"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Holiday Hell: Ginger things

by Julie Tilsner on December 19, 2007

in Holiday Hell, Sweet!

Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I was the sort of grade school student who couldn’t cut a neat circle out of construction paper to save my soul. Got C’s in penmanship all my life (until computers took over and nobody cared anymore). Never met a rapidograph pen that would do my bidding.

Little wonder I’m not a natural when it comes to crafting men out of gingerbread.

But I volunteered to try my hand, so to speak, at making gingerbread men when my daughter, who is following me down the path of extreme procrastination, announced that her “How To” project was due soon and she still hadn’t found a cricket bat. Her initial project idea was How To Score in Cricket, and although her dad tried his best to explain the nuances of cricket to her, I don’t believe she had a firm enough grasp of it to explain it, in poster form, to anyone else. So I came up with How To Make Gingerbread Men as a quick alternative.

I mean what’s less likely to work? A 10-year-old girl trying to explain the inexplicable sport of cricket to a bunch of her American peers or the Bad Home Cook trying to bake a decent gingerbread man? Six of one, half dozen of the other, as the saying goes.

So I hoisted out my Cook’s Illustrated tome, “The New Best Recipes,” and found the following:

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 12 pieces
1/4 cup dark molasses
2 tablespoons milk

In a food processor, process the flour, brown sugar, baking soda,
cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt until combined. I don’t have a food
processor, so I did this by hand.

Add the butter pieces, and combine until you have a sandy-texture. Again, I did this by hand, feeling very  Amish.

If you’re working with a food processor, gradually add the molasses
and milk until the dough is evening moistened and is a soft mass. Good
luck attaining this otherwise, although I eventually got there. I have
the mess to prove it, too.

Scrape the dough onto a work surface and divide it in half. Working
with one half at a time, roll the dough into 1/4 inch thick rounds
between two sheets of parchment paper. Leaving the dough between the
paper, freeze it until firm, 15-20 minutes (or refrigerate for two
hours or overnight).

When the dough has firmed, cut out your gingerbread men. If you’re
crafty, you can probably do this by hand. I rely on a $3 cookie cutter
I bought yesterday afternoon at Ralph’s. Place them on parchment paper
and put them into an oven pre-heated to 350. Bake them for between 8-11
minutes, or when your finger barely leaves an imprint when touched to
the center. Don’t overbake. Cool for 2 minutes and then transfer to a

Decorate elaborately. Or not.

For someone who is alarmingly unable to master her fine motor
skills,  these came out surprisingly well, and make a delicious cookie,
to boot. We were supposed to collect the scraps and roll them into more
cookies, but we ate the dough instead. When I’m on a Good Mommy roll, I
like to milk it.

Today I am giddy with accomplishment. My kids now have a tangible
memory of their mom making gingerbread men for them at the holidays,
and that the outcome was good. Tasty enough for them to opt for saving
most of the cookies for themselves instead of handing them out to

Have I modeled good behavior? Well, no. We still
wait until the last minute for everything. Also, it was my idea to make
a special Gingerbread man for the teacher, to soften her up for a
project slapped together at the 11th hour. The lesson I suppose I’m
conveying is that greed is good, and that baked goods, properly
applied, will allow you to slide in most situations.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

elfini December 19, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Viva Cook’s Illustrated!!!


Sam's Mom December 19, 2007 at 8:40 pm

Yay! They look really good


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