(From the December 2014 archives)
My favorite holiday tradition as a child was a three day process of creating a gingerbread house from scratch.
Day 1 – Bake the gingerbread house pieces and let cool. “Glue” the pieces together with a thick frosting made from sugar and water and let set overnight.
Day 2 – Use a combination of M&Ms, taffy, Dots, Tootsie Rolls, and whatever candy we had left over from Halloween to create a gingerbread house of epic proportions (at least for a 12 and 15 year old) where everything was edible. There wasn’t a toothpick in sight. Most years, being the Harry Potter nerds that we were/are, we themed the house “Hagrid’s Hut”. Did you know that when you put Tootsie Rolls in the microwave for a few seconds they become pliable enough to create “chocolate frogs”, Fang the dog, and even Norbert the dragon? Leave them in the microwave too long, though, and they pop, explode, and fizzle onto the plate (do not try this at home, kids). We made a stick pretzel fence, carefully gluing the thin pretzels together with sugar-icing and molding birds (more Tootsie Rolls) to sit atop of it. There was often a birds’ next inside the unused chimney which was made out of picked-apart Life cereal and Jelly Bellies. And of course, on the side of the house was a giant pumpkin patch (taffy) that Norbert the dragon was sneezing on and catching fire to (more taffy).
Day 3 – Clean off all the sugar that has caked itself onto the countertop – but Dad could do this job, right? Eventually, he tired of this duty and the only way we were allowed to continue our tradition was if we promised to complete the daunting cleaning task ourselves.
My sister and I haven’t seen each other for Christmas in several years, so unfortunately this tradition died out and a new one has taken its place. After moving away from home, I soon came across a miraculous find – “Already Been Chewed” gingerbread men cookie cutters. The cookie cutters themselves were made to look like they had bite marks taken out of them. Some were missing heads, others arms, and the rest legs. I bought two sets – one for myself and another to send to my sister, and from different states and time zones we set to work. After baking and letting the men cool, I spent hours hand decorating each one with toothpicks. Some had hats, scarves and mittens, and each had a different facial expression ranging from shocked to infuriated. One of my favorite parts of the process was creating inner monologues for them. “Ah, my leg!” – “Why, God? Why me?” – “Ooooohhhhh noooooooooooo!”
I soon began giving these out as gifts to my friends. Each decorative bag was met with a large smile and much laughter as the cookies soon disappeared, only crumbs remaining. “Your cookies were almost too cute to eat!” I began inviting friends over to my apartment for a massive cookie decorating party where creativity bubbled over. Some cookies started dressing in bikinis, skirts, or ties; others had veins popping in their eyes out of anger; a snowman or two appeared in the mix. And each cookie found a home for the holidays.
Moving, losing loved ones, creating new families – traditions may not stay the same forever. But we can adjust and create new ones that are just as meaningful.
Onto the recipe! You don’t have to make my “Already Been Chewed” cookies. You can use any cookie cutter you’d like. They are delicious even without the cookie massacre.
Carol Fenster’s Gluten Free Flour Blend
1 ½ cup sorghum flour
1 ½ cup potato starch (NOT potato flour)
1 cup tapioca starch
I use this as my primary flour blend. Whisk the ingredients together thoroughly and store in the fridge.
The following gingerbread cookies come from Carol Fenster’s book 1,000 Gluten Free Recipes (link above). This was my first gluten free cookbook, and I was thrilled with the tasty cookies it helped me create for my first gluten free Christmas. If you would like to have a shot at hand decorating the gingerbread men, I’ve included my technique. Also note that with all of my cookies, I use insulated cookie sheets. They are well worth the small investment and turn out prefect cookies every time.
Gluten Free Gingerbread Cookies
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
3 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cup + 2 tbsp GF all purpose flour (Carol Fenster’s blend recommended)
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 ½ tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Extra flour for dusting/rolling
1. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and brown sugar (beat on low for about 30 seconds).
2. Add the egg, molasses, and vanilla extract. Beat.
3. Gradually add the remaining dry ingredients and beat on low speed until just blended.
4. Use your hands to knead the dough until it is soft and pliable (it will be sticky). Flatten into a dish, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours (you can put your dough in the freezer to bake another day)
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper
6. Place an extra piece of parchment paper on a countertop and sprinkle 1 tbsp of flour across the paper. Roll out the dough on this parchment and cut out cookies using gingerbread men cookie cutters
7. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove them and let cool completely.
8. When your cookies are cooled it is time to decorate! Place 2 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl and add water a few drops at a time, mixing thoroughly with a spoon. Note that if you add too much water the icing will become very runny very fast. This can be fixed by adding more sugar. You want a medium-thick consistency. Divide icing into separate bowls and add a different color food coloring to each bowl (I do red, green, and keep a third bowl white). Use toothpicks to decorate the cookies. If you need to place one color on top of another, let the first layer harden for a few minutes before adding the second color.
9. Place all finished cookies on a plate (do not stack) and freeze for at least an hour or until the icing hardens. You can now store the cookies in a sealed container or plastic bag. Cookies can be kept in the freezer for one month or 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. Freezing is highly recommended.
As an extra fun bonus, I’m including a picture of what seems to be everyone’s favorite version of these cookies, definitely the one that gets the most laughs. If you have a bit of a gruesome sense of humor, you’ll love these!
Happy baking! Stay tuned for more cookies and holiday recipes!