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Enjoy Gingerbread This Christmas

Do you want to make this traditional treat for the holidays this year? Here's some tips for successfully baking and decorating gingerbread.

Nashville, Ark. – Christmas brings memories of wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. Cookies, candies, cakes, pies and of course gingerbread bring these memories to life. Recently, my daughter-in-law asked about making gingerbread. Her grandmother would make it at Christmas and the family could not wait to enjoy this special treat. What’s the tradition behind this tasty treat?

            Gingerbread first appeared in Western Europe at the end of the eleventh century. Crusaders returning from the Eastern Mediterranean brought home unfamiliar foods that would soon become the essential ingredients for gingerbread. Those ingredients included spices, sugars, almonds and citrus fruits.

            From the beginning, gingerbread was a delicacy, and it still is today. It is a baked sweet containing wonderful spices including ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise. While your recipe may not contain all these spices, ginger is an essential ingredient. Gingerbread is sweetened with any combination of brown sugar, molasses, light or dark corn syrup, or honey. American recipes often use ingredients that are available regionally. In New England, maple syrup is used; in the South, sorghum molasses is used.

            Gingerbread can be made in the form of thin, crisp cookies; or a soft, delicately spiced cake; or a warm, thick, steamy-dark slice of bread served with lemon sauce or whipped cream. It can be light or dark; sweet or spicy; or it can be cut into shapes and colorfully decorated or stamped with a mold and dusted with powdered sugar.

            Successfully baking and decorating gingerbread is easy if you follow a few tips. As with most dough that is rolled out, chill the dough. Refrigerating for at least one hour will make it easier to work with. Once chilled, roll out on a surface lightly dusted with a mixture of flour and confectioners’ sugar or between pieces of parchment paper.

            Once rolled out, keep cookie cutters from sticking to the dough by dusting them with flour. If cutting out large shapes, prevent them from breaking by rolling out the dough on parchment paper, removing the scraps, and sliding from the paper directly onto a baking sheet.

            If you would like to decorate the cookies or a gingerbread house, allow them to cool completely. Make a simple icing using confectioners’ sugar, milk and butter. You can color the icing with liquid or paste food coloring. Use decorations such as shredded coconut, colored sugar, toasted sliced almonds, button candies, mini chocolate chips, and dried fruits. Attach the decorations before the icing dries. Allow decorated cookies to stand for at least 2 hours to allow for the icing to dry. Cookies can be prepared up to two weeks ahead and stored in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers.

            When decorating a loaf bread or cake, a simple glaze of confectioners’ sugar and milk works well. Add fruit zests or extracts for added flavor. Allow the glaze to dry before slicing.

            Create memories this Christmas by making and decorating gingerbread cookies with your children or grandchildren. It’s easy to do and is so much fun!

            For more information on baking this Christmas, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

            Be sure to check out the Howard County Extension Homemaker’s Bake Sale this Friday starting at 8:00 a.m. in front of Western Auto. There will be lots of cakes, cookies, breads, pies, candy; everything you need for your holiday parties.
Come early for best selection! These treats are prepared by the best cooks in the county and they usually sell fast! All proceeds support Howard County EHC programs.

Recipe of the Week

            Here is a recipe for gingerbread. It is from an early 1980’s Howard County Extension Homemaker Cookbook. The recipe was submitted by Wanda Simmons, a member of the Saline EHC Club.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread

1 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

1 egg

½ cup molasses

½ cup buttermilk

            Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour loaf pan. Sift dry ingredients together. Set aside. Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg and molasses and mix well. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk to mixing bowl. Mix well. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until done. 

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


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