Gingerbread Owl Cutouts
Thanksgiving is my holiday. It’s not that I’ve always been into turkeys and such. It became my holiday by default. My brother and his wife live on a lake so 4th of July is their holiday (for obvious reasons). Christmas is still a tradition that takes place at my childhood home, now referred to as The Lodge, and Easter has always been my sister’s thing. So, Thanksgiving it is for me. Which, in hindsight, makes perfect sense. I love to cook, I love the cuddle-up-ness of a crisp fall afternoon, and I love to share food with people I love.
Molasses cookies for Thanksgiving
I serve a straight up traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but I always experiment with the treats. These little hoot owls are no exception. I pinned these owls from sweetsugarbelle.com when I first started to work with Royal Icing. I mentally filed them under the advanced category in my brain, thinking someday I’ll be that good. So, I used them as an assignment. I didn’t have the confidence to veer off on my own and modify the design. I copied Callye as closely as I could using a tulip cookie cutter for the shape and building the owls section by section. Not too bad. The cookie recipe is one that my Grandmother favored from Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book (copyright 1950): Merry Christmas Cookies. It’s the “dark” version of her famed Christmas cut out cookie. If I could only keep 2 cutout recipes this would be one of them. It’s perfectly spicy and pairs well with your favorite fall flavors like Chai tea, apple cider, and of course, pumpkin pie. Mmmm, Thanksgiving.
Special thanks to Callye at sweetsugarbelle.com for the amazing inspiration!
Grandma's Molasses Cutout Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen 2" cookies
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup unflavored shortening
1/3 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1 large free-range egg
2/3 cup molasses
Sift dry ingredients and spices into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using the the paddle attachment, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg and molasses. Mix well.
Add half of the dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated on low speed. Repeat with the remaining half. Mix until dough starts to clump. Divide dough and form into 2 equal discs. wrap separately in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. Can be chilled overnight.
If dough has been chilling for more than an hour, let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove the plastic wrap and place dough between two 1/2 sheets of floured parchment paper. Roll out to less than 1/8-inch thick. Chill rolled dough for at least 15 minutes (longer will make cutting and transferring easier).
Preheat oven to 375º.
Cut dough to desired shapes and place on baking sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Re-roll scraps only once to avoid tough cookies. Chill again until ready to bake.
Bake for 5-8 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown (about 6 minutes for convection ovens). Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes in the pan then transfer to wire racks to cool at room temperature.
Source: ©1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book
Don’t forget to lightly flour your parchment paper. This will make transferring the cookies a breeze!
Jes Best Royal Icing
Makes enough to decorate 2-3 dozen cookies, depending on size
970 g [2 lb bag] confectioners' sugar, no need to sift
80g [or 8-10 tablespoons] meringue powder (CK or Henry & Henry)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (to keep icing bright white)
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons water
Food coloring (optional)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, meringue powder and cream of tartar on low for just a bit to incorporate evenly.
Slowly add 1/2 cup water while mixing at a low speed. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until sugar is just wet.
Scrape sides of the mixing bowl. Increase speed one notch (#2 on Kitchenaid stand mixer). Mix for five minutes. When finished icing should have a matte (not glossy) finish and hold it's shape on the paddle when pulled up/out of the bowl.
Separate into clean, oil-free containers and tint with gel food coloring.
This recipe yields "stiff" consistency for piping details. Add water as needed to achieve flooding consistency.
Keep covered tightly and store for up to a week in a cool dry place or 10 days in the refrigerator. Mix well when ready to use.