Gingerbread men meet their maker

Just before Christmas, I discovered that R.'s Aunt J. is a regular reader of The Casual Baker when she passed along a few of her tried and true seasonal recipes. Included in the mix was a recipe for gingerbread men, a treat that frequently catches my eye behind glassed-in bakery counters but one that I only rarely undertake to make myself. But, finding a set of gingerbread men cookie cutters under the tree and loving any excuse to break out my icing decorating set, I frankly couldn't think of anything that I was more prepared to bake.

I favour a chewy and fragrant gingerbread cookie with strategically-piped dots of Royal Icing and the obligatory Smarties buttons. Aunt J,'s recipe delivered on its end of the bargain and proved easy to roll and cut. My headless, armless and legless men -- I love the shock value of these cookie cutters -- baked evenly to perfection on my non-stick silicone backing mats. The egg whites and sugar whipped up into a thick Royal Icing that piped neatly into rosettes. And Smarties? Well you can't go wrong with Smarties.

The gingerbread men were a popular addition to my Christmas baking packages this year. In addition to keeping well, these cookies score well on the wow factor (as most things with piped icing do, I find). Reflecting on my past gingerbread-making experiences, this was definitely the smoothest process by far, a fact that I attribute entirely to the combination of a good recipe and top-notch equipment. And for that, I have goods friends and family to thank.

Happy New Year from The Casual Baker!

Gingerbread Men

1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2+ teaspoons ginger
1+ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat the molasses to boiling in the microwave and set aside to cool slightly. In a medium heatproof bowl, cream the shortening. Pour the heated molasses on top and mix well.

In another bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses and shortening mixture and mix well. Roll dough into a ball and chill for 1 hour or more.

Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters and carefully transfer cookies to cookie sheets. The cookies will rise slightly but not a lot, so they can be placed fairly close together.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning.

Once cool, decorate using a standard recipe for royal icing, topped with Smarties, jujubes, sprinkles, chocolate chips, raisins, etc.

Source: R.'s Aunt J.