Every Christmas season requires a cookie recipe, and it’s been years since I last made any gingerbread people. At some point I had been thinking about creating a whole gingerbread town because I wanted to learn how to put up those adorable gingerbread houses, but now I am reminded just why I put that on hold.
Man did my back hurt after making this hahaha! It’s the curse of tall people forced to work on low worktables. Our chairs aren’t high enough for the counters so sitting down while working is difficult too. When I move into my dream house I will make damn sure my counters are a little higher. But since that is still many years away I am not planning on waiting that long to make a gingerbread town. Maybe next year if time permits? I’ll buy a bar stool or something.
Sore backs aside, I also rediscovered the reasons why I love gingerbread cookies in the first place. Apart from their spicy flavour that always makes me feel all warm and cozy inside, they are so cute! This recipe in particular has a deep chocolate flavour with a wonderful tinge of orange.
I love decorating them with royal icing to add a little sweet crunch. Not like the flooded type of decorations, mind you. I prefer my cookies with just the right touch of piped decoration; enough to make them cute but not too hard to bite into nor too sweet.
The version I made this year is hands-down the household favourite among all the gingerbread cookie versions I’ve made before. I’m going to go on a limb and say that it’s probably because of the addition of dark chocolate, giving the cookies a deeper dimension in flavour apart from the cinnamon and ginger and molasses. I’m not going to tell you to eat these cookies with milk because I discovered that the flavours are even more magnified when the cookies are dipped into a steaming hot cup of coffee!
Seriously good stuff!
I admit cut-out gingerbread cookies do take a bit of work. You have to make the dough in advance to give it time to firm up in the fridge and make it easier to handle. This recipe yields a soft dough but it’s not something that is excruciatingly unmanageable. This recipe also yields a cookie that is softer to the bite rather than crunchy.
I wouldn’t recommend rolling it out too thin because it will be hard to transfer the cut-out cookies to the baking sheet without deforming them, but a 1/4 to 1/8 inch (at least!) thickness is good enough. The cookies do puff up quite beautifully! And by the way, this recipe has you rolling out the dough before putting them in the fridge. Some might find that weird, but I happen to think it’s pretty brilliant. Not only do you save more time this way since you can prep your dough the night before and the next day all you need to do is to cut out and bake, letting the dough chill rolled out this way helps your cookies retain its shape as it’s baking! You can read more about it in this article by The Kitchn. 🙂
Anyway, it’s been a while since I took out my cookie cutters, and immediately they brought back memories of the Stained-Glass Christmas cookies I made in the past that are equally cute but perhaps a little more interesting because they had a stained glass candy effect in the middle of the cookies. Those were a really great hit too! Check them out and make them alongside these if you’re in the mood, or you know, do like a fusion of the two recipes and add a stained-glass candy center to these cookies!
And while we’re on the subject of cookie cutters, I wouldn’t recommend using really big cutters with this recipe. As I mentioned these cookies are a bit soft and chewy instead of crisp so the dough is soft as well. It will be difficult to move or handle the cut-out pieces of dough if they are too big. A spatula definitely helps though. I used mini cutters in the shape of men, snowflakes, stars, and a Christmas tree.
While decorating with royal icing is completely optional since some people like their gingerbread men naked (the puns keep on coming!) the decorating part is the most fun for me. This is a chance to go ahead and go crazy with dressing up your gingerbread men! My favourites are the athlete gingerbread men, which coincidentally is also the type of guy I prefer so… 😛
I feel kind of bad taking a bite off these smiling cuties!
Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Makes about 60 cookies
For the cookies
- 3⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 to 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- ¾ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft but still cool and cut into 12 pieces
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- ¾ cup molasses
- 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
For the royal icing
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 1 large egg white
- 1 to 2 teaspoons water or lemon juice, more or less
Make the cookies
- 1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and zest at low speed until combined.
- 2. Stop the mixer and add the butter pieces, about two at a time. Mix at medium-low speed until the mixture becomes sandy and resembles fine meal, about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the chopped chocolate and stir to combine. Remove the whisk beater and replace with the paddle.
- 3. In a measuring cup, whisk the egg and molasses together. Switch on the mixer to low and gradually add the molasses to the flour mixture as the mixer is running. Mix until the dough is moist, then increase the speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.
- 4. Scrape the dough onto a work surface. Divide it in half and shape into rounds before wrapping in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour, or until firm enough to work with without becoming sticky.
- 5. Working with one portion at a time, roll the dough into a 1/4-inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
- 6. Leaving the dough sandwiched between the parchment paper, stack the two portions of flattened dough on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Alternatively, refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
- 7. Once ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one dough sheet from the freezer/fridge and place on a work surface. Peel off the top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip the dough and remove the bottom layer.
- 8. Cut the dough using cookie cutters that are between 3- to 5-inches in any shape desired, transferring the cut-out dough to the baking sheet with a wide, metal spatula. Spacing them about 1/2-inch apart. Set the scraps aside for rerolling.
- 9. Bake first tray of cookies for 8 to 12 minutes on the middle rack while working on the second tray. Once first tray is done baking replace with the second prepared tray. Let the baked cookies cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack, then using the third baking sheet repeat cutting and transferring process with remaining dough. Rotate baking using the three pans until all the dough has been used up.
- 10. Let the cookies cool completely on the wire rack before frosting.
Make the icing
- 11. In a large bowl, combine sugar, egg white, and 1 teaspoon of water/lemon juice. Mix ingredients together with a wooden spoon until icing is thickened and smooth, about two minutes. If the icing is too thick add water in half a teaspoon increments until the consistency is that of a thick icing. It shouldn't easily flow down when dropped from a raised spoon but move very very slowly, if barely.
- 12. Place the icing in the piping bag and cut off a tiny tip, then design the cookies as desired. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes to harden. Store cookies in an airtight container.
Are you feeling the Christmas spirit yet?!