Originally from Cooks Illustrated ( a wonderful mine of information) I have tweaked and bastardised this recipe to my own tastes. It is my version of proper old fashioned style gingerbread, the like of which I imagine Hansel and Gretel digging into on a frosty night. The batch will make 30 small thin cookies or about 15 large fat, soft cookies. The dough (if rolled thin and baked until hard) is good for using as decorations or if rolled fat and cooked for a shorter time (removed from oven whilst still soft) produces lovely chewy biscuits; great for immediate eating, or they will last pretty well for a few days in an airtight box.
160g of salted butter – cold and hard and cut into small cubes
1 ½ TBSPs powdered cinnamon
1 TBSP dried powdered ground ginger
400g plain flour
½ tsp table/running salt
¾ tsp baking soda
3/4 cup liquid unsulphured molasses
2 TBSPs water (not always necessary)
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a food processor or stand mixer. If you don’t have one of these you can stir it all together in a big bowl, making sure it is mixed well. Then scatter the pieces of butter over the top of the dry ingredients and either tickle them together or process in a machine until the mixture becomes sandy, slightly damp sand. If using a kitchenaid; do this using the whisk attachment, then swap to ‘K’ whip for next part.
Slowly add the molasses to the dry mixture to make a dough, stirring all the time (or with the machine slowly running). Stop adding the molasses when the dough is evenly moistened and thoroughly comes together to form a soft ball; you may not need all of the liquid (especially if making in a hot, humid climate). However, if you need more liquid simply add a TBSP at a time of extra water until the dough comes together and before it becomes a paste that sticks to the side.
Roll the dough out to the desired thickness between two sheets of greaseproof paper (no need to use any flour). Then, refrigerate for a few hours until really firm. Peel away the top layer of paper and cookie cutter out desired shapes, lay on a parchment paper lined oven tray and refrigerate again until the oven is ready. You can bring the dough together and roll out as many times as you need to, between the two sheets of greasproof paper, to keep cutting out cookies. The dough doesn’t toughen because you are not adding any more flour each time you roll it out. Once you have cut out your shapes they can even be kept in the freezer for a few weeks before baking, as long as they are stored with greaseproof/parchment paper between each one and in a sealed box.
Bake at 170C on parchment lined flat trays straight from the fridge in order to keep their shape and stop them from spreading. If making thin crisp ones they may only take about 8 minutes to bake hard (remove before the edges start to burn), however if making soft fat ones, they may take a little longer and you will want to remove them when set and slightly risen, but still soft to the touch in the middle.
If making traditional men you will want to press in soaked currants for eyes and buttons before baking, or wait until cool to decorate with cut out fondant icing, royal icing and sprinkles.