I always make gingerbread cookies as the Christmas season approaches, but I see no reason why they can't be eaten throughout the year! Indeed in many countries, gingerbread features regularly throughout the seasons, although in England, it generally signals the start of the Christmas season.
Gingerbread is thought to have been introduced in Europe via France by an Armenian monk in 992. It then gained in popularity throughout Europe and the Americas and is now widespread in many countries around the world. The spiced aromas of gingerbread baking in the oven are comforting and warming, and perhaps that is why it is particularly popular at Christmas time, when everyone is getting ready to hunker down for winter.
Modern day gingerbread refers to a broad category of baked goods, typically sweetened and spiced with a combination of ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Whilst some types of gingerbread may have a spongy bread or cake like texture, others can be dense and crispy, and these are often cut into shapes before baking to make gingerbread cookies. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth I used to serve gingerbread men at court to foreign dignitaries.
The elaborately decorated gingerbread house is another popular creation, originating in Germany in the early 1800s. Whether you choose to make a house or cut other shapes, baking gingerbread is always a fun activity for the children. Mine love to decorate more than they like to make gingerbread cookies, although they would never turn down the opportunity to sneak a few sweets from the gingerbread houses!
The recipe below is gently spiced and not too sweet, with hints of citrus. Once you know the trick to make gingerbread cookies, you'll realise that it doesn't have to take all day. As you'll see below, I typically break it up into stages, beginning by making a large batch (or two!) of dough, depending on how much I'm planning to bake. Then I have a dedicated rolling and cutting session, when I make my shapes in advance and store them in the freezer for baking later. This part probably requires the most time, but it is also the fun part, where the children like to be involved! Finally, about one or two days before I need the gingerbread cookies, I bake the pre-cut shapes.
When the cookies have cooled completely, you could certainly eat them straight away. We tend to decorate ours, and I usually also package them up as holidays gifts. This multi stage system has made the intensity of holiday baking a lot more manageable. Perhaps this will inspire you to make gingerbread cookies this holiday season!
Here's what you'll need to make gingerbread cookies:
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375g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
170g butter, cut into chunks
100g light muscovado sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 Tbsp orange zest
2 Tbsp black treacle
1 tsp vanilla extract
And here's what you'll need to do:
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