If you have read my Winter Bucket List or follow me on social media accounts, you will be well aware that this season, one of the things I wanted to do the most, before Christmas, was bake some gingerbread men. I have not made these since I was a child and did not really know how they were going to turn out.
I knew that it was vital to not cook them until they went hard – it really is a lesson you only have to learn once. But apart from that, I was an open book, and a complete blank page. I wanted to make them like my mum and I did when I was growing up, but of course I have no idea what recipe we used.
I knew I did not want to include an egg (or four), and I knew I did want to include lots of ginger, cinnamon, star anise and some cloves. I knew I did not want to leave the dough in the fridge overnight, and I knew that I did need to include vanilla and lemon juice. Literally no recipe on the internet had all of this so I was left with little choice other than to wing it.
You may have noticed that from my previous Cooking With Ellie posts, I am not really a fan of precise measurements, so as always, these are to be taken with a proverbial pinch of salt.
- 225g of plain flour (plus a little extra for dusting and rolling the dough)
- Half a teaspoon of salt
- 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
- Ground ginger
- Ground, sweet cinnamon
- 2 star anise
- Lemon juice
- Vanilla extract
- 70g of unsalted butter
- 100g of soft brown sugar
- 100g of golden syrup (I did guestimate this when pouring into my mixture as it was much too sticky to measure out on scales. An easy squeeze bottle, really helps with this)
- Things to decorate with, such as icing, chocolate, food colouring, eyes – anything!
- To kick things off, I put about two teaspoons (not measured) of ground ginger into a sealable freezer bag. To this I added about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. I used the sweet variety for this recipe. I also added two star anise and a generous sprinkling of cloves – probably about two or three teaspoons worth.
- Then, as I do not have a proper grinder or pestle and mortar, I handed the bag to my partner to attack the old fashioned way with a hammer, to pulverize until a fine dust is achieved.
- Meanwhile, I put the flour, salt and bicarb into a large mixing bowl.
- Once the spice mix was sufficiently dusty, I put this through a sieve into the flour mix.
- On the hob, in a small, non-stick pan, I heated the golden syrup, butter and soft brown sugar to a smooth and gloriously gooey mixture.
- I left the sugar mixture to cool for a few moments before pouring it into the dry ingredients, waiting in the bowl.
- Combining with a wooden spoon, the mixture was very dry, which was exactly what I had hoped for. To this, I added the juice of one lemon and enough vanilla extract to make the dough stick together – about 1 or 2 teaspoons.
- Next, I placed the bowl in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Line a baking tray or two with baking paper and grease appropriately. Evidently, it was then that my mum called me and I told her what I was trying to make. She was quite excited to see how they would turn out.
- After half an hour, I preheated the oven to 170C (fan assisted) and got the mixture out of the fridge, rolling it on to a floured surface, using a rolling pin. Role the dough to about 1/4 of an inch thick. In the absence of a rolling pin, a tall glass or glass bottle will work just as nicely, provided there is no paper label on the bottle!
- I cut my little gingerbread men out with the smaller of the two cutters I had. Re-rolling any remaining dough from each cut, I got 25 biscuits from this recipe. There are less in the pictures, because in the cooking process my partner ate about three.
- I had to cook the biscuits in batches. Each batch were cooked until they were golden, which was for about 7-10 minutes. For bigger gingerbread characters, it can take up to 15 minutes in the oven on the same temperature.
- Taking them from the oven, I left them to completely cool whilst the next batch went in.
- Once all of the gingerbread men had cooked and cooled, I took a tube of Cake Decor Choco Writer in white chocolate flavour and put it in a jar of boiling water to melt the chocolate. After a few minutes, it was ready to go and I got busy decorating my men.
- My man also helped out in the kitchen when decorating the biscuits which was super fun.
I really recommend the Choco Writer tool as a great alternative to flavourless icing sugar, that is often much too sweet. This post is not sponsored by them at all, I just really liked using it.
Once the chocolate had hardened, I put the gingerbread men into an airtight cookie/cake tin for safe keeping and reveled in the delicious smell of my kitchen for the rest of the evening.
Gingerbread men are one of the most festive of Christmas treats (and I much prefer them instead of Christmas cake). Do you like gingerbread characters? What do you like to decorate yours with? Let me know in the comments below.