Whether your gingerbread dreams are realized in the form of elaborate houses, garlands, and ornaments — or in a humbly decorated tray of ginger-people — this guide will have you baking your best-yet homemade gingerbread in no time.
Read on for expert tips on prep, baking, storage and decorating, straight from the pages of Mima Sinclair’s Gingerbread Wonderland cookbook. And don’t miss Mima’s classic light gingerbread, dark gingerbread and royal icing recipes to get you started!
- Dough can be made in advance and stored in the fridge allowing time for the spices to permeate the dough. If left for more than a couple of hours in the fridge, you will need to rest the dough at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes on the side to soften slightly before rolling.
- Do not over-mix the dough once you have added the egg as it will become quite sticky and difﬁcult to remove from the bowl. Mix it until just combined because this develops the gluten in the dough to make the cookies chewy. Over-mixing will create a tougher end result. However, if it does become sticky, just use a spatula to scrape the dough into a freezer bag and chill as usual.
- Chilling the dough is an important step. It makes it more pliable and easier to shape.
- Always chill again in the fridge or freezer after rolling and cutting out the dough. This keeps the cookies from spreading too much and losing their shape.
- You can use spice mixes such as pumpkin pie spice or Dutch speculaas spice in place of the spices I have included in the recipes. Add up the quantity of individual spices in the recipe and replace the total amount with your spice mix.
- Using up old spices from the back of the cupboard sounds like a great idea, but on average whole spices only stay fresh for 4 years and ground spices for only 2 years. Buying better quality and fresher spices rather than just what is available at the supermarket will result in a better ﬂavor in your baking. Try specialty whole food stores or ethnic markets where demand is higher so restocking is more frequent. Consider buying whole spices and grinding them yourself so that you can retain maximum ﬂavor and potency. Store your spices away from direct light or heat and keep tightly closed.
- Using cutters, plastic or metal, will yield a sharper edge and a more uniform batch of cookies than making your own templates and cutting each out. However, sometimes you can’t ﬁnd the right cutter for the job. Then it’s best to draw your desired shape onto thick card stock and cut out using a small, sharp scalpel. Use a new blade or a knife tip to cut out the dough, making sure the dough is well chilled before cutting to keep it from sticking as it takes longer to cut by hand.
- Longer cooking times will yield stiffer cookies, so if you are constructing a house or something similar that needs support, cook until a little more golden than you might an individual cookie.
- Use spacers to roll out your dough for perfect, even thickness every time. They can be found in bakeware stores or simple slats of wood cut to size work just as well.
- Ovens can run hot or cold. I recommend a test bake of a small pan of cookies before baking the whole batch to check the true baking times. Alternatively, buy a small oven thermometer. They are inexpensive and can be a very useful piece of gear for baking.
- I have used a lower oven temperature to bake my cookies than you might ﬁnd in other baking books. I found this helped the dough to hold its shape well, and allowed the cookies to cook through entirely without overcooking the surface.
- For best results, bake a single sheet of cookies in the center of the oven. If baking batches, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and rotate the pans from top to bottom during baking.
- The oven temperatures listed in this book are for standard ovens. If you have a fan-assisted or convection oven, simply decrease the temperature by about 35 degrees to achieve the same results.
- Humidity is gingerbread’s biggest enemy. It affects shelf life and turns gingerbread soft. You should store your gingerbread in a cool, dry environment—preferably in a sealed, airtight container.
- Gingerbread will keep for up to a month, but longer if kept in an airtight container. If displaying a house or any other bake, keep it out of direct sunlight and display in a cool, dry environment. It will keep for 2 weeks.
- You can also freeze gingerbread. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and cover with a plastic bag, then freeze for up to 3 months. Or pack uncooked or cooked gingerbread cookies into containers and freeze for up to 3 to 6 months.
- If you have no piping bags, make your own by twisting a tight cone out of parchment paper, or use a small plastic food bag and cut one corner off.
- If you do not have piping nozzles, you can just cut the end of the piping bag off. Note that a nozzle will give you better results as you have more control.
- Only half ﬁll the piping bag with icing so it does not ooze out of the top when you squeeze.
- To make chocolate icing, substitute ¾ cup of cocoa powder in place of an equal amount of confectioners’ sugar.
MORE ON PIPING
- Cut the end off your piping bag and insert a small, plain round piping nozzle.
- Half ﬁll your piping bag with icing, then twist the top of the bag. Secure the end in the hand you are piping with.
- Touch the starting point with the tip of the piping bag and slowly squeeze out the icing. As you squeeze, lift the bag slightly so you are not dragging it across the cookie—this way you will have a nice, even, smooth line.
- When you want to ﬁnish, bring the bag down to the cookie then stop squeezing and allow the nozzle to touch the cookie at the ﬁnishing point to break contact.
For more creative ideas for working with gingerbread—including detailed tutorials for gingerbread houses, cookies and cakes—check out Mima Sinclair’s Gingerbread Wonderland.