One of my traditions at Christmas that I make sure to do every year without fail is to make and decorate gingerbread cookies. Crisp and sweet, with a ginger and cinnamon flavour that melds with the syrupy taste of rich molasses, for me, gingerbread signifies Christmas just as much as falling snow, brightly decorated trees, and striped candy canes…
In anime, gingerbread isn’t something that is often seen, and its absence from the anime Christmas landscape seems to indicate that its consumption is not so widespread in Japan…. Instead, something like the infamous Christmas cake is far more popular. That said, gingerbread does show up, though often in the most unlikely places, including Bobobo-Bo-Bo-Bobo, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Yumeiro Patissiere.
About the recipe:
My favourite part of making gingerbread is decorating… but, of course, in order to get to that point, you have to make the cookies first! The most crucial step in making gingerbread is ensuring the sugars are dissolved and melted. If the sugars are not melted, the dough will tend to be crumbly rather than smooth. The resulting cookies will still taste good, but the dough will be hard to work with and will not roll out very smoothly.
To dissolve the sugars, a double boiler is used. The double boiler method works great when you need a gentle, indirect heat source, and thus works perfectly for heating sugars, which tend to burn if heat is directly applied. A double boiler can be bought in kitchen supply stores, but instead of buying yet another kitchen gadget, it’s actually easy to make your own!
To make a double boiler, find a heatproof bowl (such as one made of metal or pyrex glass) that fits securely on top of a pot. You want the bowl to dip partially into the pot and the seal between the two to be secure. Place enough water in the pot so that it does not touch the bottom of the bowl placed on top. Heat the water until simmering. The steam created by the water will become trapped in the space between the water and the bottom of the bowl, applying indirect heat to the contents of the bowl. Now you’re ready to start making your cookies!
Once you have made the cookie dough, cut it into shapes, and baked it to perfection, the next step is to decorate! The icing is very easy to make, and can be dyed a variety of colours using a drop or two of food colouring. To apply it to the cookies, you can place it into small piping bags, or do what I like to do: place a clean sandwich bag into a cup, with one corner of the bag facing downwards and the remainder folded over the rim of the cup. Carefully pour the icing into the bag, and then remove the bag from the cup, keeping the corner of the bag that is filled with icing downwards. Draw the loose ends of the bag up, and use a twist tie to secure shut. Cut the corner of the bag with a pair of scissors to create a hole from which the icing can be piped onto the cookies.
About the ingredients:
Dark molasses is readily available in many grocery stores. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it! I find mine in a carton with a resealable cap, usually in the breakfast/syrup aisle. It keeps for a very long time at room temperature, as long as it is not contaminated by anything.
Makes a large gingerbread house or about 18 large gingerbread men (about 25 medium sized cookies)
For the gingerbread:
- 1 cup dark molasses
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 4 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 6 cups all purpose flour, sifted
For the icing:
- 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar (or more)
- 1 egg white
- Food colouring, if desired
For the cookies:
1. Place molasses, sugars, ground ginger, and cinnamon in a double boiler. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugars have dissolved. Add baking soda, stirring to incorporate fully into the molasses mixture. The mixture will become light in colour and increase in volume. When the mixture bubbles, remove from heat.
2. Place butter in a heatproof bowl. Pour hot molasses mixture over the butter and stir to melt. Using a spoon or a standing mixer, incorporate the melted butter into the molasses mixture. When the mixture has cooled, mix in the eggs.
3. Using a standing mixer, gradually add flour until incorporated, scrapping the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl to ensure it is fully mixed.
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, and form into a smooth ball. Divide the dough into more manageable pieces and, using a rolling pin, roll out dough to a 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters or a knife, cut dough into shapes.
5. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a pre-heated oven at 315 F. for 15 – 20 minutes, or until browned and solidified. Remove from oven and let the hot cookies cool on the baking sheet until solid enough to transfer to a wire rack, about 5 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.
Cookies can be kept for 1 – 2 weeks in an airtight container.
1. Combine icing ingredients in a bowl and whip together until smooth. Adjust the thickness of the icing by adding more confectioner’s sugar, one tablespoon at a time. The icing should be quite thick, keeping its shape for a few seconds when drizzled in ribbons from the whisk into the bowl.
2. If desired, divide icing into several small bowls and add food colouring, stirring to incorporate the colour completely. Place icing into small piping bags or plastic bags with a corner cut.
3. Decorate cookies with icing. Use the icing to adhere candies and other edible decorations to the cookies, if desired. Let cookies rest, undisturbed until the icing is completely dry, about 5 hours or overnight.
Keep icing in the fridge between decorating sessions.
Source: Martha Stewart’s Christmas (1989)