Continuing a Family Tradition, With a Twist: Gingerbread Cookies

I would like to say a few words in defense of boxed cake mixes. You are about to read a story about me making delicious cookies from scratch with my boys, and, if you are like me, you are going to walk away thinking that I probably make every meal and every snack from scratch, and that my cupboard is filled only with organic, whole wheat, non-GMO whole foods, and that I would rather throw myself in front of a train than allow one of my children to take a bite out of something processed.

While all of those things are lovely (and kudos to you if I have just described you), they do not apply to me. While I do spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about what my family should/shouldn’t be eating (what parent doesn’t think about this?), I often remind myself to chill the freak out and go back to my roots: the boxed goods. While today I do love to bake from scratch and cook with whole foods, I grew up with, and will defend until I die, boxed cake and cookie mixes. These were a staple in my house, and I’m not sure I knew what “from scratch” meant until I was in high school. I’m not complaining. My mom worked really long hours and in hindsight I am amazed that she managed to get dinner on the table every night. Making a cake from scratch just wasn’t first on the list in her “free” time, and frankly, we had fun baking from a box. I give a ton of credit to any mom or dad who takes the time to do anything with their child: so give yourself a pat on the back for baking cookies with your son or daughter… he/she won’t care whether you made it from scratch or from a box. They’ll just remember the time you spent together.

But I digress. We are here because of my grandmother, Ruth, who baked gingerbread cookies with me every year. My memories on this are fuzzy… I recall warmth, the smell of cloves, how soft my grandmother’s hands were when she would hold mine, and how proud I was to help her clean up the mess. I don’t remember measuring sugar, mixing the dough, or even playing with the cookie cutters (again – just another reminder that the time spent together is what will stick in a child’s memory, not whether you used organic molasses!). Since I’m being honest, I’m not even sure that I liked the cookies themselves. But the memory of her attentiveness to me, and of focusing on one thing together, makes me want to create similar memories for my sons.

I don’t have her recipe, so over the past decade I’ve sort of collected and played with recipes as I came across them, and Pinterest has made that even easier. It didn’t take me long to realize that most gingerbread cookie recipes are identical if you are looking for the traditional firm cookies that lend themselves to cookie cutters and/or ornament making. I love to make those with the boys because now you can get a cookie cutter in the shape of just about anything! My son particularly loves his dinosaur cutters and had a great time pretending that the T-Rex cookie was eating the helicopter cookie. However, I personally don’t enjoy eating the firmer cookies. I like softer gingerbread cookies (they aren’t the best cookies for cookie cutters, but if you don’t mind fuzzy-edged shapes then go for it!), and after finding a recipe I liked, I had to change it last year because my newest little guy is allergic to dairy. Thus, the coconut oil, which makes for greasier cookies/harder cleanup but also a better taste! I also always use whole wheat flour and have yet to find a recipe that doesn’t work with that.

While I do have a super easy icing recipe (probably the same as everyone else’s), I don’t use that with the boys – it’s their favorite part of cookie making, so why not make it super kid-friendly by using the pre-made icing bags which are good for smaller hands and reduce cleanup time?


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