Staff writer Roxanne Roberts, a self-described gingerbread junkie, has been decorating cookies for two decades -- "one of those ephemeral but time-consuming pursuits that goes into overdrive during the holiday season." She favors gingerbread for her cookie canvas, but shortbread or butter cookies also work well. If you go with one of those, she says, just make sure your recipe doesn't have a lot of baking soda or baking powder, which would cause the cookies to lose their shape.
Top these cookies with Royal Icing. Icing is best used fresh, but it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to a week. If the icing separates, beat it lightly.
Servings: 5 dozen small cookies or 20 large cookies
- For the cookies
- 5 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup butter-flavored vegetable shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup dark molasses
- 2 large eggs
- For the royal icing
- 1 pound confectioners' sugar (about 4 cups), sifted
- 1/4 cup meringue powder
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- Gel or paste food coloring (available at craft stores or baking supply stores)
For the cookies: In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cloves and cinnamon until well mixed. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer on low speed, blend the shortening and sugar. Add the molasses and eggs, then gradually stir in the flour mixture until combined. The dough will be sticky. Divide into quarters, shape into flattened disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
Position an oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.
Lightly dust each disk with flour and place it between sheets of wax paper. Roll it 1/4-inch thick for chewy cookies or 1/8-inch thick for crisp cookies. Lift off and reserve the top layer of wax paper. Dip cookie cutters in flour and cut designs in the dough, leaving excess dough in place. Put wax paper back on top, slide a baking sheet under the lower sheet of wax paper and transfer the dough and baking sheet to the freezer for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is firm but not frozen.
Transfer 1 sheet of dough, with the cold baking sheet still under it, to a work surface. Remove the top sheet of wax paper, lift up the dough and push the cutout cookies from behind to free them. Quickly place them on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake small cookies for about 6 minutes, medium for 8 and large for 10 to 12, or until edges are light brown (baking time will vary, depending on thickness of dough). Let sit for about 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. If not iced immediately, they may be stored for 4 weeks in airtight containers at room temperature or wrapped in plastic and frozen.
For the royal icing: Using a stand mixer on high speed, beat the confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, water and orange extract for about 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. Unless using immediately, place plastic wrap directly on the icing. To create different colors, transfer some icing to small bowls and add gel or paste food coloring. Cookies can be stored at room temperature for 4 weeks.
Adapted from Roxanne Roberts' mother. Roxanne has tweaked it over the years; for instance, now that Crisco makes butter-flavored shortening, she uses that.
Tested by Roxanne Roberts.
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