Run, run, run, fast as you can, can’t catch me ’cause you had some of this.

Good Night Gingerbread

Mr. Peña and I turned in before 9 last night, partly due to overenthusiastic helpings of shepherd pie, but mostly from the effects of one too many return trips to the best gingerbread I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of gingerbread. The following recipe produces a single-layer iced cake perfect for a holiday dessert, but you could also serve it plain for breakfast, hot from the oven with a slab of salted butter and a tall glass of milk.

2 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1 C unsulfured molasses mixed with 1 C hot water

1/2 C powdered sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
cold water

Set your oven to 350, then grease and flour a square 8×8 or 9×9 cake pan. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy. Stir in the egg, then dump in the dry ingredients as well as the molasses water and mix well. Use a stand mixer or hand-held to beat on high for 3 minutes before pouring into the pan, then bake at 350 for 50 minutes, but check at 40 to make sure the edges aren’t in danger of burning. If they are, cover them with aluminum foil, leaving the center exposed, and continue baking until an inserted pick comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, run a knife along the edges, and flip it out onto a work surface. I cut the top off with a cake leveler, then ice it bottom side up. I suggest you do the same.

To make the icing, put the sugar and maple syrup in a small mixing bowl and stir, adding water by the tbsp as needed until you achieve the desired consistency; it should drizzle but not weep. Cover the ball of a whisk with the icing and flick it back and forth over the cake for some artsy striping, and serve while it’s still warm. If you plan to consume the entire cake yourself, you can retain some semblance of dignity by going through the motions of cutting individual slices and using a plate, as opposed to taking the whole thing into the bathtub.

Never let toddlers decorate outgoing cookies.

Tastefully Understated Gingerbread Cookies

It’s extremely difficult to find a recipe for gingerbread cookies that doesn’t assume you want to bake in bulk. Merry Christmas.

3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 C / 1 stick butter
1/2 C dark brown sugar
1 tbsp  cinnamon
2 tsp powdered ginger
3/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, plus 1 egg white for brushing
1/2 C molasses (unsulphured)
nonpareils (white or multicolored)

Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and, after incorporated, the molasses. Stir vigorously until the mixture is uniform in color. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. I usually omit this step if called for in a recipe, but it’s important when you have various minuscule amounts of spices. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, using a wooden spoon as far as it will take you, then kneading with your hands to form a dough. Wrap it up and stick in the fridge for an hour.

Set your oven to 350. Once you’ve cut out cookies somewhere in the 1/8″ thickness neighborhood (I assume I don’t need to walk you through flouring a surface and using a rolling pin), place them on sheets, spacing at least 1″ apart. Lightly beat the egg white and brush a thin film onto each cookie, then sprinkle with nonpareils. Bake single batches at 350 for 10 minutes, then leave them on the sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Seriously, use the rack; if you’re passing out warped cookies, you’d have been better off buying everyone a bag of Chips A’Hoy.

While baking is a wonderful activity to share with small children, we must don our USDA hats when preparing food intended for consumption beyond our immediate family. Tiny fingers are tempted easily by tiny nostrils, and every time you look away from your little angel, you risk adding nasal contents, hair, and a variety of other unsolicited enhancements to your ingredients list.

Billy the Kid has his own prep station next to, but clearly defined from mine, and he stands on a chair while we work to ensure that he can’t reach far enough over to contaminate my sterile field. When “we” make cookies, I give him a small piece of dough to play with and make his own for decorating. He seems to appreciate the independence, especially after I’ve given him the all-clear to start eating the scattered nonpareils. Once a child is old enough to process the yuck factor of germs, they can bake for an audience. Until then, I advise you to employ these or similar means of keeping adorable but potentially filthy hands off.

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