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Gingerbread Surprise Cookies

Makes approximately 8 medium cookies

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups (330 g) brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup (250 ml) molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Royal icing, recipe follows
  • Sprinkles for decorating
  • Sprinkles for filling the cookies
  • Black gel food colouring
  • Pink gel food colouring

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, and brown sugar until blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, then add the molasses and vanilla and mix until well blended. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and mix on low speed to blend.
  4. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients. Once the dough comes together, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl to release any clinging flour. Mix again on low speed until just combined.
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into two balls. Place one ball between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to an even thickness. Repeat with the other ball of dough. Slide both rolled out doughs onto the back of a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Remove one sheet of dough from the refrigerator, peel off the top piece of parchment paper and use a cookie cutter to cut out 24 gingerbread men. Repeat with the second sheet of dough. Place the cut cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut out the middle of 8 of the cookies, so that they are hollow. Pop the cookies into the freezer until firm, at least 25 minutes.
  7. Bake the cookies until just golden brown at the edges, about 15 to 18 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove the baking sheets from the oven, place them on a wire rack and allow the cookies to cool completely.

Royal icing

Makes approximately 2 cups

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • White vinegar, for wiping bowls and utensils
  • 3 ¾ cups (465 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • ¼ cup + 1 teaspoon (65 ml) warm water, plus more to thin

WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Using a clean paper towel, thoroughly wipe the inside of a stand mixer bowl, as well as the paddle attachment with white vinegar. The acid in the vinegar will remove any greasy residue, which can affect the drying process of the icing.
  2. Place the confectioners’ sugar and meringue powder in the prepared bowl and mix together on low speed until combined. With the mixer running on low speed, add the water until the mixture is moist and mixes easily. If the mixture is a bit too thick, add a little more water. Allow to mix on low speed for 10 minutes.
  3. During this time, the mixture will thicken and double in volume and should hold a stiff peak. This is called Stiff Peak icing. The consistency is very thick and is usually used as an edible “glue” (think gingerbread houses) or for piping certain decorations.
  4. With the mixer running on low speed, add more water, a little at a time, until the icing holds soft peaks, similar to the consistency of toothpaste. This is called Soft Peak icing, and is ideal for piping outlines, borders and other details on cookies and cakes.
  5. With the mixer running on low speed, add more water again, a little at a time, until the icing is runny. When drizzled back on itself, the ribbon of icing should disappear within 10-12 seconds, no more, no less. This is called Flood icing, and is used to “flood” or fill in cookies after outlining them in soft peak icing around the edges.
  6. Be sure to keep any icing that you aren’t using covered up with a damp tea towel, as it dries out quickly.

Decorating and assembling the cookies:

  1. Turn your royal icing into soft peak consistency and divide it into 3 small bowls, making sure to cover the ones you aren’t using immediately with a damp tea towel.
  2. Add 2 drops of black gel paste to the first bowl and stir with a spoon to blend. Fit a small pastry bag with a small plain piping tip, fill half-full with the black icing and secure with a binder clip. Use this icing to pipe eyes and a mouth on 8 of the whole cookies. Then, add 3 dots for buttons on each cookie and stick sprinkles onto each little dot of button icing.
  3. Add 1 drop of pink gel paste to another one of the bowls of icing and stir with a spoon to blend. Fit another small pastry bag with a small plain piping tip and fill half-full with the pink icing, securing with a binder clip. Use this icing to dot little cheeks on either side of the smile you previously piped.
  4. Lastly, fit another small pastry bag with a small plain piping tip and fill half-full with the remaining white icing. Place one of the un-iced whole gingerbread cookies on a flat work surface. Hold one of the hollow cookies upside-down in your hand and pipe a small amount of icing onto the bottom. Place it, icing side down, onto the un-iced cookie, pressing firmly to secure the two together. Pour sprinkles into the hole. Pipe a small amount of icing onto the top of the hollow cookie, then gently place one of the iced cookies on top. Repeat with the remaining cookies, then set aside to finish drying, about 2-3 hours.
  5. Dried cookies will keep for up to 3 weeks in an airtight container or in sealed cellophane bags.