Well, Thanksgiving is over, which means it is officially not too early to start baking Christmas cookies. I'm not of the get-the-tree-up-the-day-after persuasion, I haven't even bought presents in years, but I do love to make cookies and candies and all sorts of pretty confections in the weeks leading up to Christmas. These gingerbread snowflakes were the first of the season--the first cookies and, strangely for Vermont, the first snowflakes.
I've been making this recipe for a few years--since mom and I couldn't resist Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies special edition in 2006. I often find that Christmas cookies are prettier than they are edible. Not so with these. They're spicy--I particularly like the use of black pepper--and snappy and sweet, though not overly, and take very well to being dunked in a cup of tea.
Martha uses a royal icing for her snowflakes, but I don't really like to eat royal icing so chose this year to use a simple buttercream instead. The advantage of using royal icing is that it hardens well and the cookies are then stackable. The advantage of buttercream is that it tastes good and melts on your tongue in the way that butter will and offers an altogether superior eating experience. If I were to make these cookies purely for visual effect--to use to decorate a tree or window, for example--I would poke a hole in one of the spokes before baking the cookies and go with the royal icing.
Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. finely ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
- 2 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. butter, room temp.
- 1 Tbs. milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- sanding sugar
- Combine flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
- Either by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the spices and salt and then add the egg and molasses on a slightly lower speed. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. It might look like it will never combine, but don't despond, it will. Divide the dough in half (to make it more manageable when you roll it out), form into two balls, wrap well in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour, or until cold.
- Line baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out as many shapes as you can and place them on the baking sheets. Feel free to gather the scraps, re-roll the dough, and cut out more cookies. Refrigerate cookies until firm, about 15 minutes, before baking.
- Bake 12-14 minutes, or until cookies are firm but not darkening around the edges. Cool on wire racks.
- To make buttercream: Combine sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until smooth and pale, scraping the bowl as necessary.
- Pipe icing onto cookies in attractive patterns and sprinkle immediately with dusting sugar. Allow icing to harden, then tap off any excess sugar.
Serve with tea or coffee. Give away to someone who needs cheering.
There is no reason to limit yourself to making snowflakes. What is Christmas without a few gingerbread men? The only other cutter I had readily available the day I made these was a maple leaf and I think they look just lovely. So, let the cookie making commence!