Some food, some drink.
Have Yourself a Whole Grain Holiday: (Eggless) Whole Wheat Gingerbread Cookies.
It's just not Christmas at our house if we don't do a little cookie baking as a family. My kids wanted to decorate some gingerbread men, so I took the opportunity to kick the tires on a gingerbread cookie recipe from my modest collection of community cookbooks. This is a cookie carried by the aromas of ginger, cinnamon, and clove; bolstered with the sweetness of molasses and brown sugar. And, while I've not changed much in the way of proportions for this eggless gingerbread cookie recipe, I have taken the liberty of putting more of a Kansas spin on the whole deal by making this a 100% whole wheat gingerbread cookie, and spiking the dough with an apple cider made right here in the Sunflower State.
So, the kids wanted to decorate some gingerbread men during the holidays, and I was just caught up enough on a Sunday to make it happen. I always tend to gravitate to the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook in a situation where I need a well-tested standard (and don't wanna have to think much), but this time for kicks I decided to open up a community cookbook and see if I couldn't find a recipe that didn't involve a box cake mix or Oleo. Lo and behold - in the Ellis County, Kansas 125th anniversary Homestead Your Heart Cookbook, I find a gingerbread cookie recipe; and get this - it's eggless. I pulled about a half dozen recipes and all of 'em had at least one egg in there; and I'm guessing that in most situations, that'd be the difference between making cookies and making dog treats. I'm not on any dietary restrictions involving eggs, and I've done great-tasting eggless cookies before, but all the same I wanted to see just how this cookie would turn out, as it's decidedly a minority in the abbreviated slew of gingerbread cookie recipes I cross-referenced. This recipe also presented opportunity for substitutions, and I luh-uh-uuuve substitutions. As with all that brown sugar and molasses tinting the cookie already, I couldn't find any reason not to go 100% whole what with this recipe; and swapping in some Kansas-pressed apple cider in place of H2O was a no-brainer.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
The Cookie Dough
For the Cookie Dough - Cream butter, brown sugar and salt in a stand mixer for 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add molasses and continue beating on medium until integrated (about 2 minutes more). Take the mixer down to stir speed and add the clove, cinnamon, and ginger. Whisk the baking soda into the flour, and while the mixer continues to stir, add the first half of the flour/baking soda mix by the spoonful to the wet stuff. Add the apple cider to the mix, then spoon in the remainder of the flour/baking soda mix. Continue to mix on the lowest speed until the dough is fully combined (it should be a little glossy). Flatten the wad of dough into an inch thick disc and wrap the dough disc in plastic wrap. Move the dough to the fridge and chill for at least two hours.
When it's Time to Bake - Preheat the oven to 375F
Split the dough into quarters to work in installments; keeping the remainder in the fridge until you need it. Roll the first quarter of dough out to 1/8th inch thick and cut into shapes using cookie cutters of your choosing. Wad up the trimmings, roll 'em out and repeat. Place the cut cookies on a Silpat or parchment-lined half sheet pan and bake for six minutes. Let the cookies rest for another six minutes on the sheet before moving to a rack to finish cooling. Repeat the process for the remaining three dough installments.
For the Icing- Whisk the milk into the powdered sugar until smooth. move to a piping device of your choosing and get down with your creative self when the cookies are cool.
I guess I should first talk about my substitutions:
- You gotta make sure you're using the right kind of whole wheat flour - and here we're talking about whole white wheat flour. The whole white wheat flour I buy seems to be milled to a consistency not unlike good ol' all-purpose; and anyway, its a sweeter, less "rustic" flavor makes it perfect for baking quickbreads and cookies. More often than not, you can swap it out dead-even for all-purpose with little recognizable difference in the texture of the finished product.
- Cider for water? Well, why wouldn't you? Here's a chance to get a little fruity sweetness in the cookie to compliment all the spice. I almost went with applesauce here, but didn't because applesauce adds structure for a little lift as well as a softer texture that I didn't want.
- I doubled the salt here. Folks always seem to skimp on the salt; and honestly, any standard cookie recipe I make that calls for less than a teaspoon tends to get "accidentally" bumped up to a full teaspoon anyway. Besides, whole wheat flour can handle a lot of salt. Hypertensives aside, just trust me here.
- Speaking of substitutions, it dawned on me after the fact that I was one step away form having a vegan recipe. Yeah, what can I say; I'm an insensitive clod. Someone swap out the butter for some coconut oil and let me know how it turns out.
- Rolling pin spacers. Go buy them now. A two-inch dowel type rolling pin is transformed into a sheeting machine when adorned with spacers. Cookies, pie and tart dough, thin crust pizza; the list goes on. I honestly don't how I managed prior.
- Keep a little pile of whole wheat flour at the ready for rolling and cutting. Whole wheat works especially well as the little granules of bran act as ball bearings that keep a sticky dough from getting out of hand without drying the dough out. Likewise, a quick dip of your cookie cutters in the flour before cutting shapes ensures an easy release, which means less dismembered gingerbread men.
- There's a lot of necessary re-rolling here, but try to keep it to a minumum, as we want to avoid the production of the gluten that could make for a tough cookie. Lucky for us, we're also using whole wheat flour and all those bits of bran and germ will also help to retard gluten formation (love it when a substitution proves practical!).
- I can't emphasize enough that you don't wanna over-bake these. The lack of eggs takes a crutch out of the recipe that may have allowed for inattentive baking. That ain't happening here. Assuming your oven temperature is accurate, you want six minutes at 375F. No more, no less. As a test I went 8 minutes, and while they didn't look any different externally, man did those cookies get tough after they cooled. Likewise, 10-12 minutes put us in dog biscuit territory (fwiw, my dog loved 'em).
Eggs, no eggs? At the end of the day, if you pay attention to your baking time and temperature, this eggless whole grain gingerbread cookie is as good as any other that I've made. If I had one complaint, I would have liked for the ginger flavor to be a bit more intense, but I'm the guy who puts Sriracha on everything, so I'm a glutton for heat. I've noticed that a lot of boxed gingersnap cookies employ cayenne to reinforce the ginger, and I think I might try that. It's also been recommended by someone who sampled these cookies that I try some anise as well, so if licorice is your thing, give it a go.
The best part about baking these cookies is the decorating. I set the kids up with a bevy of cookie tchotchke and they went to town. After seeing the fun they were having, I couldn't help but wanna decorate some myself; and I gotta say, while I'm usually not much of a decorator, I found a bit of catharsis for the stress of the busy holidays by bringing each cookie to life. So often, we get wrapped up in the busyness of the Holiday season, and I think these kinds of family activities work to center us and remind us what's really important during a time of year that in theory shouldn't be stressful at all.