Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookies

IMG_2347No other time of year seems to hold as many  traditions for me as Christmas. The ornaments get hauled up from the basement, the dust blown off the old pear boxes they’re stored in. Each is carefully unswaddled from its nest of ten year old paper towel and hung on the tree. Little Bethlehems are constructed throughout the house, forming a kind of Yuletide suburban sprawl. Each of the mangers stay empty until Christmas morning. The soundtrack changes frequently as each of us takes our turn choosing our favorite music. Little Brother with Mannheim Steamroller, me with Bing Crosby  and Ella Fitzgereld, Mom with hymns.

And then there are the nine different tins of Christmas cookies piled on the counter. Their colors a hodgepodge of cheery greens, wintery blues, rich reds, and ornate golds. Inside each tin is a different cookie– mixing of different cookies into the same tin is strictly forbidden. The cookies range from simple peanut clusters that take just minutes to make to Springerale cookies that get printed with a special rolling pin, cut apart, then left out to dry overnight. Chocolate pinwheels look fancy but are easy to make. Of course sugar cookies make their appearance, the amount of frosting and sprinkles adorning Rudolph’s antlers directly correlating to the age of the person who decorated them.

Somewhere in that pile of tins lies the gingerbread men. These always arrived with grandma’s return address on the box. There was exactly one gingerbread cookie per person. But we never thought we were getting jipped. These weren’t just any gingerbread cookies. As a child, they were as big as my face. I know this because I did it . . . holding the cookie up to my face and inhaling the sweet spicy scent.  And they were intricately decorated with all different colors of frosting. The gingerbread men had textured vests and pants. The gingerbread girls had striped skirts and braids that looked almost real. They were the kind of cookies that the children in “The Night Before Christmas” dreamed about. Because they were so big, these cookies were eaten piecemeal . . . an arm or a leg at a time. Each of of us had a different method of decimating our cookie. I worked in a clockwise pattern starting with the head.

Last Christmas marked the first year I was passed the cookie making torch. I started off small, making just the two cookies that really said “Christmas cheer” to me– springerales and pinwheels. My confidence sufficiently stoked, I was ready to take on the whole plethora this year. The real challenge was going to be the gingerbread. The recipe has come to me as an ingredient list only– no mixing intructions, baking times, or temperatures. I did at least have measurements. For that I am grateful.

For a trial run, they turned out quite well. A little crunchier around the edges than I remember, which is probably from my baking them too long.  And my mom and I both agree that they are not as dark as the cookies that sit in our memories. Perhaps there is a special extra-dark molasses somewhere out there that would contribute that dark, almost black hue that I remember? Also, I am not the decorator that my grandma was. So instead of a Coat of Many Colors, my gingerbread people got the Mostly Straight Outline. Other than those few aberrations from my memory, the cookies are perfect. They’re soft and chewy, full of the spicy sweet scent I remember. And big. I bought the cookie cutters especially for this, one of the few single purpose kitchen tools I own. Obviously any cutters would work, but I think there’s something especially merry about being presented with one huge gingerbread man.


Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookies
Makes 5 extra large gingerbread men

6 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp. finely ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfered molasses

Cream the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs one by one. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry to the wet ingredients. Mix well. Chill the dough for about an hour in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 350°. Working in manageable batches, roll the dough out to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Carefully lay out onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Baking longer will give you a crispier cookie, while the shorter time a chewier cookie.


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Posted in Uncategorized 11 years, 11 months ago at 5:14 pm.

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