There is no better way to create holiday cheer in the household than by whipping up delicious treats with your family. We asked Megan Gordon of A Sweet Spoonful to tell us her reasons for baking with her family this holiday season.
The holiday rush is on, and I’ve been making a concerted effort to pause and think about the kinds of moments that I want to have this holiday season with my husband and our two-year-old son, Oliver. What’s at the top of the list? Baking cookies with Oliver by my side.
Despite the mess and the fact that it takes twice (okay, maybe three times) as long with the kiddo, here are four reasons why I’m making it a priority:
1. Meaningful gifting
If you’re anything like us, you think about gifts for numerous people. This year we’ve decided to give something special rather than just … something. Baking with your kids and putting together little tins (I love the kitschy vintage ones) helps them appreciate a handmade gift or gesture (depending on their age, of course; our little guy is currently far more interested in sampling the gingerbread cookie dough).
2. Quality time
When I was little, I had a handmade advent calendar given to me by our neighbor who lived across the street. Each day, I’d fetch the mini candy cane in the little felt pouch, and think excitedly about how much closer to the holiday we were getting. Today as a working mom, I always feel pretty stretched for time during the holiday season, so we have to be more deliberate than usual about spending time together – decorating the tree, walking to look at holiday lights, and baking cookies together.
3. Start traditions early
While I know that Oliver is likely too young to remember traditions, it’s never too early to start. What do we want to eat on Christmas morning? Whom do we want to spend Christmas Eve with? How do we want to involve Oliver in the gift giving each year? I’d love for our son to remember our traditions and nurture them over the years.
4. Learning moments
Everyday occurrences can be learning moments, and I think there’s something to be said for seeing a project through to completion: setting it up, measuring your ingredients, moving through a list, setting a timer, and cleaning up your mess. Even as a toddler, Oliver loves watching the timer with me and helping me clean up when we’re all done – and those skills can be translated to other tasks.
Chocolate Gingerbread Men
While I love a traditional gingerbread cookie, adding a high-quality cocoa powder takes them to the next level. I like mine heavy on the dark spices and molasses with just a kiss of citrus. For our family, I use ½ whole wheat or spelt flour and ½ all-purpose flour, but certainly feel free to use 100% all-purpose flour if you’d like. You can’t go wrong either way.
This recipe yields 24 small men or 8 large men.
For the Cookies:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup molasses
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
For the Icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half and half)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and allspice on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the molasses, egg and orange zest and beat until fully incorporated.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the batter and beat until just combined (be careful not to over mix here).
Divide the dough into two even pieces and place on separate sheets of plastic wrap. Form into a chubby disk, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough on a well- floured surface until about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thick. Cut out as many cookies as you can get from each disk, and transfer the cut-out cookies onto the prepared baking sheets. Reroll out the dough and cut out additional cookies (you can reroll one time; after that, I find the dough is too warm and it can become tough – in this case, simply refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and reroll). Continue until you’ve used up your dough and cookie sheets are full.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are firm around the edges (they’ll be slightly puffed and a little soft in the middle). Let cool for five minutes before transferring to cooling racks to cool completely.
Meanwhile, making the icing: in a small bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, milk, vanilla, and orange zest. The icing should be thick but smooth enough to pour – if it’s too thick and would be too hard to pipe, add a little more milk. If it’s too thin and runny, add a little more confectioners sugar. Transfer to a plastic bag and snip off a small corner to allow for piping (or, if you have a piping bag or squeeze bottle, those are great, too).
Pipe onto cookies, and set aside for at least two hours to allow the icing to firm up. If adding any sprinkles or candy decorations, do so while the frosting is still wet. Cookies are best enjoyed within five days of baking, but if kept airtight, should keep for 7-10 days.