[Note: This post originally ran during the first Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories in December, 2007]
I am an admitted and open, gingerbread cookie freak. And this is a family tradition that I started on my own about 15 years ago. We never made gingerbead when I was growing up, and looking back, that surprises me. Gingerbread and Christmas just seem to go together naturally.
In fact, I won't even make gingerbread cookies after Valentine's Day and before September - it just ain't fittin! I've made great gingerbread for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and Valentines Day because the flavor to me is so tied in to the cooler weather.
The recipe uses not just ginger but cloves, cinnamon and, of all things, black pepper. They have a great zing. Add royal icing that has a strong lemon flavor and the ensuing taste is unbelievable. But to me the fun part is decorating. I have a list of cookie decorating tips on my recipe blog And I Helped! but a few are listed below:
I cover my dining room table, after having added both leaves, with plastic film. I purchase the large kitchen service type roll. Then lay out the cookies. When the cookies are done drying, cleanup is easy and there is no old tablecloth to shake outside and wash later.
Large cutters not only make the decorating easier (sort of the "Reader's Digest large type" edition of cookies!) but makes a substantial stocking stuffer especially for people like your postman/woman, hairdresser, etc. It also helps that I use large (4" x 8") cellophane bags, the kind a florist would use for a corsage, for packaging. It lends that final "finished" touch.
I used to decorate in different colors, but lately I've been using the poor man's pastry bag method: take a one gallon plastic storage bag with some type of zipping closure, place white royal icing in it. Then pinch a tiny hole in one corner with scissors but not too big - you can enlarge it if you need to after testing. This is a great method for outlining shapes but I use it for "zig-zagging" snow on my large Christmas tree cookies.
Finally, the decorations, sprinkles etc. I got so frustrated last year in seeing empty shelves in the baking aisle of my supermarket and the fact that they are so expensive that I tried something different this year. I ordered large 3 lb containers of decors from Amazon's grocery division. The key is to buy them out of season like in July - the normal price is about $25 put I was able to snag a few at between $9 and $11 with free shipping and no sales tax.
Mom taught me some tricks to save some pennies. She didn't raise any stupid children. Just one ugly one and he's still at home.
© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee