Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In media res

In media res by Tavie
In media res, a photo by Tavie on Flickr.

I've been making these cookies for years and have lots of pictures to prove it - but it occurred to me that I've never posted the recipe on the family cooking blog.

So, here it is, my recipe for Colonial Williamsburg Soft Gingerbread. This is the stuff you buy at the bakeshop in Colonial Williamsburg. They now sell them individuall shrink-wrapped, but the cookies are the same as you remember - spicy, fragrant, not too sweet, and, most importantly: soft.

These are not the crispy gingersnaps you'll find in Scandinavia. This is gingerbread for Americans. It's thick, it's serious, it means business. You can have one of these things for breakfast. And it doesn't have to just come in circles. And it doesn't just have to be plain.

I've made this recipe every Christmas since I can remember, and I've made it so many times that I've refined it over the years from the original that I found in Mom's old "Recipes of Colonial Williamsburg" cookbook. This is how I do it:


1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted margarine
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulfered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted, PLUS AS MUCH MORE AS YOU NEED TO MAKE IT STIFF. It will be much closer to 6 cups than 4 by the time you're done - don't worry about it!

Instructions: Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted margarine, evaporated milk and molasses. Add the extracts. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking.

When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ to 1/2 inch thick (I like them THICK - they come out even softer!) on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets - or, best yet, parchment paper! - in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. WATCH CAREFULLY. Depending on the oven you use, it can be as little as 8 minutes. They should NOT get too dark. The gingerbread cookies are done when they spring back when touched.

When cool, I like to ice them with vanilla frosting, which you can make yourself, but I just get it out of a can, mixing with food coloring to give it nice, festive, holiday colors. Green and red sugar also adds to the effect.

These freeze well.