For some the discount and clearance sales at the department stores officially ring in the holiday season. For me it’s the anticipation of decorating holiday cookies that starts the blur of events which, before I know it, catapult me straight to the new year. The holiday season is different for everyone, some look forward to the family and friends, some the presents, and for some it’s the food. I’m a little combination of all three — especially the first and last one.
There’s nothing more calming than sitting down to a gingerbread cookie, a few tubes of frosting, a couple bottles of sprinkles, and just the right amount of imagination and creativity to decorate a gingerbread man. While the process of making these cookies is a little bit more intensive, especially with the rolling and cutting, the results are worth it.
It may be cold outside but these cookies will bring you comfort and joy as they just smell warm with exactly the right combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Soft and chewy they take just enough time to chew so that all the spices blend and meld together in perfect notes of the holiday flavors.
Thick & Chewy Gingerbread Cookies, from Cook’s Illustrated
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
3/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons milk
1. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds.
2. Stop mixer and add butter pieces; mix at medium-low speed until mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal, about 1 1/2 minutes.
3. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, gradually add molasses and milk; mix until dough is evenly moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.
4. Scape dough onto work surface; divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll dough to even 1/4-inch thickness between 2 large sheets of parchment paper. Leaving dough sandwiched between parchment layers, stack on baking sheet and freeze until firm 15 to 20 minutes or refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
5. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. Cut dough with cookie cutter, transferring shapes to prepared baking sheets with wide metal spatula, spacing them 3/4 inch apart; set scraps aside. Repeat with remaining dough until baking sheets are full. Bake cookies until set in centers and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertips, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Do not over-bake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.
7. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking steps. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.
These cookies, just as their name would indicate, come out thick and chewy. The smell while these cookies are baking is wonderfully reminiscent of the holiday season. The flavors are not overpowering and do not scream of all the spices used to make them. Everything is mellowed out and even, almost subtle, leaving no unpleasant aftertastes.
I baked them for exactly 4 minutes on the top rack and then 4 minutes on the bottom for a total of 8 minutes in the oven. After, I let the cookies cool on the sheet for 2 minutes upon removal from the oven. I also tried 10 minutes and the cookies turned out harder and more dry so definitely do not over-bake these. I also did not freeze the cookies, baking them immediately after cutting and they turned out fine; probably why my cookies took less time to bake.
I did feel as though the dough was a bit dry so I incorporated a little bit more molasses. I also used a hand mixer instead of a stand mixer. I baked these the night before they were to be decorated and they still remained soft and moist the next day. Wonderful recipe! The recipe is accompanied by a detailed article on gingerbread cookies, the process of making them, and some very good tips on baking them in the Holiday Baking section of Cook’s Illustrated.