Gingerbread Cookie Decorating Party

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I love gingerbread. It is a holiday classic. It may not be inventive or cutting-edge, but not everything should be. The recipe I follow came from Bon Appetit's December 2006 issue. It is slightly spicy, with a deep brown-sugar and molasses flavor. It puts a twist on tradition by suggesting you flavor your icing with juniper berries. This part I could take or leave. I know there are a million and one gingerbread recipes out there, and every year I say I'm going to experiment with others, but for the last three years all those who have tried them seem to love them so that I haven't found a reason to mess with a good thing. I wanted to share this recipe with you in case your looking for a well-tested classic version.
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I normally make these cookies at least twice during the holiday season. The first batch always seems to disappear before being wrapped up and gifted out to friends and family. The only changes I've made to the original recipe are switching out light brown sugar for dark, and using unsulphured blackstrap molasses in place of regular. It's a subtle change that make for a more intense cookie. It is the perfect cookie to practice your decorating skills on (and I learned I could use a LOT more practice) and make into a snowy weekend project. This batch was made after a wonderful holiday brunch my cousin hosted during Hanukkah. It was too cute to see four people each measuring out different ingredients and generally buzzing around the table.
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After the dough rested, we set up two separate rolling stations (photos at this point were getting a bit blurry after a few mimosas) and went to work lining up the cut out shapes on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheets. This would be perfect work for little kids, but the only kid we had on hand was still too little to help. Not that any of us big kids seemed to mind handling the task. These cookies bake up crisp, and the thinner you roll them out the crisper they will be. We went with about 1/4 inch thickness on the dough to have them be a bit more chewy. They also need to be carefully watched towards the end of the baking time, unless you don't mind them a bit well-done around the edges (I save those imperfect ones for myself).
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Once they're baked, let them cool and prepare the royal icing to decorate as you wish. That's when the real fun comes in. This time around we skipped the juniper flavor used in the original recipe (of course if you want to give the juniper a try, find it here). We used lime juice in place of lemon juice for the royal icing, simply because we were out of lemons. But we all agreed the lime was a nice little twist that we would make again. We used Martha Stewart's royal icing recipe, and it was a very good thing.

Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetit. See links above for two different icing options.

2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in molasses. Beat in dry ingredients. Gather dough; divide into 4 pieces. Shape into disks. Wrap; chill at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Roll out 1 dough disk to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 3 1/2-inch cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer to sheet. Gather scraps; chill.

Bake cookies until almost firm in center, 12 minutes. Cool on sheets 2 minutes, then cool on racks. Repeat, using all dough.

Note: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.