You may or may not need to provide refreshments for a certain someone on Christmas Eve/Day. There’s a bit of controversy when I reveal who gets our treats, but whomever will be partaking of yours will be excited to see these Gingerbread Reindeer staring at them. Well…I mean…well, maybe not. Let me rethink this.
Telling the Truth
Okay, I’m going to reveal a family secret that may cause you to look at us differently: the Twins don’t believe in Santa Claus. I’ll wait while you get over the shock…you good?
Well, now that that has been exposed, I’ll tell you that, in our defense, it’s through no fault of our own. Well, I guess it kinda sorta is, but, it was hard. The first time we were asked, “The question,” was in the mall, as it is with most parents. They asked why a bunch of kids were lined up to sit on a stranger’s lap and we told them,
“They’re telling Santa what they want for Christmas.”
“Well, he’s a nice man who travels all over the world on Christmas Eve leaving gifts for good boys and girls.”
“How does he get around the world in one night? That’s impossible.”
“Magic isn’t real. Are you lying, Mama? Lying’s a sin, you know that?”
And that ended the “Belief” of the twins.
Who Gets What?
Christmas Eve treats are ours. Afterall, parents are the ones who buy the gifts, so the big guy in the red suit shouldn’t get all the credit- at least not in this house. These Gingerbread Reindeer may or may not go over well with him, anyway. I mean, it may be a conflict of interest to eat your employees, no?
Making these Gingerbread Reindeer is extremely easy, but a smidge labor-intensive. It’s a matter of blending spices like ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, salt, and baking soda into all-purpose flour. That’s how we’re starting, all in a large mixing bowl. Whisk these together until they’re all blended.
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, combine the brown sugar, unsulphured molasses, and the room temperature butter in a separate mixing bowl. Add the eggs, all at once, to the mixture. Blend for a minute on medium speed, then scrape down the bowl. Blend again on medium speed for an additional minute.
A Quick Note on Molasses
Molasses is sugar that has been boiled down to a thick syrup. Unsulphured molasses is specially manufactured to make the molasses less bitter and more palatable. If you like the acrid taste of sulphured molasses, go for it- use that instead. I like my gingerbread to be sweet, so I always use unsulphured. Along those same lines, I avoid blackstrap molasses like the plague. It’s the raw, nitty-gritty, backwoods cousin of molasses. He’s bitter as all get out, and has “no trespassing” signs on his property.
Mixing the Gingerbread Dough
After the dry flour mix has been blended and the wet mix has been…well, mixed, slowly add the flour to the wet ingredients. Blend on low speed until you have a thick paste.
After a while, the batter will become too thick to mix with the hand mixer. Set it aside and get in there with your hands. Begin kneading the dough until it comes together. Be mindful that, if the dough seems just a tad too dry, that it will hydrate in the refrigerator as it rests. If you freak out and make your dough too wet at this point (by adding water), you may end up with very soft gingerbread.
Now you should be able to form the dough into a ball. Divide the ball into two equal pieces, then flatten them into discs. Wrap both in two layers of plastic wrap. Put the dough in the fridge to chill for at least an hour before rolling. Keys to Gingerbread Success:
- Always allow the dough to rest after handling it
- When rolling the dough, use the least amount of flour possible
- Try not to knead the leftover scraps too much
- Spread your work out over a couple of days so you’re not rushed
Chill, Roll, Cut, and Chill Again
During this time of the year, I field a lot of questions about why someone’s sugar cookies or gingerbread men/house came out looking like crap. Typically, the answer is they worked too fast. As a a result, the gingerbread or sugar cookie dough reacted the way it naturally does- it didn’t hold its shape, or it went wild with its shape.
After you’ve allowed your gingerbread dough to rest in the refrigerator, take one of the discs out and lightly dust your work surface with all-purpose flour. You don’t want too much flour, but you also want to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface. Roll the disc out until it’s a quarter of an inch thick. Use a gingerbread man cookie cutter (yes! A gingerbread man cookie cutter for a reindeer) and cut out as many gingerbread men as you can. Turn the cookie cutter to get as many cuts from this piece of dough. Think of it as a puzzle. You should be able to get two dozen, five inch cookies, from one batch of this dough.
Transfer your gingerbread men to a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat or with parchment paper. Make sure you leave a bit of space between each guy. As you can see, I was able to fit eight on a sheet pan. Alternate their positions to make enough room for them.
Place the pan of cut gingerbread into the fridge and allow them to chill for thirty minutes to an hour.
Why So Much Chilltime?
Allowing the cookies to chill after each handling gives the butter (or fat) in the dough a chance to firm up again. If you were to skip the cooling down/firming up period, the cookies would spread considerably once they’re in the oven. This chill period, although time-consuming, is vital to getting those perfectly formed, crisped-edged cookies you see in bakeries. There’s also another trick to know.
Bake and Cut…Again?
Yep! After baking for eighteen minutes, you need to pull the cookies out of the oven and, after cooling for a minute, carefully recut the cookies! This trick gives the cookies those really sharp edges that make them look more professional. Just place the cutter over the cookie and press down. Naturally, the cookie cutter will become hot, but just be as careful as you can be. It needs to be done while they’re still hot and soft. Pull off the trimmings and discard them, or give them to the kiddos to munch on.
Now let the cookies cool completely on a cooling rack.
Once the cookies are cool, use your fingers to brush off any trimmings or rough edges. You can either decorate them now, or store them in an airtight container for up to three days.
Now for the Fun Part!
I, typically, like to create my own recipes for all the things I cook or bake. However, the royal icing I will always love and adore is not my recipe. I don’t know the woman’s real name, but Antonia74’s Royal Icing recipe from Cake Central is my heroine. I began making this icing about ten years ago and I won’t use another recipe- ever. Again.
One of the ingredients- meringue powder- is usually found with the cake decorating equipment in places like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. Besides that, everything else is easily obtainable. And it’s easy! Mix water and meringue powder, add the confectioner’s sugar and cream of tartar and blend. SO flippin’ easy.
One of the important things to know about working with royal icing is that you must keep it covered with a damp cloth, or with plastic wrap directly touching the surface. Exposure to air will cause it to harden until it’s like cement. When it comes to royal icing and decorating these cookies, you only need to make one batch. From there, you can adjust the consistency to accomplish all of your decorating whims. This is the icing you need if you ever want to make gingerbread houses, too.
For outlining the cookies, thin the royal icing until- after allowing it to drizzle back into the bowl- the icing leaves a ribbon that’s visible on the surface for five seconds. Now fill a piping bag fitted with a number 1 piping tip with this icing.
When coloring your royal icing, be mindful of the fact that the gel color will thin it out further. Be conservative with your water. You can always thin it out more, but it’s harder to bring it back when you’ve thinned too much. To color my reindeers I left the girls plain white and colored the guys with a couple of drops of brown gel food color. For the girl’s inner ears and nose, I did a drop of ivory food color.
You’re going to work with the gingerbread man “upside down”, so the head is actually going to become the reindeer’s face. The gingerbread man’s legs will be the antlers. Get it? Good.
To create the face, begin at the bottom of the cookie and create an outline that resembles a butternut squash. To make the ears, begin at the side of the face (where the gingerbread man’s arms would be) and outline the area in a leaf shape. You’ll have the top part of the ear and the inner part as well. The top divide will be filled in the with main body color (brown for boys, white for girls), the bottom (inner-lid) will be filled in with the ivory. Color the icing for the antlers a darker color. I used gold for the girls and black for the boys. We’ll talk more about those later, though.
About Decorating Cookies…
Another tell-tale sign of a professionally decorated cookie is the smooth icing. To accomplish this you first need to thin your icing to a “flooding consistency”. That means that when you let the icing drizzle back into the bowl, it barely leaves a ribbon- it’s incorporated almost immediately into the icing. Use a larger tip (a number 3 or 4) to fill in the face and ears with the thinner icing. Be careful, because it can get messy with the flooding icing.
Another trick is to use a toothpick or a icing pick to nudge the icing into the nooks and crannies, as well as using it to pop the miniscule bubbles that will form in the icing. Those air bubbles, once they pop, will leave a very visible hole in your icing’s surface, marring your hard work. One of my favorite tricks when decorating with royal icing is to gently and quickly tap the cookie after I’ve iced them. It helps the icing settle into the cracks, but also encourages those pesky air bubbles to rise to the surface. If you see any air bubbles come up, be sure to pop them. Then, tap, tap, tap some more to fill in the space where the bubbles were.
Finishing the Cookies
Use a thicker consistency for the antlers (you don’t need to thin the icing at all, actually). It looks cool when the antlers have that dimension, so use a 340 star tip to pipe them. Just use your creativity- swirls, swoops, or angles are great when creating your deer’s antlers.
To embellish the cookies, I used gold and silver dragees to create ornaments for the antlers on the girl reindeers. For the guys, I piped ornaments with the thicker icing that I colored with burgundy red gel color mixed with a touch of super red, and forest green gel color. To make the cookies really festive I sprinkled some black edible glitter on the guys’ antlers while the icing was still wet. For the girls, I thinned some bronze luster dust with grain alcohol and painted this on their antlers. I also used this to create their “on fleek” eyelashes and their cute little smiles. The guys eyes and mouth were painted on with a black edible marker. You can add a bit of white icing to act as snow on their antlers if it floats your boat.
Gift to Your “Santa”
I suppose it doesn’t matter if you believe in Santa Claus, or not. My children aren’t “deprived” of anything because they don’t believe. They lavish praise and appreciation on us every year for giving them their gifts, so I suppose we’re their Santa. Whomever is lucky enough to get a bite of these adorable cookies, they probably deserve it for all they’ve done in your life.
At any rate, I wish you and yours a fantastic Christmas and hope you receive everything you wished for!
Pin this recipe for all of your gingerbread baking days!
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Gingerbread Reindeer Cookies
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup light-brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup unsulphured molasses
Antonia74's Royal Icing
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 5 tablespoons meringue powder
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 1/4 pounds powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- gold or silver dragees
- various gel colors
Make the Dough
- In a mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom.
- In a separate bowl, use a hand mixer to blend together the butter, brown sugar, eggs, and molasses. Blend for 1 minute on medium speed, then scrape down the bowl. Blend again on medium speed for an additional minute.
- Slowly add the flour to the wet ingredients. Blend on low speed until you have a thick paste. Once the batter becomes too thick to mix with the hand mixer, begin kneading the dough by hand until it comes together.
- Form the dough into a ball, then divide the ball into two equal pieces. Flatten them into discs. Wrap both in two layers of plastic wrap. Put the dough in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour before rolling.
Cut the Dough
- After the gingerbread dough has chilled in the refrigerator, take one of the discs out and dust your work surface with enough all-purpose flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll the disc out until it's a quarter of an inch thick.
- Cut the dough with a gingerbread man cookie cutter, turning the cookie cutter to get as many cuts from the piece of dough.
- Transfer your gingerbread men to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, making sure to leave a bit of space between each cookie.
- Place the pan of cut gingerbread into the fridge and allow them to chill for thirty minutes to an hour. Repeat with the second disc of dough. Gather the scraps from both discs of dough and reroll. Cut as many men as you can from the scraps, then discard the remaining dough.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. After the cookies have chilled, remove them from the refrigerator and bake them for 18 minutes.
- After baking, remove the cookies from the oven and, after cooling for a minute, carefully recut the cookies with the cookie cutter. Transfer the cookies on a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely. Once cool, brush off any excess trimmings with your fingers.
Make the Royal Icing
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together the water and the meringue powder until frothy.
- Add the cream of tartar, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract, then blend (with the paddle attachment) on low for 10 minutes. Scrape down the bowl occasionally.
- Once the icing has been made, be sure to always keep it covered with a damp cloth, or with plastic wrap directly on its surface.
How to Decorate
- Color 1/3 of the thick icing black and/or gold (for the reindeers' antlers). For outlining the cookies, thin another third of the royal icing until it leaves a ribbon that's visible on the surface for five seconds. You can color this or leave it white- this will be used to outline the body and later we'll thin it to fill in the body.I colored the main body of the reindeers (the thinner icing) brown for boys and white for girls. The bottom of their ears (inner-lid) will be filled in with an ivory color. The antlers will be a darker color- gold for the girls and black for the boys.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a coupler and a number 1 piping tip with the thin (5-second ribbon) icing.
- Working with the gingerbread man upside down, begin at the bottom of the cookie and create an outline that resembles a butternut squash. For the ears, begin at the side of the face (where the gingerbread man's arms would be) and outline the area in a leaf shape. Divide the top part of the ear and the inner part with a thin line across the "leaf".
- Thin the main body icing to a "flooding consistency"- when you let the icing drizzle back into the bowl, it barely leaves a ribbon- it should be incorporated almost immediately into the icing.
- Use a larger tip (a number 3 or 4) to fill in the face and ears with the flooding icing. Use a toothpick to nudge the icing into the nooks and crannies, as well as to pop the miniscule bubbles that will form in the icing. Gently, and quickly, tap the cookie after you've iced them. It helps the icing settle into the cracks, but also encourages air bubbles to rise to the surface. If you see any air bubbles come up, pop them with your toothpick. Then tap some more to fill in the space where the bubbles were.
- Create antlers that have dimension by piping them with a 340 star tip. Swirls, swoops, or angles are great when creating your deer's antlers.
- Use gold and silver dragees to embellish the cookies- create ornaments for the antlers on the girl reindeers with them. For the guys, pipe ornaments with the thicker icing colored with burgundy red gel color mixed with a touch of super red, and forest green gel color.
- Sprinkle some black edible glitter on the guys' antlers while the icing is still wet. For the girls, thin some bronze luster dust with grain alcohol and cover their antlers in it. You can also use this to create their eyelashes and their smiles. Paint on the boys' smiles and eyes with a black edible marker.
- Decorated or undecorated, these cookies will stay edible for up to three days. Just be sure to keep them covered in an air-tight container.
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