INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire … Jack Frost nipping at your nose…”It’s that time of year again. It’s time again to gather with friends and family to share the magic of the holiday season. When I was growing up, the holidays meant tons of baking … cookies, breads, cakes … and each of us had our favorites. My mom would spend hours, days, weeks building an enormous stash of holiday bake goods that would be given to friends and neighbors as gifts, or transported to family gatherings to fulfill that craving for even more sweets after the meal. To this day, I blame mom and the holidays for my sometimes insatiable sweet tooth.I took for granted in those days the wonderful smells that hit my nose when I walked in the door after school. The warm smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger were commonplace. I think the walls and floors of my old family home must still give up those wonderful aromas around this time of year.The one absolute tradition was gingerbread men. My mom had found this cut out for a gingerbread man in a magazine shortly after she and dad married in the 1930s. She carefully cut it out and traced the image on to her gingerbread dough. This “man” was different than the traditional form … he looked more like a sailor, with a square hat set upon his head and a little bit of a swagger in how he “walked.”Soon these “men” became the family tradition, and mom grew tired of cutting each one by hand with a knife. Dad crafted from wood and copper stripping a cookie cutter that made the process easier for mom, and generated more cookies for us. My older brother and sister and I were drafted over the years to be the decorators. Before the “men” went into the oven, they were adorned with silver drages for the eyes and nose and a red cinnamon candy for the mouth. Sometimes we would even give him three red buttons from the red cinnamon candies for his shirt. Once baked and cooled, we kids would be given the honor of decorating them with colored sugars, “glued” on with beaten egg whites. Mom would tie a candy cane around their arm and package them up for gift giving and an occasional reward for us artists.I still have one of the several renditions of the gingerbread men cutters my dad made over the years. And I still mix, roll and decorate at least one batch of “men” each year … just to fill my house with those wonderful aromas and share a bit of my past with friends.My recipe for gingerbread is a bit different than the one used by mom. She would bake hers to last through the holidays and possibly be tree decorations. I tend to go for full flavor and the best aroma possible. My recipe below is an adaptation from a Martha Stewart recipe I found several years back and has become my tradition … I hope you find a way to make it yours.
Ingredients:• 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface• 1 teaspoon baking soda• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter• 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar• 4 teaspoons ground ginger• 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves• 1 teaspoon finely ground pepper• 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt• 2 large eggs• 1 cup unsulfured molasses• Silver drages for eyes, red cinnamon candies for mouth• Fine sanding sugar, forsprinklingDirections:1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside.2. Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Dough would be very stiff. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/4-inch thick. Cut into gingerbread men your favorite cookie cutter. Space cookies 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and decorate with silver degrees for eyes and nose and red cinnamon candy for mouth. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.4. Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.5. To decorate with sanding sugar, lightly beat one egg white with water until frothy. Paint on cookie with pastry brush where you want the sugar to adhere. Quickly sprinkle with sugar, allow excess to fall off and dry on sheets of parchment until sugar sets. 6. Package in individual clear treat bags for gift giving.