This Sunday, I will be spending my birthday at a 4 year old birthday party for three of I's friends at an indoor playground, and then with my mother and brother for dinner (huzzah). Perhaps understandably, I'm just not feeling all that celebratory this year. (But I will tell you an amusing birthday story in my next post, which will explain why it always snows in this area on the 5th of December. Stay tuned.) The good news is that there's a window between bounce castle birthday party and birthday dinner during which I may be able to escape to the indoor market to get some truffles from my favorite local artisan chocolatier for a good friend and her partner who are getting married next Friday! They've had a house together for a while, and seem to have everything they need, so I figured artisan chocolates might be a good gift, at least until they figure out what they need/want. (And yes, in case you're asking yourself, you should absolutely order yourself some truffles from Tom at the Painted Truffle. He's a good human being, in addition to being an artist. Tell him the pregnant lady with the discriminating palate sent you. He'll know exactly who you mean, and you will not be disappointed.)
In other happy news, I'm almost done, I think, with the baking for my students ... just one more kind after this, which can't be frozen, so I have to wait to make them until closer to the date of the event. I'm hoping I've baked enough ... one can never tell, and college students are notoriously ravenous. If I can just prevent them from absconding with entire plates full of cookies for "take out," I may be in good shape.
Gingerbread is a staple for most of us cookie-bakers in December, and I thought I'd post two recipes here, one vegan and one non-vegan. The non-vegan one turns out crispy gingerbread people ("not just men," my son corrected me, "they could be girls, too"), and the vegan one--though the dough is a bit more temperamental--tends to turn out more chewy people. I like both, for different reasons. You decide. Of course you can ice these; I tend to do so right before I serve them, and since these were destined for cryogenic preservation, I was going to wait. They're actually quite tasty without the frosting, too, and you don't feel quite so bad when you bite the heads off.
Is it any wonder we like these so much? Look at the shiny happy gingerbread people holding hands. Almost makes you forget about things like a crappy month at work.
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Using a mixer on low speed, cream the brown sugar and butter in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Mix in the eggs and molasses.
Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix with a spoon. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap; place in the refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes, until pliable. Line 1 or more cookie sheets with parchment paper. Take about 1/2 cup dough at a time and roll on a floured surface until - to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out shapes, and using a spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, leaving space between them. Refrigerate the cookies for 20 minutes, then bake until they just begin to brown at the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Gingerbread People, Vegan Version
1/3 c. canola oil
3/4 c. regular or brown sugar
1/4 c. molasses
1/4 c. plain soymilk
2 to 3 c. whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour (or a mix of both)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. each ground nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
In a large bowl whisk together oil and sugar for about 3 minutes. Add molasses and soymilk. The molasses and soymilk won’t really blend with the oil but that’s ok.
Sift in all of the other dry ingredients, mixing about half way through. When all of the dry ingredients are added, mix until a stiff dough is formed. If it's too sticky, continue to add flour until you get something you can turn into a ball of dough. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or up to 3 days in advance. If you chill longer than an hour you may want to let it sit for 10 minutes to warm up a bit before proceeding.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease your cookie sheets.
On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out to a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your shapes with your cookie cutters and use a thin spatula to gently place on cookie sheets. Bake for 8 minutes.
Remove from oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet then move to a cooling rack. Wait until they are completely cool before icing.