I’ve been taking a few days off for the holidays, and it’s mostly resulted in hours in my kitchen, watching Veronica Mars and going through more flour, sugar, and butter that I would have imagined possible.
I have also been freakishly lucky in these baking endeavors. I could credit innate skill, or the capricious kitchen elves looking fondly upon me, or merely the amount of time that I’ve put into the whole process. Me, I credit the stand mixer that I indulged in after Thanksgiving. (That dough hook is like magic, I tell you!)
Over the last two days, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time decorating cookies. Rolled cookies are a weird sort of beast: while I adore a good, simple shortbread, rolled sugar cookies are pretty boring, good for little other than their ability to hold their shape. (For the record, I use Alton Brown’s sugar cookie recipe. Eventually I’ll do some experimentation to make them a bit more than a vehicle for icing art.)
Gingerbread cookies may be associated with Christmas, but I prefer them year-round for cookie decorating. The spice in the cookies counteracts the tooth-aching sweetness of royal icing, and when done right, gingerbread cookies remain soft and tender while still holding their shape for maximum decorating potential.
The one downside to these cookies is that they aren’t chewy, tender Spiced Molasses Cookies.
A note on decorating cookies: I am no expert—I see all sorts of errors in these—and the main suggestions I have are practice and not worrying too much (you’re going to eat them soon enough anyway). Pinterest & YouTube have lots of examples to crib off of, and for tutorials, I highly recommend SweetAmbs (both blog/website and YouTube channel).
Rolled Ginger-Orange Cookies
Adapted from an old Bon Appétit recipe.
1¾ cup (8 ounces/220 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
scant ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup (4 ounces/110 grams) softened unsalted butter
½ cup (4 ounces/110 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup (3 ounces/85 grams) dark molasses
1 large egg yolk
a tablespoon orange zest (from one large orange)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for rolling
Sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat the butter briefly in a stand mixer or a hand-held mixer. Cream in brown sugar, then beat in molasses, egg, zest, and vanilla extract. Add in the dry ingredients in two additions, beating just to combine. Press the dough into a disk shape and wrap in plastic wrap. Let chill until firm, at least an hour.
To bake the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Using confectioners sugar to prevent sticking, roll out dough to ¼-inch thickness, rotating and using more sugar as necessary. Cut cookies, rerolling scraps as necessary. (If your kitchen is warm, keep a second baking sheet in the freezer; if the dough gets too soft, slap the cold baking sheet on it for a few minutes.)
Place cookies at least one inch apart on the sheet and bake until the cookies are starting to brown around the edges and just set, 10-11 minutes, rotating the sheet once. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to baking racks. Continue with remaining dough, letting the baking sheet cool completely between batches.
When cookies are completely cooled, decorate with royal icing. Let the icing dry completely before storing. Cookies will keep at room temperature for about one week.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.