Thursday, December 8, 2011

Play: Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Icing

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.  
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Nothing like a little Little House to get you in the Christmas mood, hey?  My love of reading stems from pouring over those books when I was a kid.  I especially loved the Christmas chapters; when the Ingalls are housebound by raging blizzards and old Mr. Edwards saves they day by bringing Laura, Mary and Carrie candy and oranges.  Love. It. So. Much.  Laura was right though.  Everyone becomes a kid again at Christmas.

I'm in full blown catering crazies, but happy to report no meltdowns and anxiety has been averted.  Touch wood!  Thanks, in part, to another set of hands peeling a million pounds of potatoes and dicing equal amounts of onion.  Poor guy will never want to touch either when he leaves our kitchen.  But just having those basic tasks done for me has meant the world.  And saved my sanity.  Give it up for Victor!  I've also decided I'm not going to let the stresses of the season bum me out.  My cortisol levels are staying relatively normal and I'm even having fun.  I keep getting invited to parties and I keep saying yes.  Good Lord, I'm tired, but this is the season to play, after all.

People think it's weird that after I cook all day at my real job, I would want to do anything in my own kitchen.  But honestly, it's not really mental to anyone who loves food like I do.  Rolling out gingerbread dough and cutting it into perfect tree shapes is playing.  And a reminder of a little girl with a blond head and a sweet tooth, by her Mom's side, eating the gingery dough behind her back and peeking through the glass door of the oven, watching the cookies rise into stars and trees and pigs.  I lived for those days before Christmas when the house smelled of butter and ginger and we got to decorate our cookies as we liked.  Icing! Sprinkles! Sugar!  The best part: biting off the limbs of the gingerbread man and saving head for last.  

Yes, me and cookie dough go waaaaay back - to days before everything was digital and my biggest worry was if my blue Club Monaco sweatshirt was washed so I could wear it to school the next day;  to days when my favourite song was "Eye of the Tiger" and I wanted to be Olivia Newton John when I grew up. Yeah, me and cookie making go way back.  If only my biggest "issue" these days could be whether or not I have clean laundry. Baking has always been a little therapy for this girl, and on more than one occasion it's saved me from holiday hell.  Sometimes the process of distraction is a magical thing.

This gingerbread is exactly what you want your house to smell like as you put that last star on the tree and as you finish addressing envelopes with the names of loved ones. The batter can be made the night before, so the next morning you just roll it out and cut into your favourite shapes.  They only need to bake for about 8 minutes if you like a softer cookie, or around 10 if you want your gingerbread to snap. The drizzle of lemon is a lovely compliment to the smooth bite of ginger.  Ginger + Lemon = Yummers.  Can't think of a better cookie to eat while I curl up on the couch to watch this, yet again.  It never gets old.

Gingerbread Tree with Lemon Icing

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (spooned and leveled) plus a bit more for rolling
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp coarse salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/3 cup icing sugar
coarse sugar, optional

In a medium bowl, whisk flour with rest of dry ingredients.  In a large bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium high until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add egg and molasses and beat to combine, scraping down bowl as you need to. With  mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined.  Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350*F, with racks in upper and lower thirds.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 1/4 inch thickness, and with cookie cutters, cut into your favourite shapes.  My Mom still uses the cutters from when we were kids and I love the pig!  Or you can use a sharp knife and cut into triangles.  Arrange cookies on parchment lined baking sheets, and bake until firm and golden, around 8 min for chewy, 10 min for snappy.  Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.  Store in airtight containers for up to one week, or freeze.
To make the lemon icing, combine lemon juice, icing sugar with a small whisk.  It takes a little while for it to come together.  Add more lemon if too thick.  I just put the icing in a small Ziploc bag and cut one corner to make a tip.  Drizzle onto cooled cookies and sprinkle with sugar.  The cookies freeze well for up to one month.  Makes about 50-60 cookies.  


  1. Yum! So old-fashioned and classic.

  2. It has been some time since I last made gingerbread. Love the design!!

  3. I do love making gingerbread cookies every year, especially for decorating the tree. Lovely post!

  4. I read every Little House book too! What little girl doesn't love those stories? Reminds me I should re-read the series one day. Glad to hear you're maintaining your sanity and getting to have some fun, too. Lovely looking and sounding cookies!

  5. Thanks Ladies! Happy to see I'm not the only Laura Ingalls fan out there, Shelley!

  6. Very happy to see that describe so properly every step.

  7. Loved these cookies! Just perfect for Christmas!! Following you on Facebook.

  8. Found these on TasteSpotting, and just made a batch...that lemon icing is exactly what gingerbread's been needing! Thanks for sharing :)

  9. How do you get your cookies so dark colored? Mine are kind of a light brown color. Is it because I don't have molasses?

  10. Thanks Purabi and Jessica - the lemon icing is perfect with the gingerbread, no? Kathy, the molasses will make the cookies darker.

  11. These are gorgeous - I'm making them TODAY for a Christmas party - and am sure everyone is going to LOVE them !!!

  12. Made these today. I'm in Arizona so used cactus cookie cutters! Wonderful recipe. Thank you.


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