Before you start the actual rolling and baking, clear a large space, and make sure you have at least 3 big cookie tins handy. This recipe makes a ton. If you’re giving it as gifts, double the recipe, make the dough the night before, and spend the whole day. I usually employ a ‘cookie bitch’ for the mixing, because I have trouble holding things. Caveat- this makes soft, dense, chewy gingerbread cookies. Perfect for gingerbread men. Gingerbread houses need a hard cookie. I like the one over at food.com if that’s what you’re doing: http://www.food.com/recipe/gingerbread-for-cookies-or-a-gingerbread-house-149257
Soft gingerbread cookie cutouts:
1/3 cup shortening at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups dark molases (at room temperature, or you’ll still be there next Christmas)
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp each of allspice, cinnamon, ginger and cloves
Icing recipe of your choice. I prefer Bulk Barn’s vegan royal icing mix. Safer than traditional royal icing, and a lot less hassle, and easily flavoured with the extract of your choice. For gingerbread, I like cinnamon, orange, or maple. If you want to paint them as I do, mix a large pourable measuring cup full, following package directions, then pour out into ice cube trays. Use Wilton’s paste colours for icing (not food colouring drops). Mix tints to your heart’s content, just as you would paints and fill your ‘pallette’. Start with very, very small amounts. These are super concentrated colours. You’ll need less for strong pigments like black, a little more for weak ones like red. You can use good paintbrushes (cheap ones shed- nobody likes hairy cookies!) and paint just as you would with poster paints. The kids like this part. For mixing pigments, don’t forget to get whitener also.
In the larger of your two large-ish mixing bowls, mix the shortening, sugar and molases completely, then stir in the water. In a separate bowl, measure flour by dipping method, or by sifting. Just scooping out with your measuring cup results in packed flour, so you use too much and get bulletproof cookies. Combine all of your dry ingredients, then gradually mix into the wet. The result will be a stiff, sticky dough. I usually divide into four more or less equal balls, wrap in saran, and chill 3-4 hours or overnight.
Make sure your surface is well floured, and re-flour often. This is sticky dough, so you’ll be a lot less frustrated when the first batch comes out of the oven if you’ve used parchment on your baking sheet. Roll dough to about 1/4″ thickness. (I actually roll mine thinner than that, and bake for a little shorter time) Cut your prefered shapes and transfer to cookie sheet (which you have lined with parchment, because you were paying attention just now) . Don’t worry TOO much about leaving spaces, these don’t puff too much. Just not touching should be sufficient. Re-roll scraps and keep going. Re-chill leftover dough between batches. When this gets warm, it sticks like gum, and you’ll hate it. I usually avoid doing this part with children, because unless there are feathers handy, kids and molasses are no fun together. They get to help decorate.
Bake 10-14 minutes depending on how thick you rolled your dough, and how soft you want your cookies. Undercook them, and they’ll fall apart before you get them off the pan. Overcook them, and they’ll make pretty tree ornaments, but you won’t want to eat them. I use two rules for testing doneness. 1) when it starts to smell good. 2) poke a hot cookie with your asbestos mom fingers. If it bounces back, it’s done. If it doesn’t, give ’em another minute or two and repeat. Let these stand on the pan for a couple of minutes before you try to move them to a wire cooling rack, or you’ll be homicidal before the first batch is done. I get 4-5 dozen out of each batch, depending on how big my cookie cutters of choice are that day. Cool thoroughly, and decorate as desired.