Gingerbread Cookies for a Little Men-inspired Thanksgiving
“In the room on the left a long supper-table was seen, set forth with great pitchers of new milk, piles of brown and white bread, and perfect stacks of the shiny gingerbread so dear to boyish souls. A flavor of toast was in the air, also suggestions of baked apples, very tantalizing to one hungry little nose and stomach.”
Louisa May Alcott's Little Men
Gingerbread cookies, full of spices and molasses-y goodness, are an autumn staple to me—paired so perfectly with a scrumptious hot chai tea latte (my recipe here!) for the perfect seasonal treat. With Thanksgiving just around the corner (next week, oh my!), my heart is turning once again to my beloved Little Men, where Mother and Father Bhaer reside over their young flock. The final chapter is a favorite of mine, relating the beautiful, heart-warming Thanksgiving at Plumfield, and closing the book with words of wisdom and grace for Jo's growing boys.
Little Men mentions food quite often—from Daisy ("Patty-pans") and her cooking endeavors with Nan, to Asia, the Plumfield cook, and her home-made treats for the boys. More than anything, gingerbread is by far the most common staple at Plumfield, and every time I make it, I think of how dearly those "little men" loved it.
My Favorite Recipe
Gingerbread cookies are hard to get *just right* when so many tastes vary under one roof!
Too much or too little spice, with-or-without nutmeg, iffy on molasses—it all really depends on your own taste when it comes to perusing through recipes. King Arthur has a wonderful recipe that I use as the base for my gingerbread cookies, but I take out a few ingredients and change amounts according to my own taste.
Their recipe, which I've linked to above, calls for the following:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
For myself, I skip the allspice and cloves and lessen the amount of molasses by a tablespoon or so. I find molasses to be quite strong for me—while for others, it's what gingerbread is all about. It's entirely up to your own tastes! I also cut the entire recipe in half, as I find this recipe makes literally dozens of cookies, and even halving it, I still get about 2 dozen.
Making the gingerbread...
Following King Arthur's recipe, I find it best to assemble the ingredients, measured and ready to be worked with, ahead of time. It'll make such a difference!
Melt the butter, over a saucepan or in the microwave. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk with the brown sugar, molasses, salt, and spices. Beat in the egg, combine.
Whisk together the baking powder and soda with the flour. Combine mixture with wet ingredients. While a spatula works well here, don't be afraid to stick a clean hand in!
The dough should be soft and sticky—don't be tempted to add more flour! Divide the dough in half and pat either into a thick brick shape. Wrap well in plastic-wrap or a ziploc bag, and refrigerate for at least an hour. This will firm up the dough quite nicely!
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line your baking pans with parchment paper or baking sheets. No need to grease!
Take out one of your gingerbread dough bricks from the refridgerator. Flour a clean work surface well. Roll out the dough between 1/8" to 1/4" thick (thinner for crispier cookies!). Flour the top and bottom of your dough, and add more to any sticky areas! (If you're having trouble with sticky dough on your work surface, feel free to alternatively roll out the dough over parchment paper.)
Use a cookie-cutter to cut out shapes from your dough, cutting as close together as you can to get the most out of your gingerbread. Don't throw away the scraps! Smush them into a new dough-brick and roll out again (and again!) to use every last bit.
Transfer the cookies to your baking trays, and bake for 8-12 minutes! (I find 8 minutes is perfect for me.)
While the first tray is baking, repeat the cutting process with the other brick of dough.
Let cookies cool and set after they come out of the oven before transferring to a rack.
Decorate with icing if you desire, or leave plain! (I personally prefer them plain, but little mouths may like that little extra sweetness!) :)
Enjoy with a warm drink, a cozy blanket, and a good book for company! :)
“Trot out and ask Asia for the gingerbread-box, Demi. It isn't in order to eat between meals, but, on this joyful occasion, we won't mind, and have a cookie all round,” said Mrs. Jo; and when the box came she dealt them out with a liberal hand, every one munching away in a social circle.”
Little Men, Louisa May Alcott
Pictured: the Virago Modern Classics edition of Little Men and Jo's Boys
Have a marvelous Thanksgiving! :)
Until next time,