I have to admit, Christmas isn’t Christmas for me without spending an afternoon making Gingerbread cookies. The entire house is filled with the scent of exotic spices. That reminds me how food connects me in my Copenhagen Kitchen with Danish Wheat and sugar beet fields and Indonesian cinnamon forests.
Of course, gingerbread also connects me to people. For several years, my mother would make sure one of my Christmas gifts was a differently shaped cookie cutter. It is a collection I cherish. I always make far more gingerbread than I can possibly consume. So, when I think through whom I would like to gift my gingerbread to, I also think through which shape captures their interests or personality. This too is a tradition with a rich past.
The idea of gingerbread men started in the Court of Queen Elizabeth I in 16th century England. She asked that luxurious gingerbread be served at feasts in the shapes of visiting dignitaries. I like to think that the shapes that we choose to make our gingerbread reflects the things that we honour in life. So, as you get baking and decorating, give some thought to the shapes you choose and the character you lend to your biscuits. What does it say about what you value and cherish most?
As you bake and reflect, be sure to let the aroma of the dough waft over you. As it transpires, the aroma in food is one of our strongest triggers of nostalgia. So, don´t just lean into your memories, observe your surroundings. Take a look at the world outside your window as it beds down for winter, the light low as the solstice nears and consider your connection to the cycle of life, what you see, what you don´t see and let feelings of warmth rush over you. You will be making a new memory. The next time you crack into a gingerbread biscuit, see what sort of thoughts rush forward. That will be nature relatedness in action. In this way, the ritual of baking becomes a process that connects you to people and planet and reinforces how you want to be in the world – how you wish to shape it.
I try to make my gingerbread biscuits with as many local ingredients as possible, which means instead of molasses or syrup, I use apple molasses made from locally sourced apple cider. That means this recipe holds two aromatic rituals, in one.
I also made this recipe extra gingery by using some delicious organic ginger syrup the good people, called The Ginger People, sent to me. For added fun, add a dollop of Ginger People Ginger Jam to the centre of your biscuits.
How to Make Apple Molasses
Makes: 4 half-pint jars
4-8 Litres of Unfiltered Non-Alcoholic Apple Cider
1 Cinnamon stick
Pour your apple cider into a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Make sure that there is ple
nty of headroom as cider boils vigorously. Add your cinnamon stick. Slowly bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce heat and simmer. This will take several hours. So go about your business and enjoy the smell, but also be careful about the pot boiling over! Stir with wooden spoon and skim regularly, a few times an hour.
The end of the simmer requires your full attention and frequent stirring to prevent scorching. Your cider is done when it coats the back of a spoon and has a consistency like maple syrup. The final product should be reduced to 1/10th original volume – this is necessary for your molasses to be shelf stable.
Boil bottles or jars to sterilise them before adding your molasses. I like to save and recycle old maple syrup bottles for the job. After pouring your molasses into your bottles, process on the stove top by placing the bottles in boiling water for 15 minutes. Let them cool completely before storing in a cool, dry place. Keep your molasses in the refrigerator after opening the bottle.
How to Make Apple Molasses Gingerbread
Ingredients for about 3 dozen cookies (varies depending on the size shapes you choose)
¾ cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar beet sugar (which is made in Europe, choose what is local to you)
¼ cup Ginger People ginger syrup
1/2 cup apple molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
Mix butter, sugar, ginger syrup, apple molasses, salt, and spices. Then beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the baking powder, baking soda and flour. Then slowly combine the wet and dry ingredients together. Divide the dough in half, put in airtight containers and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. After it has hardened, preheat your oven to 175 C.
Line your baking sheets with parchment paper. Flour a clean surface and roll one of your dough balls into ¼ inch thick rectangle with a floured rolling pin (or wine bottle, in a pinch!). Roll your dough thinner if you want a crispier cookie. I think the apple molasses and ginger syrup lend themselves better to a chewier dough. Dip your cookie cutters in flour, cut out shapes and place them on your baking sheets.
Put the sheets in the oven and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies feel firm. Keep a close eye not to burn the edges. Again, your chosen thickness, shapes and oven will have in influence over how fast they cook. Keep repeating the process until you have used all the dough. Cool and then decorate with icing if you so desire! Personally, I favour a plain cookie so that the delicious spice and the memories it contains is the star of the nostalgia show.