Last night, at about 12:40 in the morning, I finished decorating the small army of gingerbread men and bears (both slender and portly), gingerbread bells and flowers, and a few hearts mixed in. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, this year’s holiday baking marathon is ambitious, and The Gingerbread Project presented me with many firsts.
It was my first time working with gingerbread dough, plus rolling and cutting cookies (and also as we saw, learning how thin or thick to roll them). It was also the first time I had ever decorated a baked good—preparing royal icing (easy!), getting it into a pastry bag (a hot mess!), and ultimately getting said icing into a ziploc bag that I fitted with a #2 tip and turned into a pastry bag. I thought the hardest part would be maintaining a steady hand while I piped the icing, but I got the hang of it quickly. The cookies, though very cute, do not look perfect—which is the exact effect I wanted to achieve. They don’t look like they were made by a machine. They look like they were made with love.
If you want the recipe for these cuties, check out Mark Bittman’s recipe for Aunt Big’s Gingersnaps. I recommend the Molasses-Spice variation at the bottom of the page. I made a basic royal icing (recipe follows), but next time I do this (Easter?), I want to flavor the icing a little more and give it some depth. Royal icing is a pretty single-note food.
Recipe: Royal Icing
- 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
- 2 egg whites at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of water, room temperature
- Vanilla extract, fresh lemon juice, or fresh orange juice (to taste).
- Sift the sugar over a large bowl to remove any lumps. Add the egg whiles, and beat on medium speed until the sugar is completely moistened. Pour the water in a slow steady stream, continuing to beat, and add your flavoring. Continue beating until mixture is completely smooth and somewhat thick but still viscous. Remove beaters and let the icing rest for about 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, grab a quart-size double zip-top freezer bag, cut a small hole in the corner, and affix a small pastry tip to the end (as you would with a pastry bag). Once the icing has rested, use a spatula to get it all into the bag, and zip it completely. Now you’re ready to decorate.
There you go, friends. Go forth and make happy, beautiful, and nattily dressed Gingerbread People. Next year, I’m dressing my guys up Mad Men style.