It’s that wonderful time of year again. Luckily, we’re blessed with a decent chill here in Southern California this season, and all I’m thinking about is baking Gingerbread Cookie Ornaments for our Christmas tree with Daisy.
Our little sweetheart loves taking the long way home, looking for twinkling lights. That is one good thing about the early sunsets. We drive up and down the streets, stopping at the houses decked out with colourful lights, candy canes, penguins, polar bears and Santa, of course. The big guy is everywhere – peekabooing out of Christmas trees, standing at the helm of a ship, manning his sleigh, always making Daisy smile. It was high time we did something about our own house. But first, we needed a tree.
This year we did something a little different. Our friends who have a boy about Daisy’s age took us on a train ride to a tree farm. It was the first time Shawn cut down a fresh tree for us. When we brought it back, it filled the whole house with its gorgeous fragrance. It stands tall in our living room in front of the big window. We could not wait to decorate it, but got the flu bug got the best of us.
Our tree sat with nothing more than some lights wrapped around it for about a week as we took turns on the couch with a box of tissues. All playdates were cancelled since Daisy was not quite her usual chipper self yet. By Sunday, she was bored out of her mind. So, we made French crêpes together for breakfast.
Then we spent some time playing chase in the backyard. After a trip to the ice cream shop, we stopped by the market for some basic necessities (more butter). When we got home, we checked on Daddy who was still asleep. Now that we had all this butter, there was only one thing to do.Yup, you guessed it – BAKE.
Because our beautiful tree was so bare, we decided to make it really festive with Gingerbread Cookie Ornaments!
old fashioned Easy enough to capture a child’s interest, quality time with my little blue-eyed beauty would be a guarantee. So, we got crackin’.
Now, our tree looks so festive with stars, penguins, boy and girl cookies. We even have ninjas hanging from some branches. Some are iced with initials of our loved ones’ names, some are simple. And, best of all, our whole living room smells like sugar and spice.
There must be something like 4,572 gingerbread cookie recipes around the world by now and if I had the time (and patience), I would fish through all of them to find the very best one. But, since I have neither the time nor the patience, Daisy and I decided to make up our own which turned out to be a winner.
There was, however, one little problem – I had miscalculated how much molasses was left in the pantry. Eager to make the cookies without having to go out to the shops, I did something that may have the Food Gods strike me down with disapproval – For the missing molasses, I substituted pomegranate molasses. This would not have turned out to be so bad had I increased the sugar content to make up for the tartness of the batter, but I did not. So, our first batch was destined to be for display only. Milou, however, did not seem to mind the odd flavour one bit and ran off with whatever he managed to get!
Before you begin, ask yourself whether you intend to eat these cookies or just display them. If you are going to eat them, use good butter and the very best vanilla. If these cookies are going to just be ornaments or used to build gingerbread houses, omit the vanilla and substitute shortening (Crisco) for the butter. Do a quick inventory of your pantry to make sure you have everything you need.
This recipe yields about 5 dozen cookies, depending on the cookie cutters used and how many are eaten before they get out of the kitchen.
Some people roll out a sheet of dough, bake it, then cut the cookies.
If your waistline (like mine) does NOT permit gobbling up all the little scraps, you should cut first, then bake. You can roll up all the scraps and cut more cookies this way so most of the dough is used. These little guys do not really puff up much in the oven. So what you see really is what you get.
Daisy and I worked in batches, rolling, cutting and baking. We made a hole at the top of each cookie using a drinking straw. Once the cookies cooled, we iced them, threaded colorful string through the hole and hung the cookies from the tree branches.
Gingerbread Cookie Ornaments (Edible)
Notes: The dough can be made the night before as it needs to chill at least 1 hour or overnight.
There are two recipes for royal icing here. Both omit the need for egg whites and make the icing safe for pregnant women and young children. We poured the icing into clean squeeze bottles to make decorating easy with less mess.
Makes between 50-60 cookies
For the Royal Icing (Eggless):
Recipe #1 Recipe #2
3 cups powdered sugar 4 cups (16oz) powdered sugar 2 Tb water 3 Tb meringue powder
2-3 tsp honey 4 Tb warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
Measure all ingredients into a bowl.
Beat all ingredients until stiff peaks form
(maybe 8-10 minutes).
The icing is ready when you hold the whisk up
and the meringue stands at attention.
For the Cookies:
2 sticks (1 cup) butter (or shortening)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp fresh orange zest
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp extract
1 cup molasses
6 cups flour
2 tsp ginger
4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
Cream butter/shortening with brown sugar until smooth.
Add orange zest, vanilla, molasses and the egg.
Sift dry ingredients into a separate bowl.
Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients.
Blend just until the flour disappears into the creamy batter and the
dough comes together in a ball.
Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into 4 parts.
Shape each into a disk and wrap in plastic.
Chill in the fridge at least 1 hour.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Lightly dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour.
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Remove one of the dough disks from the fridge.
Roll dough out to about 1/8-inch thickness.
Cut with cookie cutters and gently place onto parchment-lined baking sheet.
Use a drinking straw to punch a hole through the top of each cookie.
Bake 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.
Then use a spatula to transfer them to a rack to finish cooling.
Roll, cut and bake another batch of cookies until all the dough is used up.
Once the cookies have cooled, decorate with the royal icing.
Allow the cookies to sit at least 30 minutes in a cool, dry place for the icing to set.
Then thread pretty ribbon or string through the hole and hang them from the tree branches.
A good many ornaments came from this recipe and kept us busy for the rest of the afternoon. By evening, most of the cookies were iced, threaded and ready for hanging. Shawn woke up and joined us in the living room. Daisy and I hung the cookies from the tree while dodging Milou who was on guard, ready to catch anything that fell to the ground. Christmas music chimed from the radio in the dining room. Daisy had such a good time, she was ready to bake a whole second batch that same night, but it was getting late and we had run out of molasses. I finally got the tree trimming I had been dreaming of for years and now our family enjoys a tree decked out with the handcraft of our little sweetheart. This is a time when sweet memories come to life and the people we love become the best gifts of all.