Saturday, August 28, 2010

RECIPE: Halloween Gingerbread Cookies

Why must Christmas have the monopoly on gingerbread?

These comfortable cookies look marvelously festive and taste just as good. Henrietta has great fun collecting metal cookie cutters and is always looking for new shapes. She has ones shaped like bats, pumpkins, ghosts, owls, witches, and more. She once did a beautiful plateful shaped like acorns, oak leaves, maple leaves, and chestnuts. Each was iced in a vibrant color just like the real thing. It made for a beautiful plate to nibble from with a nice cup of tea after an afternoon in the pumpkin patch.fall

Ingredients you will need for the cookies:
  • One cup of flour
  • Three quarters of a teaspoon of baking soda
  • One half a cup of butter (leave this out a bit before so it is soft)
  • One half a cup of shortening
  • One  half a cup of packed brown sugar
  • One and a half tablespoon of dried ground ginger root
  • One and a half tablespoon of dried ground cinnamon bark
  • One teaspoon of dried ground cloves
  • One half a teaspoon of dried ground nutmeg
  • One half a teaspoon of ground salt
  • One large chicken’s egg
  • One half a cup of molasses*
Instructions for the cookies:
  1. Take out a large mixing bowl that has always been faithful to you in times of holiday baking. Into that bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, and all the lovely spices. Set this mixture aside (you may want to say something reassuring to the mixture at this point so it doesn’t feel abandoned when you go to work with the butter and sugar).
  2. In a second mixing bowl (equally large and just as faithful), cream the butter and shortening. If you have a new-fangled electric mixer or a beater with a slow setting and paddles, by all means use it - but be careful not to over mix as it will break down the butter too much too soon (I still prefer a good, sturdy wooden spoon).
  3. To the butter and shortening, add your brown sugar and beat the lot Add sugar and beat until fluffy.
  4. When that’s done, mix in the egg and the molasses until well combined.
  5. Now back our faithful mixing bowl with the lovely sifted mixture in it. Bit by bit, add that sifted mixture to the wet mixture. If you are using an electric mixer you’ll want to use a low speed. Either way, you’ll want to abandon the wooden spoon or mixer and simply use your hands to work the resulting dough and get the last bit of the flour mixture incorporated.
  6. Divide the dough into three balls of equal sizes and place all three into your ever faithful bowl. Cover the top with a damp tea towel and chill in your refrigerator for at least an hour, but longer if you have the time. Overnight is fine so long as you check every so often to see that the tea towel is still damp and so keeping the dough from dying out.
  7. About ten minutes before you are ready to roll out your dough, take it from the fridge so it can warm a bit, and turn your oven on so that it warms to three hundred and fifty degrees.
  8. Cut a large piece of parchment paper and lightly flour it. Turn one of the dough balls out onto the parchment paper and using a floured rolling pin, work the dough until it is about a quarter on n inch thick. If it feels too soft or sticky to roll well, work in a little more flour first.
  9. Using your favorite pumpkin, witch, cat, ghost or other spooky cookie cutters, cut the dough into individual cookies. It’s best to cut the shapes as closely together as possible and use as much of the dough as you can to avoid re-rolling the scraps which can produce tougher cookies.
  10. Using a thin metal spatula, carefully lift the cookies onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Get as many as you can on one sheet but make sure to leave space between each cookie so they don’t bake together. Transfer the full sheet to your freezer for about five minutes to chill again.
  11. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes. They will be a dark brown and so difficult to tell when they are done. It’s best to under bake the cookies a bit for a more cakey texture than to over bake them as they d tend to get a bit too crisp and have a faint burnt taste otherwise..
  12. Once they are done, take them from the oven and let them sit for a few minutes to cool a bit. Then use your spatula and carefully move them to a dependable wire rack to finish cooling completely before icing.

In a pinch these cookies are fine served plain, but if you are entertaining, making a gift or having a special occasion, do take the time to give them colorful icing coatings. It's also a  fun and safe way to spend some time with your loved ones in the kitchen! Before you start, Henrietta recommends you lay out wax paper all over your work surface as well as a large flat area your cookies can rest on to dry. She also finds it useful to rub a little butter into our fingers and hands so that the food color doesn’t stain your skin as badly.

Ingredients you will need for the icing:
  • One cup of icing sugar (sometimes called confectioners’ sugar)
  • Two teaspoons of cow’s milk
  • Two teaspoons of light corn syrup (golden syrup would also work in a pinch)
  • One quarter of a teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Assorted food coloring (paste or gel food colorings give the most vibrant results)
Instructions for the icing:
  1. In a small but significant bowl, stir together the sugar and milk until they have been properly introduced and are quite smooth.
  2. Add the syrup and vanilla and beat it all until the mixture is quite smooth and glossy. If you find the icing is a bit too thick, add more corn syrup or a touch more sugar.
  3. Depending on how many colors you want, divide the icing into separate small bowls and add food colorings to each to get the color you like best. Suggested colors would be orange, black (you have to use a lot of coloring to get a good black), yellow, white and green.
  4. Mix the color well into the icing and then use small clean paintbrushes to paint the icing onto the cookies. 
We like to paint each cookie with a base color and let that dry before coming back and adding different colors. Once the icing has set, the cookies can be stored in tins with tightly fitting lids or in plastic containers. Separate the layers with squares or rounds of wax paper to keep the icing nice. You can also freeze them until you are ready to eat them, but ours never seem to make it that far!

*A WORD ON MOLASSES: There is a raging debate from many bakers as to what type of molasses makes the best gingerbread cookies – Fancy Molasses, Cooking Molasses or Blackstrap Molasses. The good people at Crosby’s Molasses Company explain the differences between the three:
“Fancy molasses is the syrup obtained when sugar cane is crushed and the resulting liquid is clarified and evaporated. The use of Fancy molasses in baking results in a lighter colored, sweeter product. Blackstrap molasses is a by product resulting from the manufacture of refined white sugar. Blackstrap molasses is darker and has a slight bitter, robust flavor. Cooking molasses is a blend of Fancy and Blackstrap molasses.”
 It is interesting to note that Crosby’s recommends using Fancy Molasses in their recipes but here at Creepstone Cottage we say it’s a matter of taste. We’ve used both Fancy and Blackstrap and both create interesting results. Henrietta enjoyed the almost licorice-like flavor the Blackstrap provided while Tessie adored the lighter and sweeter cookie using the Fancy gave. So experiment and see which you like the best!

HENRIETTA HINT: Great Auntie Zimmerman had a lovely trick to keep cookies soft and fresh and it worked especially well with gingerbread. No magic required - simply put a slice of fresh bread in the tin alongside the cookies which keeps them soft and fresh much longer. Even if your cookies have come out over baked and are a bit too hard, this will soften them right up.

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