In Medieval England gingerbread meant preserved ginger. The hard cookies were a staple at Medieval fairs in England and on the continent. These became known as “gingerbread fairs” and the cookies called “fairings”. The cookies were sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens.
The advent of the 15th century brought us the gingerbread we are familiar with today. Queen Elizabeth is said to have “invented” the gingerbread man after making some to resemble dignitaries visiting her court. Gingerbread is now considered any sweet treat combining ginger with honey, treacle or molasses.
The Victorians continued the tradition by making gingerbread cookies, cakes and houses. Here is a recipe from a Victorian cookbook. Notice that the cooking process is a bit ambiguous!
Here is a modern recipe to try:
Gingerbread Cookie Recipe
· Prep time:50 minutes
· Cook time:10 minutes
· Dough Chilling time:1 hour
· Yield:Makes 2 dozen cookies
For the Gingerbread Cookies:
· 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
· 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
· 1 tablespoon ground ginger
· 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
· 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
· 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
· 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
· 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
· 1 large egg
· 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses (do not use blackstrap molasses, it's too bitter)
For the Royal Icing:
· 1 egg white, raw or pasteurized (or 1 tablespoon egg white powder)
· 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
· 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Optional, for decorating:
· Raisins, currants, chocolate chips, candy pieces, frosting
· Gingerbread man cookie cutters (or any shapes you would like).
1. Combine the dry ingredients: In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
2. Make the dough: In an stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the egg and molasses.
Gradually add the flour mixture; combine on low speed. (You may need to work it with your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.)
3. Chill the dough: Divide dough into thirds; wrap each third in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. If after refrigerating the dough feels too soft to roll out, work in a little more flour.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F.
5. Roll out dough: Place a dough third on a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper or wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the rolled-out dough to the refrigerate again to chill for 5 to 10 minutes. This will make it easier to cut out the cookies.
6. Cut out the cookies: Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes, or place a stencil over the dough and use a knife to cut into desired shapes.
7. Transfer to baking sheet: Transfer to ungreased baking sheets. Press raisins, chocolate chips, or candy pieces in the center of each cookie if desired for "buttons."
8. Bake: Bake at 350°F until crisp but not darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit a few minutes and then use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired.
9. Make the royal icing: Beat the egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the sifted powder sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
If using powdered egg whites: Combine 1 tablespoon egg white powder with 2 tablespoons water. Proceed as you would otherwise.
If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency. Once you make the royal icing, use quickly before it hardens.
10. Decorate the cookies: Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes on the cookies. (Or use a plastic sandwich bag, with the tip of one corner of the bag cut off.) Keep the icing covered while you work with it or it will dry out.
Once the cookies are decorated, the surface of the royal icing will dry quickly, within 15 minutes. But the icing may still be soft inside. Let the decorated cookies sit at room temp for 12 hours for the icing to dry completely.
Recipe source: simplyrecipes.com
Photo credit: pbs.org