Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

I've been trying to psych myself up for making these cookies for weeks now. It's not that I didn't want to make them--it was more like I wanted to make them for Christmas, and without snow here I haven't felt festive enough to do it. Finally, I buckled down and made them--and am delighted. They were much easier than I'd built them up to be in my mind, and they're so festive that I almost forget that we still don't have snow.

To begin, soften some butter.

Measure some dark brown and white sugars. The darker the brown sugar, the better.

Next you'll need some molasses. To make things a little less sticky, spray a measuring cup with cooking spray.

The molasses will come right out.

Cream the butter and the sugars together. Then crack in an egg, and mix it in well.

Chocolate will make these cookies stand out. Grab a bar of bittersweet baking chocolate.

Break it into bits, and melt it in the microwave. Stream it into the butter/sugar mixture.

In a second bowl, measure some flour.

Add salt.

Then baking soda.

For more chocolate flavor, add cocoa powder.

Now for the gingerbread flavors. Ginger first.

Then cinnamon.
Next is my personal favorite spice, nutmeg.

And, to add some sass to your cookies, cloves.

Mix the dry ingredients together, and then add them slowly (a cup or so at a time) to the butter/sugar/chocolate mixture.

You'll get a pretty dry mixture. Pat it into a ball or two and wrap in plastic wrap. Toss in the fridge for an hour or two, to make handling easier.

When you're ready to roll out the cookies, liberally flour a clean work surface, and your rolling pin as well.

Give the dough a couple quick kneads, to compress it together. Then roll it out, as thin as you like. Some people like thinner cookies. Others like them fat and fluffy. I like mine medium--thin enough where the outsides are crisp, but the insides are still just slightly soft.

When your dough is at your ideal thickness, dip your cookie cutter in flour to prevent sticking.

Then cut straight down into your dough, trying to fit as many cookie cuts into the dough as possible. The more you roll your cookies, the tougher the cookies will be.

I like to pull the outsides of the dough away from my cookie.

Then I slide a thin spatula underneath the dough to lift the cookie off and place it on a lightly-greased baking sheet.

If your work surface is well-floured and your dough cool enough, you should have no problems moving the cut-out cookies.

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. Let them cool slightly before moving to cooling racks. Then let them cool completely before decorating.

While the cookies are cooling, you can make the frosting. Some frostings call for meringue powder. I steered clear from using that, since it's expensive and also tends to go bad in my kitchen (I don't decorate cookies often.) This recipe uses egg whites. The sugar in the frosting is a natural preservative for the frosting, so you shouldn't have to worry about the raw whites. If you don't want to use raw eggs, though, I'd look for a recipe that uses meringue powder, or just use a simple frosting of powdered sugar, water, and flavoring.

I separated three eggs. I kept the yolks and used them for something else. The whites should go in a large, clean bowl. Make sure there are NO bits of yolk in with the whites, and that your bowl is very clean and there's no grease inside.

A bit of cream of tartar will help the whites whip.

Pour in a whole bag of powdered sugar.

And, for flavor, some vanilla. If you prefer another flavor (orange or almond, for example), use that instead.

Whip the frosting for 5-8 minutes, until it's well whipped and stiff.

I transferred the frosting to a squeeze bottle. If you'd rather use piping bags, that's completely up to you.

The great thing about this frosting is that it drys quickly, and hard, so you can stack your cookies. However, you don't want it to dry while you're decorating. So cover any excess frosting with a moist towel, to keep it from drying out.

Now pipe! Pipe for all you're worth!

The other great thing about this frosting is that it's so easy to manage. And it dries in about five minutes.

Here's my favorite cookie!

With just a little effort (and some fun piping!) I've got some nice, festive holiday cookies!

Recipe: Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

3/4 c. butter, room temperature
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1/4 c. molasses
1 egg
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. cocoa
1 1/2 tbsp. ginger
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Recipe: Decorating Icing
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 bag powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with brown sugar, white sugar, and molasses. Stir in egg. Stream in melted chocolate.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and spices. Stir until combined. Add flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture a cup at at time, stirring just until combined. Chill dough at least 1 hour.

Turn refrigerated dough onto well-floured work surface. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll out dough to desired thickness. Cut out cookies and move to lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes. Let cookies cool slightly before moving to cooling racks.

In a mixing bowl, combine egg whites, cream of tartar, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Whisk on high for 5-8 minutes or until frosting is stiff and shiny. Transfer to piping bag or squeeze bottle to decorate cookies. Keep frosting covered with moist towel when not using.

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