter coating.
Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until they are frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to mix until it's well blended in.
Gradually add in the icing sugar and have the mixer at a low to medium setting for the speed. If your mixer is having a hard time powering this combination (as there may not be as much liquid ratio as you were expecting) you can stir by hand a bit and go back to the mixer just before it's ready to add more in.
There is no exact precise amount of icing sugar where one can know exactly when to stop adding the fine powder in, so what you will need to look for is the consistency in the bowl.
A good ratio will be smooth and gooey, yet create a bit of a stiff peak shape upon lifting the mixer's beaters out of the bowl, ooze off the beaters very slowly, and have no drip.
The consistency and proportion should look like this picture above. If you are finding that the whole amount looks way more dry than this you can add a few drops of water and stir that in. A little will go a long way if you are adding water though, do keep that in mind.
Also, if you are planning to use food coloring that is a lot like the few drops of water, so if ever in doubt what is too dry or too wet tend to stay on the dry side with the proportion.
TIP: An icing batch for use as the edible glue that stands up a house is easier to work with for a beginner, and will dry faster with plain white (as in no food coloring added).
When you have the plain white colored icing batch mixed and ready, scoop out to divide in smaller bowls what you want added coloring to. Add a few drops of the coloring and stir with a small spoon to blend. Do this right away too, the icing hardening process starts right away (meaning it's NOT time for a festive beverage break right then lol).
Take all the icing contents and get them into plastic seal bags, You can also use an elastic band to hold closed any thicker grade plastic bag. Have as little air inside those bags as possible. Make a small snip a corner with scissors so you have squeeze bags. Once they are all closed you are ready to decorate, and NOW you can take a break and enjoy a festive beverage again :D
CAUTION: Watch you don't get those freezer bags that have tiny dots on them....those are little holes! They make a big mess, I am not joking :/
TIP ONE: Don't stress out that everything has to look perfect and beautiful, especially if this is your first time decorating baked cookies. See some of my shapes standing in the house yard aren't all fancy, a simple squiggle or a line can do the trick. No matter how you decorate these they are still going to be really yummy, and that is the most important part.
TIP TWO: If you are making a house, decorate its pieces and let them dry somewhere between 12 and 36 hours before planning to do the stand up assembly task. When it's time to do the construction and glue the pieces together, make a new batch of icing at 1/3 of the stated proportions in the 'icing recipe'. Affix the walls to your base first (onto a board covered in foil or a plate) and let them stand an hour or two (to slightly harden) before adding the weight of the roof onto them.
I will elaborate with new pictures on this construction process and add to this article when I make my next house (scheduled for Christmas holiday time in 2018).
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, and best wishes for many fun Halloween themed adventures!