Today is the Friday before Christmas, and I am finishing up all my last minute baking, shopping, and wrapping of gifts. It is the perfect time to finally share one of my favorite holiday traditions...my mom's gingerbread men cookies.
These cookies have been part of my family's holidays for my entire life. My mom started baking them with my Great-Aunt Lena when my mom was a small child. When I was growing up, mom made them three times a year...a huge batch at Halloween for the neighborhood children in addition to candy for trick-or-treating, another huge batch for Christmas, and the third batch for Valentine's Day. Each student in my class and the classes of both of my sisters received a cookie with our handwritten valentines. I loved them for each of these holidays, but my favorite was eating gingerbread men at Christmas. One of these soft, cake-like cookies with a hot cup of tea just screams Christmas morning to me.
Now, my mom, has a hard time getting around without a walker and our "new" tradition is for my mom and me to make the cookies together. I prepare the dough, she cuts out as many gingerbread men as she can before she gets tired, I finish, bake, and then, together, we decorate. We make about 125 cookies at a time, and then my mom divides them up among family and friends who eagerly await the gingerbread men delivery.
These are not fancy cookies. The old gingerbread man cutter has been used by my mom for over 70 years. We decorate them the same way every year...no exceptions. Red hot candies for the eyes? Check. A dab of buttercream frosting on the head to make a jaunty hat? Check? Another blob of frosting for the tummy to make a winter sweater? Check. Red hot or raisins dotted down the front for buttons? Check. More frosting on the hands and feet to replicate mittens and stockings? Check. No changes...ever! My family would revolt.
Maybe these cookies can become part of your family tradition. That would make my mom very, very happy. Happiest of Holidays to you and yours. See you in 2018!
My Mom's Gingerbread Men Cookies
(Yield depends on the size of cutter. My mom's makes 14 cookies per batch)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1 jar red hot candies
Buttercream frosting (recipe follows)
In the bowl of a mixer, cream shortening until light and fluffy. (about 3 minutes) Gradually add brown sugar and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Add molasses and beat until incorporated.
In a small bowl, sift together 1 1/4 cups flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Gradually add dry ingredients to molasses bowl with mixer running at low speed until just mixed.
Add vinegar to mixing bowl and, with mixer running at slow speed, add remaining 2 1/2 cups flour (1/4 cup at a time) alternating with buttermilk until just mixed. Pat dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and chill dough for a minimum of 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray and set aside.
Cut dough in half and roll one of the halves 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured board. Dip cutter in flour and press into dough making as many cookies as you can. Reroll scraps and repeat. Repeat with second dough half. Place cookies on to cookie sheets, add two red-hots per cookie to represent eyes and bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes depending on how soft you want your cookies to be.
Check after 10 minutes. The cookies should be lightly browned on the bottom but still soft. They will firm up as they cool. Transfer to racks and allow to cool completely before decorating.
Classic Buttercream Frosting
3 3/4 cups Confectioners Sugar (1 lb. box)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
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|With my Mom and sisters at a holiday tea this year. I am the one in white