I got a bit carried away. My daughter’s second birthday, a planned quiet family affair, somehow turned into a full blown high tea complete with grandma’s best china. It started with a cake topper. The famed green sheep from the gorgeous children’s book of the same name that I read to Thea every night before bed. I thought it might be nice to make her a cake that she would recognise and diligently sought out my nearest art shop so that I could purchase some fimo to make the little model from (I sentimentally thought that she could keep the lovingly made clay sheep). Simple. The next step was to find a cake recipe. And this is where my imagination got the better of me and I started book marking dozens of pages from an equal number of books. Cheese and olive biscuits, lemon meringue tartlets, double chocolate brownies. And gingerbread men.
I’ve always wanted to make gingerbread men, but haven’t for fear that the process would be too hard. Baking is not a process that I naturally turn to in the kitchen. I prefer to roast and simmer. Having a small person in my life though who has a penchant for all things crunchy and crisp, I’ve been doing more baking lately, preferring her to have homemade treats rather than ones in crinkly bright coloured packets from the supermarket. So with this in mind, I decided it best I set about learning how to make the gingery dough people.
Historically, I’ve never been one to let a recipe’s complexity put me off. As a chalet girl in France preparing dinner for 12 guests every night, my first real cooking job, trying out new recipes was second nature. Individual roasted shallot tart tatins, which I didn’t realise had to be inverted before serving. A cherry clafoutis made with cherries that I never thought to pit. Beignets, which are deep fried choux pastry. Apparently choux pasty is quite hard to master, but I dived in to the recipe head first, overcrowded the deep fryer and got oil all over the kitchen floor. The beignets worked out quite well though. A dodgy lamb curry from an English newspaper than one of my guests left behind, the spice paste made from scratch and the lamb and spices bought with more guesswork than exact translation. Looking back these mistakes makes me cringe. I was so eager to experiment and learn that I broke the golden rule of entertaining. Never try a new recipe out on your guests.
Making these gingerbread men for Thea’s party, I suppose I was breaking that rule again. But my family are used to being experimented upon. Besides, someone has to try my dishes after their first rendition. The spicy molasses coloured men with their happy faces and white outfits turned out really well. There was just the right amount of spice and they had a perfect snap. In fact I was so pleased, that I’ve made a mental note to make a gingerbread advent house for Christmas. So for all my cringing over previous failed efforts, though I would still advise not to try new recipes at dinner parties or on people that you aren’t that familiar with, do have a go at making new things. You never know where the process may lead you.
Adapted from a recipe from Bake by Alison Thompson
Makes about 30
- 100ml water
- 200g soft brown sugar
- 180g golden syrup
- 3 tbsps ground ginger
- 3 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 250g butter, cut into cubes
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 550g plain flour
- 1 egg white
- 250g icing sugar
- juice 1/2 lemon
Place the water, sugar, golden syrup, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Now add the butter one cube at a time and stir until it’s all melted, then add the bicarbonate of soda and make sure everything is well combined.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and allow to cool a little before sifting in the flour and stirring to until dough forms
Wrap the dough in cling wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
When the allocated amount of time is up, preheat the oven to 160C and line three baking trays with baking paper.
Take the dough from the fridge and cut it in half. Roll one half out evenly to a thickness of about 5mm and then being as space efficient as possible, cut gingerbread men from the dough with a gingerbread men cookie cutter. Place the cut out men onto the baking trays.
Bake the men for 20 minutes and then cool on the baking trays.
When the men are cool, ice them with lemon icing and then decide where you’re first bite will be. Head, arms or legs. Thea goes for the head!
To make the icing, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form and then still whisking add the icing sugar one spoonful at a time and then the lemon juice. Pour into a piping bag with a tiny little hole and decorate.
Enjoy this? You might like chocolate fork biscuits.