Step 1: Find your favorite gingerbread cookie recipe. Mine is below, lovingly transcribed from my molasses-stained recipe card (which in turn was copied from a 1997 issue of Gourmet magazine). Containing both fresh ginger and dry ground ginger, plus plenty of freshly-ground pepper, these cookies have a soft, subtle fire to them, while the dark sweet molasses, brown sugar, and coffee all provide plenty of balance for the spice.
2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup unsulfured molasses
3 T strong brewed coffee, room temperature
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 T finely grated peeled fresh ginger
Prep & Baking
Sift together all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, stir together molasses and coffee. With an electric mixer at medium speed, beat together butter and brown sugar until light and creamy. With mixer at low speed, beat in fresh ginger. Beat in flour mixture alternately with molasses/coffee mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Divide dough into thirds. Form each third into a ball and flatten to form disks. Chill disks, wrapped separately in plastic wrap, at least 4 hours and up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Break off egg-size pieces from 1 disk (keep remaining 2 disks chilled) and with heel of hand smear each piece once in a forward motion. Gather pieces together and give dough a few smears to bring together. Repeat procedure with remaining 2 disks.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one third of dough out 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle extra flour below dough sheets to prevent sticking. Cut out shapes, transferring with a spatula to baking sheets and arranging about ½ inch apart.
Bake cookies in batches in lower third of oven 6 to 8 minutes, or until crisp (do not let cookies get too dark). With spatula transfer cookies to racks to cool. Cookies keep, in airtight containers at room temperature, 1 week.
Step 2: Form an efficient yet merry assembly line with cooled cookies, icing in bags with fine line piping tips, sparkly sprinkles, colored candies (don’t forget the red hots!), and maybe if you’re feeling fancy, those awesome yet possibly non-edible “for decorative purposes only” silver balls. (Silver “dragée” is the official French term.)
Step 3: Create your own gingerbread army (a peacefully sweet and crunchy one of course), ideally with the help of your amazing mom, sisters, and nieces and nephew.
Yes, those are the traditional Christmas hummingbirds, butterflies, and violins that you see.
And whose holiday is quite complete without the yuletide frog?