I'll apologize in advance for appearing to be born from another planet, but I've never had an honest-to-goodness gingerbread cookie before. I had a glazed, slightly spicy cookie before, but it tasted more like a Dunkin Donuts' Choco Honey Dipped, for some reason. Maybe it was. So after years of wondering, I was suddenly in the mood for something I thought maybe both kids and adults would like. Imagine my dismay when I learned that most gingerbread cookies were quite hard and only good for making houses and tree ornaments. I realize they're not exactly the same, but I had a gingersnap made by Fibisco that almost took my diamond-like (in hardness, heh) teeth out. Next! But a gem somehow landed in my lap: a recipe which addressed these problems. Given that I hadn't made dessert in a while (and cookies in an even longer while), it was a Godsend. It even has instructions for when you want thin cookies for ornaments. So happy holiday baking, everyone! Get to it! (Okay, Thanksgiving first for those of you who celebrate.) This is my contribution to Susan of Food Blogga's Eat Christmas Cookies blogging event and Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen's A Spoonful of Christmas blogging event.
The problem was, there was only one supermarket in Manila that sold molasses. What the?!?! I went to Robinson's, Megamall, Hi-Top, Landmark, and Rustan's (several branches). Only Unimart had both local and imported brands. I chose an imported unsulphured brand (Grandma's Mild), since it's my first time and I wanted to be sure I got the unsulphured variety (the local brand didn't specify). I hear they have tons of wholesale baking supplies at Quiapo, where the fruitcake-mass-producing types get their molasses by the liter. I wasn't sold on that since generic fruitcake is not at all that enticing. (Recipe follows)
The recipe I wrote down here has 3 different methods: first by hand (which is what I used-- what use is having arm muscles, heh), then by stand mixer with paddle, and by food processor. I've also included weight measurements for those so inclined. Enjoy!
Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
By hand: In a small bowl, combine the molasses and milk and stir together; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Add the sugar and whisk to combine thoroughly. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and work it into the flour with a pastry blender (what I used), a fork, two knives, or a rubber spatula until it resembles very fine meal. Drizzle a third of the molasses mixture over the dough and combine with a rubber spatula (what you're doing is essentially moistening the dough). Repeat with half of the remaining molasses, then use it all up. You'll end up with a soft, cohesive dough that looks like coffee ice-cream.
By stand mixer with a paddle attachment: In a small bowl, combine the molasses and milk and stir together; set aside. In the bowl of the mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Mix at low speed until combined (about 30 seconds). Scatter the butter pieces over the top and mix at medium-low speed until it resembles very fine meal (about 90 seconds). Reduce the speed to low and drizzle in the molasses mixture with the mixer running and mix until the dough is moistened thoroughly (about 20 seconds), then increase the speed to medium and mix for 10 seconds more to combine.
By food processor: In a small bowl, combine the molasses and milk and stir together; set aside. Process the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves until combined (about 10 seconds). Scatter the butter pieces over the top and process until it resembles fine meal (about 15 seconds). With the machine running, drizzle in the molasses mixture and process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass (about 10 seconds).
Continue here for all methods: Cut out at least 4 parchment rectangles to fit the bottom of your sheet pans. Scrape dough onto a work surface and divide into 2 (I used a scale to be accurate: I divided it into 2-502g masses). Place each dough half onto its own parchment rectangle and cover each with another parchment rectangle. Pat out each with your fingers through the parchment into a rough rectangle, then roll each into an even 1/4-inch thickness sandwiched in between the 2 parchment sheets (one way to get an even thickness is to use magazines of the appropriate thickness on both ends of your rolling pin as a guide-- Bon Appetit is one such magazine). Stack the dough sheets (still intact in their parchment sandwiches) onto a sheet pan and freeze until firm, about 20 minutes, or refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
Place a rack in the upper and lower-middle positions of your oven and preheat to 350°F (177°C). Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper (I just used the ones on my dough sheets, to conserve paper, no problem). Remove a dough sheet from the fridge and peel off the top parchment sheet, gently lay it back on the dough and put another sheet pan on top. Flip the whole set-up over and peel off then discard the other parchment sheet. Using a 3- or 5-inch gingerbread person cutter or a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out shapes and transfer to the lined sheet pans, leaving 3/4 inch space in between. Bake the cookies for 8 minutes (for 3-inch people, which is what I used), or 8-11 minutes (for 5-inch people or 3-inch cookies), rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom halfway through. You're looking for set centers and for the dough to barely retain an imprint when touched gently with a fingertip. Don't overbake! They will set some more while cooling. Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the pans then transfer with a wide metal spatula to a cooling rack.
Gather the scraps and repeat the rolling and cutting, chilling the dough again if it's become too soft. I was able to juggle all my rolling and cutting in advance so I can bake them consecutively. The yield is 25 3-inch people, 20 5-inch people, or 30 3-inch cookies. Best if eaten within a week.
For thin, crisp cookies that can be used as ornaments:
Divide the dough into 4 and roll out into an even 1/8-inch thickness. Bake at 325°F (163°C) oven until slightly darkened and firm in the center when pressed, 15-20 minutes for 5-inch gingerbread people.
Royal Icing for Decoration:
Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, beat together the egg white and lemon juice until frothy. Sift in all the confectioner's sugar and beat until smooth. Lift the beaters and if a ribbon takes less than 5 seconds to disappear into the icing's surface or runs down the sides when spread over a cookie's edge, add more sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time. Use immediately. You can use a piping bag with a plain tip or load it into a zip-lock bag and snip off a little bit of the tip. The icing will dry and form a crust overnight. If uncomfortable with using a raw egg white due to health concerns, please consult the internet for recipes using meringue powder.