This Christmas will be my first with homemade Christmas ornaments. Growing up, I always had the most perfect Christmas trees complete with dozens of ornaments my mother had collected from various trips around the world: they were always perfectly color-coordinated and so beautifully lit that it would break your heart to see the Christmas season go.
Now that I have moved far from France to snowy Montreal I have tried to create some of my own holiday traditions, unfortunately without all the gorgeous ornaments I love taking out of their neatly packed boxes with my family every year.
Making homemade gingerbread has been the perfect way to start new traditions! It takes time to constitute an ornament collection so this has been an easy and fun way to make sure the holiday tree is fully dressed.
Making gingerbread is also one of my favorite ways to embrace the colder months: the sweet aroma of cinnamon, cloves and molasses always sets the holiday spirit for me. The wonderfully fragrant smell emanating from the kitchen as the cookies bake makes it difficult to be anything else but cheerful. Add a good dose of royal icing to each cookie - the perfect, smooth snowy texture - and you're set.
To be fair though, decorating tree ornaments is a slightly frustrating experience for the perfectionist type (that I am). It can be a little hard to have a perfect steady hand when piping the icing around the contours of each ornament but I think the key is just a little practice and accepting the fact that homemade ornaments should look homemade. I like the end result of this year's more rustic, homemade tree and I love how well these gingerbread ornaments meld in with the few decorations I have started to collect since moving.
Here a few tips on making the cookies:
1. Don't forget to cut out a small hole in each ornament before baking the cookies so you have somewhere to tie them to your tree! 2. Make 2 batches of icing: one looser than the other. Use the firmer icing to trace out the contours of the ornaments, and the more fluid one to fill them. 3. If you want to correct a line made with icing, do it fast because the icing dries quite quickly.
Nick Malgieri's Gingerbread Recipe
Makes about 24 large cookies, depending on the size cutter used (
5 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off) 4 teaspoons ground ginger 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 2 large eggs 2/3 cup molasses 2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil
In a large bowl, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Stir well to mix.
Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Scrape down bowl and beater.
Lower speed and beat in about half the flour mixture. Beat in all the molasses then scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, and beat after each addition until it has all been absorbed.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Scrape half the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it to about a 1/2-inch thickness. Wrap the dough securely and repeat with the remaining dough. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 3 days.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
Unwrap one of the pieces of dough and cut it in half. Rewrap one of the halves and return it to the refrigerator.
On a floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Use a floured cookie cutter to cut the cookies. As they are cut, place the cut cookies on the prepared pans with about 1 inch between them on all sides. Repeat with remaining dough. Save, press together, and reroll scraps (they don't need to be chilled before rerolling).
Bake the cookies until they become dull and dry looking and feel slightly firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 12 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake the cookies or they will be very dry. Slide papers from pans onto racks to cool.
Store the cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.