Christmas preparations are in full force! Mine started two weekends ago (according to some calculations already in summer when I made the red currant marmalade and pickled cucumbers) with making the gingerbread dough. It needs to be done well in advance so that all the spices have the time to come to life. My idea of the perfect gingerbread cookies come from my childhood when I had a tradition with my grandfather to make gingerbread cookies every year a few days before Christmas. It was our thing and noone was allowed to join in! Anyway, those cookies were always dark and on the spicier side and this is how I want them to be forever and ever.
Obviously at this time of the year there are plenty of different types of gingerbread cookie dough sold here, but I kind of enjoy controlling the process and knowing exactly I am eating, so I urge you as well to make your own dough, because it is really not so difficult!
This year i decided to bring the healthy factor into this time of mindless eating by using spelt flour instead of regular and unrefined sugar instead of regular white sugar. Obviously margarine is on permanent ban in my kitchen, so i use natural cream butter (not sure on the health factor here!). I also added some orange zest to the dough and to be honest I was really worried about the result, because I don't consider myself much of a baker and I spontaneity is not the best friend in pastry making, so it is quite easy to ruin everything. But to my own surprise the cookies came out very good - they are not too sweet, pleasantly spicy and with a small hint of orange which makes them very aromatic. Not to mention the simple sugar sprinkle on top is just genius! Is my praise talk working? :)
The original recipe is from Estonian recipe database Nami-Nami found here and my modified version can be found below:
(this amount makes about 1,3 kg of dough)
200 ml syrup (I made my own from 200 g of unrefined demerara sugar with about 100 ml of water, so I got a bit more than 200 ml of syrup)
250 g butter
600 g spelt flour (finely ground)
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ginger powder
you can exchange the spices above with a ready-made mix of gingerbread spice (I use the whole pack - 30 g)
zest of one orange'
1 egg white
50 g almond slices (or other nuts that have been roughly ground)
raw cane sugar for sprinkling (or whatever other sugar you have, finely ground is the best)
Make the syrup by heating up sugar with water until it dissolves and the add the spices and orange zest, bring to boil. Remove from heat and add butter, stir until the butter has melted. Let it cool.
Mix the flour with soda. When the syrup mix has cooled mix in the eggs and add flour. Carefully and thoroughly knead the dough. Shape it into a bar and cover with foil. Leave refridgerated for at least one day. I usually give it a week before cooking.
To make the cookies you have to take a piece of the dough (leave the rest in the fridge!) and roll it on a table covered with some flour. Roll it as thin as you can (Note to Merle: get a strong kitchen slave for next year!). Use moulding forms to cut out the cookies. I used heart shaped forms this year!
Lay them on the baking tray that has been covered with a baking sheet. Then I covered the cookies with egg white and sprinkled either with almonds or sugar (favourite was with sugar).
Bake in 200 C around 7-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cookies.
These cookies are good to go for more than two weeks, so they can be made well in advance or prepared in bigger quantities as gifts etc.
P.S. Confession moment - I become obsessed with Christmas songs during this time of the year and one of my favourite songs by Mariah Carey "All I Want for Christmas is You" (listen to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXQViqx6GMY&feature=related) is already on continuous nonstop repeat. It just makes me jump up and down and laugh (without a reason) like there isn't a worry in the world. I will be back to normal by 27th.... :)