When my friend Spencer Moore lived in Nashville, his mother Betty Moore sent him Christmas care packages from his hometown of Columbia, MO, containing the most beautiful gingerbread boys. She’d make the little boys with perfect little white icing buttons and faces and somehow the sturdy cookies always came through the mail with their heads, legs, and arms intact. I marveled at her talent and patience for detail. Spencer always graciously shared the cookies with us even though I sensed he really didn’t want to. They’re that good and he’s that nice.
Even better, Betty shared her recipe. My tattered copy of Betty Moore’s gingerbread boy recipe says at the top that it came through the office fax machine on December 9, 1998, at 9:05 a.m. I’ve continued Betty Moore’s legacy by baking these cookies for my own kids and family ever since.
There is one big difference. We use pretty much the same dough, but we make messy cookies. That’s the beauty of a shared recipe, everyone adds a little of themselves to the mix. Our messy Christmas cookie tradition probably came about because of two things. One is simply my personality. I’m a big picture gal, a deconstructionist, not a detail person, or a perfectionist. You can’t change that. Two, for the kids to help and have a little fun, you’ve got to let go, make a mess, and wing it. The result is a beautiful mish-mash of colorful, very homemade-looking gingerbread boys that taste fantastic. They couldn’t look more inviting on a platter. It’s a real keeper of a recipe.
The secret to getting the decorative sprinkles to adhere to the cookies is a smear of quick royal icing. Royal icing is the kind that hardens like glue thanks to an egg white. Nowadays as we shy away from ingesting raw egg white, the icing couldn’t be easier to make with readily available dried egg white powder. If you like to bake, buy a container of Just Whites or a meringue powder at the supermarket and keep it in the cupboard. It will last you a long time and get you through all your gingerbread projects.
One final note, as I’ve said before, a canvas pastry cloth will make biscuits, pie pastry, and rolled cookie dough so much easier and less messy to work with. Get one! Keep it folded up in a plastic bag in the freezer. It’s ready to go when you are.
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- Royal Icing:
- 2 tablespoons egg white powder
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 heaping cup powdered sugar
- Decorative sprinkles of your choice
Heat the oven to 375F. Cream the shortening with the sugar with an electric mixer. Add the egg, molasses, and vinegar and beat well. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. Blend well. Chill the dough at least one hour. (You can make the dough and keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days until you are ready to roll and bake). On a floured surface or floured pastry cloth, roll out the dough in batches to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Cut out cookies using your favorite cookie cutters. Re-roll the scrap dough by blending it in with some of the remaining dough. Place the cookies an inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 5 to 6 minutes until set and firm. Cool slightly on cookie sheet. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack. Decorate when completely cool. Make the icing by combining all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk until the sugar is fully incorporated. The icing should be spreadable, but not too thin or thick. Spread the cookies with a thin layer of icing and immediately decorate with sprinkles before the icing dries. Allow the icing to dry before moving. Store in an airtight container.
The cookies don't really brown because the dough is already so dark. You'll be able to tell that they are done by the firmness of the dough. Refrigerating the dough helps hydrate the flour and makes rolling the dough out easier. These cookies hold well. Makes about 7 dozen 2-1/2 inch cookies. Sometimes I think it's more forgiving to bake the cookies at 350 F. It will take closer to 10 minutes, but you may be less likely to overbake them. Love these cookies. Also use the same icing but make it thicker and you can pipe it on the little guys with dots for buttons and eyes and a smile.