Gingerbread biscuits evoke a lot of happy memories for me.
When I was little, my mother would occasionally bring home a couple of gingerbread men and women from a little bakery called Spire Brothers, which was just behind the building she worked in at that point. To this day, I've never found a better example: this gingerbread was soft, spicy and decorated with only a bare minimum of icing for the face and clothing. A couple of years ago, on one of my first solo outings after passing my driving test, I went in search of that little bakery and was delighted to find that it still existed, some twenty years on, and was still selling those same gingerbread men.
At the start of this week, I found myself with a real hankering for gingerbread. Not just any gingerbread mind, but the gingerbread of my childhood. I always find supermarket or café gingerbread offerings to be very poor: too hard, not spicy enough and too bland by half. Alas, now that I've moved to London, the opportunities to find independent bakeries are somewhat slim so I set myself the task of replicating the gingerbread I wanted so much.
My recipe includes cinnamon, clove and orange as well as ginger. This was a personal choice: I think it gives the cookies a much richer flavour and a distinctly festive twang. You can, of course, omit these as you wish or change the balance of spices to your own taste. By all means, however, try my interpretation before doing this – I think these work out pretty great! Likewise, you can bake these to be soft or hard but I personally believe a soft textured gingerbread aids the overall taste.
After two attempts and a few tweaks, here it is.
175g dark muscovado sugar
85g golden syrup
350g plain flour (and extra for rolling out with)
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp clove
Grated zest of 1 orange (optional festive twist)
Preheat the oven to 200c (180C if fan assisted). Add the butter, sugar and syrup into a heavy bottomed pan. Melt these together, and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly whilst you sift the flour, spices and Bicarbonate of Soda into a bowl. If you are using orange zest, finely grate the orange and add the zest to the bowl with the flour. Beat the egg lightly in a separate bowl.
Pour the syrup mixture into the bowl and mix well with the flour. Add the egg in a bit at a time. Mix until well blended. Cover the bowl in cling film and let the dough chill in the fridge. Personally, I left mine overnight, but you only need to leave it until it's cool and firm enough to roll out. Whilst the dough is chilling, you may wish to line some baking trays with greaseproof paper.
When it the dough is ready to roll, turn it out onto a floured surface. Roll out to you desired thickness – around 1/4 of an inch is ideal - and cut out your shapes with cutters. Place them on the baking tray. Bake one tray at a time in the over: cook for 8 minutes if you'd like them chewy or 10-12 if you'd like them crunchy.
Remove the cookies from the oven. Allow to cool slightly, before putting them onto a wire cooling rack. Let all the cookies cool completely before you try to ice them. Decorate them as you desire, and allow the icing to set.
Make sure to store them in an airtight tin. They should last for up to week. I recommend devouring them with a steaming hot cup of tea, but I'm told that gingerbread is an excellent accompaniment to morning coffee.
Owing to the festive season, I cut my gingerbread into snowflakes instead of people shapes. I used these cutters. I opted for minimal decoration for two reasons: firstly, I am lousy at icing cakes and biscuits; secondly, I believe excess decorations detracts from the taste of the gingerbread itself.