The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

5 tips for decorating gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread menagerie

A cookie-decorating party has been my favorite birthday so far. While the events are fresh in my mind, I thought I'd sum up what I learned in case you want to replicate the cheap, fun entertainment.

Gingerbread man1. Start with a basic gingerbread man recipe. I used the one in Joy of Cooking: 1 stick butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup molasses, 3.5 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 0.25 teaspoons allspice, 0.5 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ginger, 0.5 teaspoon salt, 0.25 cups of water. Make the dough ahead and chill.

2. Focus on a few basic colors for your icing. To mix up the icing, just combine confectioner's sugar with a small amount of water to make a paste, then add drops of food coloring to change the hue. Remember, your cookies will be very dark-colored, so lighter icings will look good in contrast. This process doesn't take as many mixing bowls as you'd think since you can make white first, then red, then orange, all in the same bowl. Repeat with blue and green. When each batch is done, spoon the icing into the corner of a sandwich bag or ziploc bag and punch a small hole in the plastic with a wooden skewer so you can squeeze small lines out.

3. When rolling out your cookies, try not to use much flour on your pin since you want the top surface to be dark and pristine. Keep the cookies relatively thick so they can be used as ornaments on your tree and bake at 350 Fahrenheit until the tops just barely lose their shine. Cool a few minutes on a rack, then transfer to plates to decorate. (If you don't own cookie cutters, this set is perfect for homesteaders.)

Gingerbread animals

4. Less is more in the decoration department. Think like a cartoonist and focus on just a few key areas --- the mane of a lion, the whiskers of a cat, the hooves of a horse. (And don't smudge your cat with flour like I did!)

Tin of Christmas cookies

5. Plan ahead with waxed paper and tins to pack away the finished cookies. The icing needs to dry for a few minutes first on a plate, but then they can be stacked carefully in the tin. These make great edible gifts.

I hope you have fun! Maybe next year I'll get more creative and hand-cut my gingerbread to make a farmyard scene.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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When I make cut-out cookies, I roll the dough between two sheets of waxed paper BEFORE chilling. Then you don't need any flour on the rolling pin, and the dough is very firm when cutting the cookies. It means I have to clear a space in my refrigerator, but I can stack a lot of 'rounds' of dough on top of each other. It also means it takes several passes at baking the cookies, since I re-roll and chill the scraps - but they're worth it!
Comment by Rhonda from Baddeck Sun Dec 20 12:46:26 2015

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