Gingerbread Boys

by Min Merrell

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.

Decorated Gingerbread boys. Wabi Sabi! There’s so much beauty in their imperfection. Yes. This recipe makes a lot to share.

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