Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Gingerbread Cookies from Williamsburg
Every time we go to Williamsburg, I am compelled to buy the gingerbread cookies. They are not too sweet and one of my favorite things when we visit. (Somehow, food is my favorite thing of ANYWHERE we visit.) The last time we went I bought the Raleigh Tavern recipe book even though I only wanted it for the gingerbread recipe!
Somehow, gingerbread seems like a Christmas type of cookie. Maybe because people like to make gingerbread houses. But these are year-round good. So don't limit yourself to Christmas. The dough is too soft to make into houses or people, but just right for a soft delicious cookie that isn't too sweet. If you prefer a sweeter cookies, sprinkle them with turbinado sugar just before baking. Or frost them. But I like them just the way they are.
This recipe is MOSTLY from the Williamsburg version. I made a few changes and noted where I did, so you can use the original, or mine, which may just be better!
Gingerbread Cookies from Williamsburg
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter, melted, 2 sticks (The recipe called for margarine.)
1/2 cup half and half (The recipe called for evaporated milk, but I didn't have any.)
1 cup unsulfered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
4 cups flour I ALWAYS need more than this, so don't put it away just yet.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Put two sticks of butter in a bowl and microwave until melted. Cover it with a paper towel or you will be cleaning the microwave after this! If you have Silpats, use them. Parchment paper works, too. If not, save the wrappers the butter came in to butter your cookie sheets. It is just the right amount!
For this recipe I always use my Kitchen Aid mixer. It gets very stiff towards the end and is so much easier with a stand mixer. If you are young and strong, you can probably do it by hand. But why should you? It's Christmas. Ask for a Kitchen Aid! This is one of those parts that is NOT in the Williamsburg version, in case you were wondering.
Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. I only have whole nutmegs and the Williamsburg version called for one whole nut in the old time English version rather than the 1 teaspoon version. I tried to grate one whole nut, but it starts to get scary when you are about to grate your finger tips, so I just grated MOST of a nut and decided that was one teaspoon! Mix well.
Add the butter (or margarine) and the half and half (or evaporated milk) and the molasses. Nope, gotta be molasses. No substitution there! Add the extracts. To be honest I have always used them and have no idea what would happen if you leave them out. So put them in.
Add the flour one cup at a time and mix well between each one. You are going to knead this dough so if it is sticky, add 1/2 cup more. I always add this extra 1/2 cup and then knead in another 1/2 cup.
Do not put the flour away. Keep out a cup or so to use. You will need it for the kneading and to sprinkle on the counter or cutting board to keep the dough from sticking. Wash your hands. Yes, again. Then wash your counter top or get a clean cutting board. Dry it with a paper towel and toss a bit of flour on it. Scrape the dough out onto the flour. I use a pastry cutter for this process.
Sprinkle some flour on the dough and then use the pastry cutter to lift the edges of the dough and press into the floured dough. Work all the way around the dough and then if it is still too sticky, do it again. Keep the flour handy to spread under the dough each time you knead it and the flour disappears. This is a good time to get out the rolling pin and the cookie sheets. You won't want to be reaching in cupboards with floury hands. Knead the dough for about 2 minutes
When the dough is smooth and no longer sticky, roll it out 1/4 inch thick and cut it into rounds. Remember they will spread out a bit when cooking so don't put them too close together on the sheet. At this point, if you are tired of messing about in the kitchen, you can use a cookie scoop, but they puff up too big and are just the wrong shape. They taste fine, however. It may help to put the dough into the fridge while you clean up. It firms it up a bit and makes cutting the dough easier.
If the shapes get a bit wonky, just use you fingers to push them back into a circle. But don't worry overmuch. You don't want them to look perfect like store bought cookies! You went to all this work and want someone to know about it.
This recipe makes a lot of cookies, 5 dozen for me. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? This is what 4 dozen looks like. Well, mostly. Lee had one and I had one and Not Me had a couple. But this doesn't look like too many cookies, does it? Nonetheless, I intend to freeze a bunch for the kids at Christmas. If I can make myself do it before I eat too many. Or Not Me does.