I realize that you know that I love a good gingerbread house. I like traditional houses, I like whimsical houses, and I especially like outrageous houses. Inevitably, though, even the best architects need a break from designing houses and want to try something different. What do you say to a host of gingerbread crafts such as...
...place cards, stained glass, ornaments, and even an edible gift box? Imagine the delighted looks you'll receive when your family comes to the holiday table to find their places marked with heavenly scented gingerbread inscribed with their names.
For you romantic men out there, that diamond necklace (or RING) you've purchased for your lady would really have her in tears if it were presented in a gingerbread box you've made yourself. Big time points for you, Romeo!
I think any Grammy, Noni, Oma, Nana, Meme or TwoMoms would love to have a string of gingerbread cut-outs strung on a colorful ribbon decorating her front window for the neighbors to see. By the way, TwoMoms was our friend Jack's nickname for his grandmother years ago. He had his mother as one Mom, so decided her mother must be TwoMoms. What a card, that boy.
In my former career as a pre-school teacher I used just about every kind of recipe for construction gingerbread or ornament dough out there. While none of it would ever have been classified as bad, none of it would really have been classified as good, either. It wasn't meant to be eaten, just looked at and discarded at the end of the season.
Wish I had known about King Arthur Flour gingerbread cookie recipe back then; it would have been a classroom staple. Sweet and spicy it features the right amount of spices to be fragrant, but not so spicy as to be offensive to younger palates. You can definitely taste the cinnamon and ginger, but don't end up with a scorched tongue, like some recipes. All in all, it's practically perfect in every way.
Let's get started on our Gingerbread Cookie crafts.
Combine the molasses and brown sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer along with the salt and spices.
Melt the butter and add it to the sugar/molasses; stir until the butter is incorporated. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm.
Once the mixture has cooled, add the egg. In my case, I noticed I had left the cinnamon out, so I added it here; no harm done, as long as I scraped the bowl well.
Add the baking powder and baking soda to the flour, and add this dry mix to the wet ingredients in the bowl.
Beat for about 1 minute, or until the dough is cohesive and no lumps and streaks of flour remain. As you can see, the dough is quite sticky at this point.
Using a wet dough scraper or your wet hands, pat the dough out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. If your fridge won't hold a half-sheet pan, divide the dough into smaller portions and pans, but be sure to use the parchment as a liner.
Cover the dough with a second piece of parchment and place it in the fridge to chill well. The VERY minimum would be an hour; several hours or overnight is truly best, for flavor and for ease of working with the dough. (Shout out to Cabot Cheese: you guys rock and are always present in the test kitchen fridge).
When the dough is well chilled it will be much less sticky, and very easy to work with. Turn it out onto a well-floured surface and dust well with additional flour.
Roll the dough out to an even thickness of about 1/4”. Avoid rolling over and squishing the edges of the dough by lifting your rolling pin as you reach the edge of the dough.
Use a pastry brush to remove any excess flour on the top of the dough. I couldn't find my favorite pastry brush, so I used my next favorite paintbrush. It worked like a charm.
While you do want the benefits of the flour during the rolling process, you need to remove the excess flour before baking for better texture and flavor, and a better cookie surface for decorating.
Ah, the possibilities are endless at this point. Let's make some ornaments first.
Cut your shapes out of the dough and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets. For hanging holes, use a plastic straw to cut a nice round hole. If the straw gets clogged with dough, just snip off that section and keep going with a clean section of straw.
How about a nice cut-out for stringing or hanging? Use a small cutter to cut the center out of your cookie. Two holes for ribbon will allow you to string several cookies in a row.
By the way, don't throw out the little centers you've cut out. Place the small pieces on a separate baking sheet so they won't burn on the same sheet as larger cookies.
Also, check out the triangles. Those are simply square shapes cut in half; use them to make the stained glass votive cookies, essentially providing the braces to stand up the front of the votive.
Say, how do you get those vein lines on the leaves, MJ?
A good sharp knife is all you need to “draw” on your shapes. Be sure to cut a fairly deep line that won't get lost during baking.
You can use some water to act like glue on the back of a small shape too. Just brush it on and smear it around a bit, then adhere the small piece of dough to a larger piece and bake them together.
You may need additional baking time; as the shape will be thicker; so keep an eye on these.
Now that you have a tray of cookies with cut-outs, let's make a few into stained glass votives.
For the “glass” you'll need hard candies in assorted colors. We've found that Lifesavers and Jolly Ranchers work best, and have the clearest colors.
These little individually wrapped candies are great...
...as the candy doesn't fly every which way when you smash 'em! A few taps with a hammer does the trick. You aren't looking for powder or dust, just small chunks the size of peppercorns or so.
Fill the cut-outs with candy, slightly mounded in the center. The candy will spread out as it melts, so don't worry about each tiny little corner too much.
You can combine more than one color in the same cut-out. Just try to match the flavors somewhat. Cherry and green apple are used above.
Bake the cookies at 350°F for 9 to 13 minutes. Baking time will depend upon the thickness of your particular cookies, so don't stray too far from the oven. These cookies will puff as they bake, but do flatten back out as they cool.
By the way, if you're making stained glass cookies and don't put parchment paper under them you'll beeee soorryyy. Go ahead, ask me how I know.
When the stained glass cookies are done, this is what you'll want to see. No un-melted chunks of candy; even surface with only a few bubbles.
**WARNING** Do NOT move or touch the cookies at this point. The candy is still very hot and will stick and burn if you get it on you. Leave the tray to cool for several minutes before attempting to remove the cookies from the parchment.
While the cookies are still warm, though, you can re-open the hole in the top you made with the straw.
There, easy as pie.
Hey, look! The stained glass cookie votives are cooled. Use a little Royal Icing to add decorations and trim. Now that's looking GOOD.
Remember the triangle braces we baked earlier? You'll need two of those for each votive.
A few quick passes over the microplane smoothes any rough edges, and make the braces straight and true. If the kids are helping, leave this particular job to the grownups.
Again, use some Royal Icing as mortar to adhere the braces to the back of the stained glass votive.
Unless you want to stand and hold the votive for a couple of hours, using a jar or can to support it as it dries is your best bet. If perhaps you put together the votive and realize the jar is still over on the table several feet away...
A superhero, or your test kitchen buddy Susan will come to your rescue and bring the jar to you. Thanks, Super Susan!
I think these place cards are just right for Susan and the rest of my super baking buddies. You can leave them flat to place on plates at the table, or make more braces and have stand-up 3-D place cards. (3-D glasses not included, but how cool would THAT be!)
And now for the MacDaddy, the edible gift box. You'll need 5 squares of the same size, and a 6th slightly larger square for the lid. I made my lid ruffled so I could more easily keep track of it.
Use your microplane to even out the edges as best you can.
Using Royal Icing, piping bags, and decorations such as sugar pearls, decorate 4 of the squares, plus the lid. The 5th square will be the base and doesn't need decoration.
Ahhh, pretty pretty snowflakes.
Place two of the “walls” on the base, and use plenty of Royal Icing on the inside seams. Hold with your fingers for a few minutes to set, and then add the last two sides. Place a can in the center of the box so that it touches and supports all sides; set aside to dry.
Once the box has dried for several hours, you can pipe in the seams on the outside of the box to hide them. Again, let dry before moving the box.
Add your special gift and finish off with the lid. Looking back, I'd have made the lid a tiny bit bigger, to hide the top edges a bit more. Next time...
Hmmm, do you think this would be too fancy for the fishing lures I'm giving to my hubby?
I hope these gingerbread crafts will bring holiday light to your family this year. It's a delicious tradition just waiting to start!
Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Gingerbread Cookies.