Gingerbread cookies

Because of the mixed heritage in our family (me being Czech and my husband being Dutch) our kids not only speak 2 languages, but they get to celebrate 2 major holidays every December. Since the good saint Sinterklaas has sailed off to Spain right after his birthday 5th December (lucky him- it’s been raining ever since), we are allowed to start preparing for Christmas now. In many Dutch families it means putting up the Christmas tree, but in ours it is means baking Christmas cookies.

I started helping my mother bake Christmas cookies as soon as I could reach the countertop and when I was about 12 I completely took it over. Almost every December I would get a minor cold and stay at home from school spending the days baking cookies. Nowadays we split the task: my mom makes the family classics and I make anything requiring elaborate decorating and any untested recipes I fancy. And it is my kids’turn to help.

The first to be baked are always these gingerbread cookies. They can – and even should – be made well in advance in order to acquire the right texture and taste before Christmas. Now, I had an inner conflict about what to call these in English; you see, most spice mixes in the Czech recipes do not even include ginger. And it is definitely not the defining taste in those that do include did. But if I were to call them by their Czech name `pernicky` nobody would have a clue. And to call them `star anise/cinnamon/cloves/aniseed/allspice cookies` though descriptive, would not really be practical. So I called them `gingerbread cookies` and appeaced my conscience by including a dash of ginger.

In my youth I have tried many different recipes for gingerbread cookies and a lot of them made cookies so hard that they could literally break your teeth. While such cookies are extremely durable and great for decorating the Christmas tree, I prefer cookies that are more enjoyable to eat. The recipe I use these days comes from my aunt but I adapted it a little. I swapped half the flour for the more traditional rye flour and made up my own spice mix (my aunt uses a ready-made mix that you can buy in the Czech republic). Plus I add a bit of cocoa powder to make them a little darker which makes for a better contrast with the snow-white icing.
You can adapt the spice mix to your preferences, it should be about 1 heaped tablespoon in total.

These are my daughter’s cookies. Horse riding her biggest hobby? How did you guess?

Gingerbread cookies
adapted from my aunt´s recipe

250 g unbleached flour
250 g rye flour (or use all unbleached)
2 tbsp cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
2 tsp baking soda
120 g butter (at room temperature)
170 g honey
120 g sugar
3 tbsp milk or buttermilk
1 egg
3 star anise
4 cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp aniseed
To glaze:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water

1 egg white
170 g icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Start by grinding the spices in a grinder or with a pestle and mortar. Mix the spices with both flours, soda and cocoa in a large bowl. Add the butter, sugar and honey and mix well. Add the egg and milk and mix just enough to combine everything. Wrap the dough in plastic or put it in an air-tight container and let it rest in the fridge for up to 2 days, but at least overnight. This is important for the flavours to mingle.

On the baking day:
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Take the dough out of the fridge about 15 min in advance. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 4-5 mm thick. Cut into shapes of your choice and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The cookies do not spread much, but allow a little space between them. Mix the egg yolk with water and use the mixture to glaze the cookies.
Bake the cookies until crisp, about 10 to 12 min. Let them cool on a wire rack.

Mix the egg white with sugar and lemon juice until smooth and shiny. If the glaze is too thin, add a little sugar. If it is too thick, add a little lemon juice. Put the icing in a small, but firm plastic bag. Cut off one corner, making a tiny opening for the glaze. Pipe your design on the cookies by applying a steady pressure on the bag.
Let the icing dry completely before putting the cookies in an air-tight container and storing them in a cool room. The cookies can be made up to 4 weeks before Christmas.

14 comments for “Gingerbread cookies

  1. Green Peas
    22/12/2016 at 22:26

    I made these this week – amazing”

    • vera@gtc
      09/01/2017 at 12:25

      I am so glad to hear that!

  2. 09/03/2015 at 03:48

    Hello! I am making this recipe right now and I am curious, if the dough is meant to be a bit soft and sticky, or firm? Thank you! 🙂

    • vera@gtc
      09/03/2015 at 09:30

      Hi Tiffiny! The dough is fairly sticky, more than other doughs for roll-out cookies, because of the honey. Chilling helps to make the dough easier to work with. I hope your cookies turn out well!

  3. Christina
    29/12/2011 at 17:09

    They were better! The texture is almost perfect (given that they have only aged a few days, I say this now, but we will have to wait to see in a week or so.) I have not gotten the right spice mix or possibly quantity quite right yet, however. First, I will try increasing by 50% across the board and see what that does. I have spent quite a bit of time in the last few years recreating the recipes of both sides of my family and I am getting quite good at it now. Because recipes are such an important part of our… well… more than memory… almost our genetics, and so much of my family’s were lost, I determined that that will not happen with this generation. To that end, 4 of the youngest got 3 ring binders, personalized for them, to which I will add at least a few family recipes each holiday. I have encouraged other older family members to do the same, but only time will tell if they will participate. Thanks for the reminder, it made a lot of difference.

    • vera@gtc
      30/12/2011 at 17:54

      What a wonderful project! I am honoured to be able to make a small contribution to your quest for the authentic gingerbread cookies. I agree with your view on recipes and their role in family history. I have my grandmother’s cookbook and when I follow her hand-scribbeled notes, I feel connected to her again. She passed away almost 12 years ago and never got to know her great-grandchildren (I was pregnant with my first at the time of her death), but when I make her recipes (like the sweet Christmas bread) I hope to make her present in their lives a little…

  4. Christina
    26/12/2011 at 15:35

    Thanks so much for reminding me that gingerbread, even cookies, should have rye flour just like my Danish grandmother made! I will adapt my recipe and see if it tastes more correct with my childhood memories. I hope your holiday season continues to be wonderful, although, your thoughts will soon be turning to your allotment, I am sure (seed catalogs began arriving here almost a month ago!)

    • vera@gtc
      27/12/2011 at 09:11

      Let me know how the recipe compared to your memories! We are enjoying the holidays at my sister´s in the Czech republic, eating a lot of cookies and playing games with the kids. Sadly, no snow here. But my thoughts are indeeed turning to the next growing season already!

  5. 12/12/2011 at 12:59

    Hi Vera I made your cookies and they were reallyperfect and good, thankyou for such a excelent recipe it is a keeper. I have posted in my blog.

    • vera@gtc
      15/12/2011 at 10:42

      I’m glad the recipe worked for you!

  6. 07/12/2011 at 19:27

    They look absloutley beautiful, can I use full portion of normal flour insead of using half rey and half flour.
    We also just celebrated Sinterkalss feest, but as my daughter is bigger it is not same excitment. But i was planning to make gingerbread cookies for her to take with her to share with her friend and was looking for another recipe than my usual one.

    • vera@gtc
      07/12/2011 at 19:38

      You can use just normal flour, no problem. Good luck with the baking!

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