WE always bake some sort of special holiday cookies for Christmas…to nibble…and give away as gifts.
Christmas 1998. This particular year, I decided to give our neighbors’ grade-school & high-school age kids fancy hand-decorated Gingerbread cookies as gifts. Marc & Bri were up from southern California visiting family for Christmas and always enjoyed holiday food prep festivities. David lived and worked nearby and was planning to spend Christmas Day with us.
Don’t recall exactly how I got inspired to do cookie portraits of the kids? Most likely, faced with 8 larger-than-my-hand gingerbread men to decorate, I couldn’t bear the repetitiveness of decorating them all in a similar fashion. As creative ideas spilled out, I may have wondered if I could actually make the cookies resemble each child ~ young or grown ~ working with the same generic gingerbread person shape but decorated in a unique fashion?
This was several years before food blogs existed or were today’s internet phenomenon. And in the age of my first primitive food photography attempts…so please accept my apologies for the poor quality of the photographs. Most of them have been artistically manipulated as fun illustrations, since the original photos were rather dismal.
The recipe I most often use for gingerbread man cookies is from The Spice Cookbook. (Read more about this charming old cookbook in our Soft Spiced Honey Cookies post.) Use your favorite gingerbread man cookie recipe, if you prefer.
Gingerbread Men (or Kids) Christmas Cut-Out Cookies
* 3/4 cup organic unsulphured molasses
* 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) organic butter, softened
* 3-2/3 cups sifted organic all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 2 tsps ground ginger
* 2 tsps ground cinnamon
* 3/4 cup organic dark brown sugar
* 1/3 cup organic buttermilk (replaces 1 egg)
DIRECTIONS (Pre-heat oven to 350F)
1. HEAT molasses in saucepan large enough for mixing cookies. Remove from heat.
2. STIR in butter. Cool.
3. MEASURE dry ingredients. Sift flour first, before measuring.
4. SIFT together the next 6 ingredients.
5. ADD brown sugar and mix well.
6. STIR into the molasses & butter mixture, a cup at a time, until well mixed. BEAT 20 strokes.
7. ADD the buttermilk and mix well. (OR if using an egg, beat in well.)
8. CHILL 1-2 hours or until dough is stiff enough to roll.
9. DIVIDE dough in half. Roll each half 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured board, chilling the second half while the first half is being rolled. Cut out cookies with a gingerbread-man cutter lightly dipped in flour. Cut holes for foil ribbons by piercing ‘foreheads’ with a fat straw.
10. PLACE on lightly oiled or non-stick cookie sheets.
11. BAKE 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges.
12. COOL on wire racks ’til room temperature.
13. DECORATE with vanilla glaze (recipe follows) colored in small batches with bright food gels. Add dragees like chocolate jimmies, multi-colored non pariels, silver balls, red cinnamon candies, glittery colored sugars, etc. and finish each cookie tied with a shiny thin foil ribbon in a coordinating color.
A favorite family recipe
* 2 cups sifted organic confectioners’ sugar
(measure carefully without packing)
*2 Tablespoons organic, salted Butter, melted
*1/2 teaspoon pure organic Vanilla
*3 Tablespoons organic whole Milk
For your gingerbread cookie portraits to turn out superbly, be prepared to take time decorating. Notice unique features of your portrait recipients: hairstyles, favorite clothes / shoe styles, jewelry, hair & eye color, etc.
For example: Notice Bri’s turquoise ring & earrings, her multi-colored beaded bracelet (see intro illustration); Dave’s tie & big smile; Marc’s goatee; the girls’ dresses, and the guys’ tie shoes.
I spent about 45 minutes decorating EACH cookie. Did eight portraits (6 hours to decorate) and several small cookies like a Santa, a Christmas tree, and deer to use up the remaining cookie dough….another hour’s time.
Such FUN! I was REALLY PLEASED with the results. The “kids” (including Marc, Bri, and David) thoroughly enjoyed receiving the custom decorated cookies. Ate their gingery pseudo-selves with gusto and amused delight. Not surprisingly….the heads were eaten first!