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Healthier Holiday Tips


Recipe: Gingerbread Men

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Want to cut back on fat—even during the holiday season? Here's a few cooking tips to make your festive fare compatible with today's healthier lifestyles, without compromising on flavor.

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Sara Perry shares her favorite holiday recipe from her new book, Great Gingerbread (Chronicle Books)—a perfect stocking stuffer for your own Santa's helper!


Gingerbread Men

(or Ginger Bread Man)

This recipe for gingerbread cookies is my favorite, and it's one you can adapt to your own taste. By using light or dark molasses and brown sugar, you can alter the color of the cookies. You can also adjust the spiciness by altering the amount of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. While these cookies are made to be eaten, they're also perfect for hanging on a Christmas tree or using as name tags on presents or as place cards at a birthday party or holiday get-together. You can also make simple puzzles. First, cut a large square of rolled-out dough-or use a heart-shaped cookie cutter-and, with a sharp paring knife, divide it into several pieces before baking. Never has a broken heart been so delicious.

In a large bowl, beat the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and egg until well blended. Gradually sift the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg into the molasses mixture, and beat until blended. The dough will be sticky. Divide the dough into 4 balls, cover each ball with waxed paper or plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours. (When tightly sealed, the dough will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. If the dough is wrapped in freezer weight plastic bags or aluminum foil, it can be frozen for up to 6 months. To thaw, transfer the wrapped dough to the refrigerator for 2 hours before baking or let the wrapped dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.)

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or leave ungreased, and set aside.

On a lightly floured board, roll one of the chilled balls of dough 1/4 inch thick. Lightly dip a cookie cutter in flour (this makes it easier to release the cookie) and press it straight down into the dough. Press the edges of the cutter to make sure it has cut through the dough evenly. Cut cookies close together to avoid rerolling. The excess dough can be saved and rerolled once, but the cookies will be tougher.

With a spatula, gently transfer each cookie to the baking sheets. If a cookie is to be hung, use a drinking straw or large skewer to press a hole through the top. If not frosting the cookies, you may decorate them with raisins or nonmelting candies before baking by gently pressing them into the dough.

Bake until the cookies are set, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate the cooled cookies with Decorative Icing using a decorating bag. To add raisins and decorative candies after baking, dot the candies with icing and gently press them onto the cookie. Let the cookies dry on a wire rack until the icing is set, 20 to 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container, separating successive layers with sheets of waxed paper.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Decorative Icing:

In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Blend in the cream and vanilla until the icing is smooth and creamy. To thin, stir in additional whipping cream, 1 teaspoon at a time. If not using the icing immediately, cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

To tint the icing, divide into 2 or 3 small bowls. Stir 1 or 2 drops of liquid food coloring into each bowl and blend until the desired color is reached.

Makes about 2 cups.

Great Gingerbread
by Sara Perry
Photographs by Frankie Frankeny
1997, Chronicle Books
96 pages, $14.95
Reprinted by permission.

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This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

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Modified August 2007