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03 December 2002 — Best Gingerbread Cookies Ever (4)

Mom made great cookies. My favorite were gingerbread cookies, hot out of the oven, with a cold glass of milk. Since I left home for college, I haven't had a good gingerbread cookie.

Until last night.

For Monday Night Football, Jenn Gingerich made the gingerbread cookies from Cooks Illustrated (November 1999).

Cooks Illustrated is the Consumer Reports of food magazines. The staff tests dozens of recipes to come up with the best recipe for any particular dish. They test kitchen equipment. They answer questions about obscure kitchen tools. They research tips and tricks. This information is all presented in a magazine with no advertising. It's outstanding.

Also from the same group are America's Test Kitchen, a cooking show, and The Best Recipe, which is something of a cooking bible in the Gingerich and Roth-Gates households (five stars in 151 reviews at Amazon!).

The Cooks Illustrated gingerbread cookies are, well, the best gingerbread cookies I've ever had. Jenn also provided frosting, gumdrops, M&Ms, and red-hots to decorate the cookies. The result? A stomach ache from eating too many gingerbread cookies.

Just like being a kid again.

For the record, here's the recipe for these cookies. (If you like this recipe, subscribe to Cook's Illustrated -- you won't be sorry.)

Best Gingerbread Cookies from the November 1999 issue of Cook's Illustrated

The challenge: There are essentially two types of gingerbread cookie: the thick ones that bake up soft, moist, and gently chewy, and the crispy thin ones that can not only be eaten but also used to decorate the Christmas tree. (There is of course another type, but it would qualify as building material before it could be called an edible cookie.) We began by trying to perfect a recipe for thick gingerbread cookies but found that by using the very same dough and rolling it thinner, we could also produce a tasty thin cookie that held up on the tree.

The solution: The first thing we did to remedy the many construction-type recipes we found was to add more butter. A ratio of anything less than 4 tablespoons of fat to 1 cup of flour will produce a very dry cookie--which may be what's wanted when building a gingerbread house but is not desirable in a cookie meant for eating. More sugar and molasses came next, making the cookies more flavorful, pleasantly sweet, and moist. A little bit of milk leant the cookies just the right extra measure of softness and lift. Now, whether thick or thin, we had a cookie that tasted as good as it looked.

For good measure: The recipe provides instructions for a slightly unorthodox technique to mix the ingredients that makes it possible to use the dough at once instead of chilling it in the refrigerator for several hours, as called for in most recipes.

THICK AND CHEWY
GINGERBREAD COOKIES

For about twenty 5-inch gingerbread people or thirty 3-inch cookies

If you plan to decorate your gingerbread cookies and make ornaments out of them, follow the directions for Thin, Crisp Gingerbread Cookies. Because flour is not added during rolling, dough scraps can be rolled and cut as many times as necessary Don't overbake the cookies or they will be dry. Store soft gingerbread in a wide, shallow airtight container or tin with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper between each cookie layer. These cookies are best eaten within one week.

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons milk

1. In food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms soft mass, about 10 seconds. Alternatively, in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Stop mixer and add butter pieces; mix at medium-low speed until mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal, about 1 1/2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, gradually add molasses and milk; mix until dough is evenly moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.

2. Scrape dough onto work surface; divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll 1/4-inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. Leaving dough sandwiched between parchment layers, stack on cookie sheet and freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes. (Alternatively, refrigerate dough 2 hours or overnight.)

3. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. Cut dough into 5-inch gingerbread people or 3-inch gingerbread cookies, transferring shapes to parchment-lined cookie sheets with wide metal spatula, spacing them 3/4 inch apart; set scraps aside. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full. Bake cookies until set in centers and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes, rotating cookie sheets front to back and switching positions top to bottom halfway through baking time. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.

5. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking in steps 2 and 4. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.


THIN, CRISP GINGERBREAD COOKIES

For 2 1/2 to 3 dozen gingerbread people
or 4 to 5 dozen cookies

These gingersnap-like cookies are sturdy and therefore suitable for making ornaments. If you wish to thread the cookies, snip wooden skewers to 1/2-inch lengths and press them into the cookies just before they go into the oven; remove skewers immediately after baking. Or, use a drinking straw to punch holes in the cookies when they're just out of the oven and still soft. Store in an airtight container. In dry climates, the cookies should keep about a month.

Follow recipe for Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies, quartering rather than halving the dough, rolling each dough quarter 1/8-inch thick, reducing oven temperature to 325 degrees, and baking cookies until slightly darkened and firm in center when pressed with finger, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Delicious!

Comments
On 03 December 2002 (08:11 AM), J.D. said:

In typical obsessive J.D. fashion, here's the breakdown of the Amazon ratings for The Best Recipe: five stars = 129, four stars = 13, three stars = 8, two stars = 2. Pretty darned good!

From reading the comments at Amazon, I'm led to understand the book contains a recipe for coconut chocolate chip cookies that is quite good. I'll have to try it.

I should note that sometimes it is best to use The Best Recipe as a base for your dish rather than as the sole recipe. For example, we recently prepared Tuscan-style Game Hens. We used the preparation technique from The Best Recipe (brine the hens in a salt solution for several hours) but used an actual recipe from another cookbook (one of Caprial's). Very nice.


On 03 December 2002 (03:59 PM), Jeremy said:

The true cooking bible in our household is a collection of cookbooks by Marcella Hazan. These were recommended to me by my brother-in-law and have served us very well over the years. Some of you have had many meals prepared from these cookbooks.

-jeremy


On 03 December 2003 (11:34 AM), J.D. said:

Yummy. I know what I'm doing Friday afternoon: cookie time!


On this day at foldedspace.org

2004World of Warcraft   In which I review — actually 'rave about' would be more apt — the new game World of Warcraft. It's awesome.


Comments
On 21 December 2006 (11:23 AM), Sonia said:

These cookies have a wonderful flavor. I was looking for more of a cake-like cookie with a smooth surface to decorate. This recipe makes a chewy cookie with a crackled surface. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend this recipe for cookies that you plan to decorate. Yet, for a good tasting ginger cookie with a soft and chewy texture, these are good.


On 07 October 2007 (09:14 AM), KIM said:

Can someone clarify how much butter is to be added to the food processor mix and how much is to be added to the standing mixer mix? It is not clarified on the recipe.


On 08 December 2007 (01:07 PM), Frustrated Baker said:

This dough was far too soft to use for gingerbread people. Even after several hours of refrigeration, it was still too soft to transfer onto a cookie sheet effectively. Best to roll out and freeze before cutting if you're going to use this recipe. Still, I wouldn't use this recipe again. Gingerbread people are already a giant pain to make--these were an even bigger pain because of the soft dough.


On 05 November 2008 (10:06 AM), JB said:

I love this recipe.
However, I'll never again make it using my food processor. During the step in which I add the milk and molasses to my running food processor, the dough became so thick it burnt out the motor on my 14-cup Cuisinart, my baby. I'm lucky it was still under warranty, and I had the motor replaced for the cost of shipping, but I was without my beloved food processor for 5 weeks. Save yourself the heartache and make these yummy cookies using the standing mixer method.