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Christmas gingerbread

It never really feels like it’s Christmas until I start making gingerbread cookies. There’s something comforting about rolling out dough and cutting out those familiar Christmas shapes. Best of all, the smell of gingerbread fills the house and reminds me of wintery Christmases past and our trip to the Christmas markets of Europe last year.

So, despite my hectic work schedule and Nick being away I just had to make gingerbread. This is three day project at minimum, so set aside some time and don’t rush things or you won’t get the results you want and you’ll have spent hours on some very sub-standard gingerbread cookies.

On the first day or a night after work, you’ll want to bake the gingerbread and leave it to cool. This can take a couple of hours as the dough needs to be rotated through the freezer in batches so that the cut-outs hold their shape when you move them onto the baking tray. It’s good to let them overnight to settle so that the oil doesn’t seep out into your icing and leave streaks.

Christmas gingerbread-2

You’ll need three hours or more on the second day to pipe and flood the gingerbread – this just means piping an outline, then thinning out the icing to ‘flood’ consistency and using that to fill the surface of the cookies. Icing at flooding consistency will take about 8 hours to dry, so you can only really begin piping decorations on your cookies on the third day. That will need time to dry hard too, so it’ll be the end of day three (or day four) before you can pack them – I’ve included a printable template for your labels and you’ll find them here.

Christmas labels

Everyone has a favourite style of gingerbread, I’m sure. These are gingerbread cookies, not ginger cookies. They’re soft and chewy, not crunchy.

Oh, and just a quick note on icing – royal icing dries to a matt finish. If you want shiny icing, look for a glaze recipe.

Gingerbread stuff

Gingerbread cookies
makes approx 80 4-inch cookies
from Exclusively Food

270g butter, softened (if using unsalted butter, add 1/4 teaspoon fine table salt with the butter)
260g brown sugar
2 egg yolks
250ml treacle
750g plain flour
2 tsp bicarb soda
2 tsp mixed spice (ground spice mixture consisting of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg)
6 tsp ground ginger (it sounds like a lot, but trust me!)

  1. Beat butter and brown sugar until creamy.
  2. Add treacle and egg yolk, and mix until combined.
  3. Combine the flour with bicarb, mixed spice and ground ginger. Add this to the mixing bowl and mix on low speed (so flour doesn’t get everywhere).
  4. Preheat oven to 180C.
  5. Bring your dough together to form a ball, and divide into roughly four portions.
  6. This is a sticky dough, so you’re best off rolling it in between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to 6mm thickness.
  7. Place the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up – this is to help the cookies hold their shape. The cookies will spread a little – anything with leavener is never going to hold it’s shape exactly.
  8. While waiting for the first lot of dough to chill, roll out a second round of gingerbread between two sheets of parchment. Doing this will help make sure that you’re not wasting time waiting in between while waiting for the dough to chill.
  9. Once the first batch of gingerbread has firmed up, remove from the freezer (place the second round of gingerbread in the freezer to chill) and peel off the top layer of parchment.
  10. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes from the dough. Arrange on a greased baking tray, leaving 2cm in between shapes. If the dough is starting to get soft, you might need to place the whole tray in the freezer until they’re firm again.
  11. Bake for about 7 minutes – they’re going to look barely done when you take them out, but they’ll firm up as they cool (more so than usual cookies as this has to do with the treacle). Do not let the biscuits colour or your cookies will be hard.
  12. While these are baking, you can roll out a third sheet of gingerbread and cut out the second tray that was already chilling in the freezer.
  13. Allow baked cookies to cool on their trays for about 5-10 minutes, or until they can be moved without breaking.
  14. Store your cookies in an airtight container overnight to allow them to settle.

Gingerbread cut outs

Royal Icing
makes just enough for four colours to flood and detail 80 cookies
from SweetSugarBelle

450g icing sugar (not icing sugar mixture or the icing won’t set)
30g meringue powder
80-90ml warm water
1 tbsp vanilla extract (or other extract of your choice – must be oil-free)

  1. Add the dry ingredients first. Use your mixer’s whisk attachment to incorporate the sugar and meringue powder. You don’t need to sift your icing sugar unless there are noticeable lumps in the packet.
  2. Add the extract to the water and slowly add it to the dry ingredients while mixing. At first the icing will be very liquid-like.
  3. Continue to mix it at medium-high speed until it is fluffy and stiff peaks form, about 7-10 minutes. Mixing times are approximate, keep your eye it icing and stop mixing as soon as it becomes stiff. Over mixing and oil-containing extracts can keep the icing from setting up, so keep this in mind as you work.
  4. From here, you will need to add water to thin out your royal icing to get it to piping and flooding consistencies.

The in-a-nutshell version of decorating these goes like this –

  • separate your royal icing into as many colour batches as you need
  • colour each batch (use gel colour if you can). I split my royal icing into four batches and coloured them green, red, purple and left as one plain white. 
  • thin each batch with water until you get it to a piping consistency
  • Put 2-3 tbsp of this piping icing into a piping bag or ziploc and pipe the outer outline of each cookie using a ziploc or no2 tip
  • thin the leftover icing to a flooding consistency and fill the cookie surface – you can use a squeeze bottle, ziploc or a palette knife
  • allow the surfaces to dry for 8 hours
  • once dry, pipe on details and add cashous (those shiny silver balls)
  • allow to dry and pack into cellophane bags, tie with curling ribbon and include a personalised nametag

You will find a pictorial step-by-step, and everything you need to know and more about making royal icing here

Christmas cookies
Tips for making perfect gingerbread cookies:

  • To get perfectly even dough, get two lengths of 6mm square dowels and place them on either side of your dough – when you run your rolling pin over them, you’re guaranteed to get dough that’s 6mm thick.
  • Use pure icing sugar and not the mixture – the mixture has fillers in it that mean your royal icing won’t set hard.