When it comes to baking, I’m something of a neophile – I have a few recipes that I’ll go back to time after time to make, but I love discovering new ones. I’m one of those people who stockpiles tons of recipes that look delicious and I swear I will one day make. Mikal has tried a few times to give this idea structure – we bought a few cookbooks at Borders at one point, and he had us go through and flag the recipes we thought we might want to make, with the intent of one-by-one going through and making them; never happened.
This is how it came to be that when I had all of my recipes, ingredients, and batches planned out for my gifting this year that I discovered the following recipe while looking up another – and added an impromptu 4 batches of it to my load. Luckily, it turned out to be a less-buttery substitute for my usual Orange-Cardamom sugar cookies. To me, the recipe just looked interesting – a gingery citrusy cookie to add to the bunch. It turns out that this particular cookie has great structural integrity, and would make AMAZING gingerbread houses. You know how most gingerbread houses taste like the incarnation of evil? Not very gingery, harder than rock after sitting out a day, and might as well be moldable cardboard. These have a wonderful flavor, and while they don’t stay soft after they cool, they soften right up in your mouth – keeping the structural integrity one needs for a house, while ensuring that you’ll be able to eat it later as long as you don’t use glue in the icing. You really don’t need to mix glue in the icing, by the way – just use royal icing.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup robust/dark molasses
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Using an electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well-blended. Beat in molasses, egg yolk, orange peel, and vanilla.
Sift dry ingredients into medium bowl, then add flour mixture to wet ingredients and beat until just blended. Gather dough into a ball. Divide into 3-4 pieces, flatten each piece into a disk, and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Chill dough until cold and firm, at least 4hrs.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Roll out one piece of dough on a lightly powdered-sugared surface (using powdered sugar rather than flour keeps the dough from getting too dry/floury, and also minimizes the discoloration one sometimes gets on cookies from over-flouring.) and roll to 1/4-3/8″ thickness. Cut out cookies in desired shapes and space 1/2″ apart on cookie sheet. Gather scraps and re-roll dough until pan is adequately filled. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes. Completely cool cookies on rack prior to icing.
2 egg whites (this is why it’s good to do a double batch of cookies)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2.5 cups powdered sugar
Place egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl and whisk until loosened, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar and beat on medium-low (my mixer has 10 speeds and I was at 3) until slightly frothy, 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments until incorporated. You will likely have to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure everything gets in. Once the icing looks like something you would want to have on a cookie (you’ll understand what I mean when you make this – when it’s first getting mixed together it looks horrid, but once the sugar is fully incorporated it looks like a slightly shiny creamy whiteness), the icing is ready to use. At this point you can separate into different bowls and add coloring, then put into a piping bag. For storage, if the icing is not in a piping bag, cover with plastic wrap with the plastic touching the surface of the icing – that way it doesn’t harden. If it’s in piping bags, just stopper both ends (paper clips for the back end work nicely – you don’t actually have to stopper the front end unless it’s likely to leak while it’s in the fridge) and toss in the fridge. I’m not sure how long the icing will keep this way – I revisited mine after a week and it was fine.