December 5, 2011

Gingerbread men vs. Sugarbread men

Do you prefer sugar or spice?

In one corner, I offer you the traditional gingerbread men.  On the other side, we have the ever irresistible, and what I call, sugarbread men. 
Excuse the use of "men"...I should say gingerbread/sugarbread people but I'm just keeping things simple.  And all kidding aside, I feel like sugar cookies are a must for us during the holiday season.  Despite my occasional whining about rolling out cookies, I'm starting to get used to it, particularly during these cooler temperatures when handling the dough is a lot easier.  And I think I've discovered the "secret" to a great sugar cookie dough: mix in just a little bit of milk at the end and the dough comes together beautifully, is more moist, and rolls out smoothly. 

I've been making what I call "sugarbread men" cookies during Christmas for a few years.  Every time I make and taste sugar cookies, I'm reminded of how delicious butter and sugar are together. 
I have to say I prefer sweetness to spice.  For as long as I've been making cookies from scratch (which actually isn't all that many years), I've made sugar cookies for the holidays, in various holiday shapes.  I actually never made gingerbread cookies until last year around this time.  And it started because each year, we'd pick up one of those ready-to-go gingerbread houses to decorate at home with our son and usually, the house would come with a couple of gingerbread people and he'd ask to eat one.  Of course, I'd shriek "no, you can't eat that!  Who knows how long those cookies have been in the box!"  And so finally, I appeased the little guy by saying I'd make him some gingerbread cookies myself.
Look, there's gingerbread snow-man too!
So I'm making these gingerbread men cookies last year thinking this is going to be a waste of time.  The boy is not going to like them.  Personally, I don't particularly like them and my husband isn't a big fan either.  I've never been into strong spices (in a cookie) and I'm thinking there's just no way the kid is going to like all that ground ginger, cloves, and such.  Of course, you know where this is going.  The boy liked them...quite a bit.  Maybe not as much as chocolate cake but he liked them.  I was surprised.  So it's a new tradition to make gingerbread cookies around here and it's fun to decorate them and leave them around the house for decor.  I prefer to just use sanding sugar or nonpareil sprinkles on the sugar cookies since they're sweet enough alone, and save the royal icing treatment for the gingerbread cookies.
So I guess I could say there's sugar, spice and everything nice in our house?

Sugarbread men

For my Christmas sugar cookies, I used my standby recipe from the Martha Stewart Cookies book. 

For some step-by-step pictures of how I make these cookies, check out my previous post

I really think adding about a tablespoon or so of whole milk right at the end is the secret to getting a moist dough that really comes together.  It rolls out smoothly, without the dry cracks that you sometimes get.   
Cut into any shape you like.  I do the usual star, tree, people shapes for the holidays.  I also make a requisite car shape for our little guy.  His favorite Christmas cookie shape is a car!  Go figure.  I like to roll the cookies between 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch thick, closer to 1/8.  The thinness makes for a crisper cookie.
Some sanding sugar and nonpareil sprinkles add a nice extra bit of crunch on top without too much extra sweetness.  While it makes sense for special occasions, I find royal icing can make sugar cookies overly sweet.

Gingerbread men

Gingerbread cookies are all about the spice.  We're talking ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in this recipe.
Beat butter and dark brown sugar together until smooth before adding an egg and molasses.
Once all of that is incorporated, the flour and spice-mixture gets added.
The dough is moist and needs to be chilled before rolling out.
Fast forward a couple of hours and I'm ready to do the rolling.  You are technically supposed to roll the dough out, freeze it for 15 minutes, before cutting the shapes and freezing the cut cookies another 15 minutes.  Then, you bake.  Since my freezer just won't fit the baking sheets, I improvise and take some short cuts by mainly refrigerating the dough a bit.  The best bet is to work quick and use the refrigerator if your dough softens up. 
Let the cookies cool thoroughly after baking and whip up a batch of royal icing.
Let the fun begin and decorate the gingerbread people and other cutout shapes.

Decorating the cookies was a family affair.  We had a good time messing around.

And we had fun eating them!


Pardon me for taking a short cut and providing the links to the recipes.  This is actually the second time I'm typing up the majority of this post; I somehow lost my work!  So I'm pretty wiped at this point.

Sugar cookies
From Martha Stewart

The recipe can be found in my previous post.

Gingerbread man cookies
From Martha Stewart

The recipe is available here although curiously, I did find a couple of differences between this online version and the recipe in the Cookies book, which I followed.  The book uses a little less flour and a bit more molasses, which explains why my dough is always moister than I'd expect.  And instead of using finely ground pepper, the book calls for ground nutmeg.  I recommend you stick with the online recipe and use nutmeg instead of pepper.  I likewise divide this recipe in half and cut the dough into gingerbread men and other shapes, as desired.

Royal icing
From Martha Stewart

This is the recipe I use for the icing.  To tint, I use gel paste and start with a drop or two to get the desired shade.  If you're using the icing to outline the cookies like I do, make the icing thicker.  To fill or "flood" the cookies, make the icing thinner.  Beat longer or use a bit more confectioners' sugar to thicker, more water to thin.

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