A long-standing House Morell tradition has been our annual cookie exchange. Over the past nine years, it had morphed from a small gathering of a handful of moms and kids into a huge open house with dozens of families and hundreds of cookies. I loved everything about it – the mind-blowing collection of cookies, the chance to visit with dear friends over a breakfast of coffee and cookies (and mimosas – a rather brilliant recent addition to the menu), and the overflowing tins of shared cookie treasures everyone took home.
But we’re taking a break from it this year. As it turned out, various family members were slated to be on three different continents this week, and I decided the sane thing to do would be to let it go. (This is progress for me – I have a long history of making holiday decisions that drive me – and everyone around me – completely nuts.) As part of a concerted effort to simplify my holiday season, I’m very much okay with the decision (most days.)
But I’m still obsessed with Christmas cookies, so I had to get into the kitchen this weekend and bake a few dozen to share with those members of my family still in town, my favorite high school senior and her AP Art History friends – and you all. Aren’t these little guy adorable? Really, nothing perks up a holiday cookie tray like gingerbread boys.
I find that many gingerbread boys recipes tend to be kinda flavorless and doughy. But we don’t tolerate wimpy cookies around here. I like my cookies buttery and super spicy – these little guys are pumped so full of ginger and cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice and cloves – and even a bit of black pepper – that they pack a serious little punch. They don’t even need to be decorated. If you’re pressed for time, you could opt to simply dust these little guys with a bit of sanding sugar (like those awesome little buddies from Pepperidge Farm that I’ve been known to eat by the bagful when no one is looking. Don’t tell.)
But, it was kind of a dreary Sunday, I was in the mood to decorate my little friends with a bit of icing.
Royal icing is a snap to make – just whip an egg white with powdered sugar. And you don’t even need special piping equipment to give your cookies a bit of personality. I discovered yesterday that my icing tips were misplaced in the move (yes, that was a year-and-a-half ago. Please don’t judge.) But I’m a resourceful gal (who wouldn’t have dreamed of going anywhere near a craft store on a December weekend to procure new icing tips.) I simply popped the frosting into a zip-lock baggie and cut a tiny corner off of it. I am well aware I won’t win any decorating awards, but this strategy yielded happy little smiles and smart little bow ties quite nicely, thank you.
So, if you’re wondering if your invitation to our exchange got lost in the mail this year, my apologies, but it hasn’t. I offer you these little gems instead. Maybe we’ll host again next year, but, until then, enjoy my mighty, happy little friends.
Mighty Mini Gingerbread Boys
Makes: Forty-five 3-inch boys
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened/at room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup dark molasses
- 1 large whole egg
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 large egg white, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar.
- Place the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Set the bowl aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the molasses and egg, and mix again until combined, scraping the sides if need be. Add the flour and spice mixture and mix until just combined.
- Divide the dough in half, and create two flattened discs. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour (or as long as a day or two).
- When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper
- Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator and place it between two sheets of wax paper. Roll it out to ¼ inch thick.
- Remove the top piece of wax paper, and using a gingerbread boy cookie cutter (mine is about 3 inches tall — I got him as part of a stacking set at Crate and Barrel), cut out as many gingerbread boys as you can. Using a spatula, place the boys on the parchment-lined cookie sheets. The dough shouldn't spread, so you can place them quite close together on the sheets.
- Repeat the process with the second disc of dough. Gather and re-roll any scraps and repeat with that dough.
- Place the cookies in the oven and bake 11-12 minutes (this time will be a bit longer if you use a bigger cookie cutter.) Cool the boys completely on the baking sheet or on wire racks.
- While the cookies are cooling, prepare the icing.
- Place the powered sugar and egg whites into the bowl of your standing mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed for 30 seconds. Then change to medium-high speed and beat until smooth, 3 minutes. The icing should be stiff enough to pipe. If it's not, add up to 2 tablespoons more powdered sugar.
- Place a writing tip on a pastry bag. Set the bag in a tall glass, tip side down. Fill the bag with the icing, and pipe decorations onto the completely cooled cookies. (Or you can do the zip-lock baggie trick as described above)
- Allow the icing to set for a few hours.
- Be sure to store these cookies in an airtight container.