Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
Christmas is around the corner, and although Australia isn't exactly the land of white Christmases, some things still remain the same - a big family feast, homes decorated with so many twinkling lights you can see them from space, and some holiday baking fun with the kids.
It's very hard to turn away brightly iced gingerbread that are perfect for that instant sugar high.
I am a huge chewy cookie fan, and that has posed a problem for years because I also love the cute shapes that you can get with cookie cutters. Chewy cookies - in my experience - tend to have a softer, moister batter that spreads as it bakes, making it hard to retain a shape.
Which is why this gingerbread recipe that I found at Brown Eyed Baker is such a godsend. It produces a soft dough that you can roll out and shape, but it also produces a chewy-ish cookie. Not as chewy has say, a Subway cookie, but more chewy than the rock hard biscuits that I've had before.
I've tweaked the recipe a bit for what I've got in my cupboard - and for Australian measurements - but feel free to refer to the original.
Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
170g butter, cold and cubed
3 cups flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1.5 tbsp ground Cinnamon
1 tbsp ground Ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup honey
2 tbsp milk
Using a food processor - or standing mixer with the paddle attachment - blend the butter, flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and baking soda till the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. You can also rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips, but it takes considerably longer.
Then, with the motor still running, pour in the milk and stream in the honey. If you're using a food processor, you might want to start pulsing it as the mixture starts to ball up. I had some very disturbing sounds coming from mine towards the end as the dough formed.
Then turn out onto the counter and knead lightly - just enough to make sure that the dough comes together, but not overworking it. Split the dough into halves - or thirds! - and roll out between two sheets of baking paper. I kept mine about 0.5cm thick, because the thinner you go, the more likely you are to get a crispy cookie. Then put these layers into the freezer and go have a nice cold drink.
Preheat your oven to 180C (fan forced). The rule for baking is generally to go hot and fast for smaller items, and low and slow for larger items. If you like baking smallish cookies, then you may have to bump it up to 190C, depending on your oven.
Line your baking tray with baking paper, and take a sheet of gingerbread out of the freezer. Use your cookie cutters to cut the shapes, and lay them out on your baking sheet. I find that the more they thaw, the harder they are to handle, so you might want to work in smaller batches if your kitchen (or hands!) is too warm. Then bake till the edges are lightly (LIGHTLY!) golden, and let cool in the baking tray.
With the remaining dough, just re-roll it and put it back into the freezer. I found that this recipe is extremely forgiving in the re-rolling department.
When all your cookies are cooled, they're ready to ice!
Cookie Icing (Enough for 1 batch of gingerbread cookies)
1 egg white (make sure it's fresh)
Icing mixture (about 250g)
Take 1 egg white and squeeze in the juice of about half a lemon. Give it a light whisk, then add the icing mixture, a cup at a time. For the initial outline, you want an icing that is slightly on the thick side, and I found that using icing mixture - as opposed to icing sugar - was really helpful, because the thickeners in the mixture helped me get the consistency that I needed. I added enough icing mixture so the resulting icing held soft peaks, then scooped some into a zip top bag. I tried it with a piping bag and tips - let's say that the zip top bags were SO MUCH EASIER.
Snip a tiny corner off the zip top bag and test your icing on the back of a spoon. Keep cutting till you reach your desired thickness. Because I like to bake small cookies, I keep my tip fine, but you can really pile it on if you want to.
Then decorate away! I used this initial icing to create all the outlines.
When you're done with the outlines, just put the remaining icing back into the bowl, and add about 2 tbsp of milk. You want the next consistency to be just gluey, with a little bit of flow, but not runny. Mix more milk in incrementally if you have to. Then simply separate it into small bowls and add your colouring. I used little snack zip top bags for the coloured icing, then just as I did before, snipped a TINY bit off the corner. If you're lazy (like me), you can also skip the piping bit completely and just drizzle it on with a fork. Just remember to do it on a cake rake over a baking tray or there will be icing EVERYWHERE.
If you're doing this with kids, you can just give them a colour each, or even prepare the icing the day before, put them into bags and keep them overnight in the fridge. The kids will be occupied for hours.
If you let the icing dry, you can also refrigerate the iced cookies for two days in an airtight container, and the icing just dries to a shiny soft crumble. Still delish.
Want to make everything in advance? You can freeze the baked, un-iced cookies in the freezer for up to three months. Just make sure you thaw everything before icing them.