Gingerbread memories

My faithful readers out there know about the wonderful relationship I had with my father. He read to me practically from the day I was born until I could read to myself and even for a while there after. My favorite book when I was very young was The Gingerbread Man. We wore out several copies of it, which he quickly replaced even before the days of Amazon. Even better than the story in the book was his own version of the gingerbread man.

“When I was a little boy,” Daddy told me as I struggled to imagine the 6 foot 2 inch man as a little boy, “my mama used to make me a gingerbread man ever so often. She’d roll out the dough, insert raisins for eyes and buttons, and a little carrot for a nose. This gingerbread man was no little cookie at all. Nope. He was as big as the baking pan could hold. While she was working with the dough, she’d tell me the story, and when she popped that pan in the hot oven of her big black iron stove, she’d bring the broom from the corner and hand it to me. She’d tell me that Old Jack, the hound, was right outside the door. If I didn’t watch the gingerbread man in the oven, he’d hop out and run. Surely Jack would get him, not me. This possibility made me so angry that I never left my post. No hound dog was going to eat my gingerbread man. You know, of all the gingerbread men I guarded, not even one ever escaped me and my broom.”

I was completely fascinated with Daddy’s tale and listened raptly every time he told it.

Once I was married and had my first child, I wanted him to have such memories so when the 1972 issue of Good Housekeeping arrived with pictures of colorful gingerbread men and ladies on the cover and the recipe inside, my excitement grew. The recipe is a simple one that the newest of cooks can conquer with a little determination. The frosting “paint” is easy to make and applied to the cookies with a paintbrush. Even tiny hands can help paint those 8-inch-tall gingerbread people. My youngest child is now 50, and I’ve made gingerbread cookies for 47 of the last 48 years. (One year I had foot surgery and was incapacitated.) A wide assortment of the children’s friends painted gingerbread at my kitchen table as well and remind me of that when I see them in Walmart. My memories are just as precious as the children’s. Make some gingerbread memories with someone you love. Below are the recipe and instructions:

1 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 half cup light molasses

1 egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

Frosting paint (See recipe below)

Up to a week ahead:

1. In large bowl with mixer at low speed, beat butter, brown sugar, ad molasses until light and fluffy. Add egg and remaining ingredients except Frosting paint; beat at low speed until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Shape dough into a ball: wrap dough with plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 large cookie sheets. Cut dough in half. On lightly flour surface with lightly floured rolling pin, roll one half of dough ? inch thick; (keep remaining dough refrigerated). With 8-inch-long gingerbread boy cookie cutter, cut as many cookies as possible, reserve trimmings.

3. With a pancake turner, carefully place cookies on cookie sheets. Bake 12 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Remove cookies to wire racks to cool. Repeat with remaining dough and reroll trimmings.

4. Prepare frosting paint.

5. Decorate gingerbread people. Place cookies on waxed-paper-lined cookie sheets. With small and medium artist’s brushes and decorating bag with decorating tubes, decorate gingerbread people as desired. Set aside to allow frosting to dry completely, about 2 hours. Makes about 12 cookies.

Frosting Paint: in large bowl with mixer at low speed, beat 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 4 egg whites until just mixed. Increase speed to high and beat until mixture is stiff and knife drawn through mixture leaves a clean-cut path. Divide frosting into small bowls. Tint each bowl of frosting with food color as desired, and if necessary, add a little water so icing will spread easily. Keep all bowls covered with plastic wrap to prevent frosting from drying out.

May your gingerbread men and ladies turn out well, and may your Christmas be the best ever.

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