Denver-based photographer Andrea Gralow not only photographed the cookies shown on our cover this month, she baked them as well. “Making and enjoying a large variety of Christmas cookies is an inherent part of celebrating the holidays for everyone back in Czech,” where Andrea was born. “Every family has their own recipes that they pass down to the next generation, who then put their own spin on it to create a new variety.” We asked Andrea to share her take on her family’s gingerbread cookie recipe, and she was happy to oblige.
Andrea Gralow’s Gingerbread Cookie
For best results, measure the ingredients out in grams. A simple digital kitchen scale will give you the most precise results so you can make sure the recipe works well for you. I included an approximate conversion for orientation; use at your own discretion.
These traditional Central European gingerbreads are typically the first of many Christmas cookie types baked in the Advent period (four Sundays before Christmas) because they take the longest to soften up. With Denver’s low humidity, it can take even longer, so store them in an airtight container in a cold place until you’re ready to decorate and enjoy.
Yields: About 20–50 cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters.
500 g all purpose flour (4 cups)
180 g powdered sugar (1½ cups)
80 g honey (if too viscous to pour, add 1 tbsp warm water) (¼ cup)
40 g melted butter, cooled (3 tbsp)
8 g baking soda (1½ tsp)
3 whole eggs
1–2 tbsp gingerbread spice*
1 tbsp cocoa powder
*In Czech, gingerbread spice typically consists of freshly ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise, ginger, nutmeg, anise, allspice, and lemon rind, but a store bought blend will work well, too.
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients using your hands until the dough comes together nicely, feels soft and has Play-Doh-like consistency (a food processor can be used instead). Wrap the dough in Saran Wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit on your counter at room temperature for an hour before rolling it out. In the meantime, layer a couple baking sheets with some parchment paper and prepare the cookie cutters you’d like to use. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Sprinkle a bit of flour on your working surface and roll half of the dough out no less than ¼-inch thick.
Cut out any shapes you’d like and carefully transfer them to the baking sheet using a butter knife. Bake for about 10 minutes, only until they have a golden shade. The cookies will not be completely set when you pull them out of the oven, so be careful when transferring them to a cooling rack. If you bake them longer, you risk them becoming too hard over time instead of softening up.
If you’re not planning on decorating them with icing, brush cookies with some egg yolk for a beautiful shine. (The icing won’t bond correctly once the egg yolk is applied, so if you’re planning on decorating them, leave the cookies bare.) Continue rolling out, cutting and baking until there is no more dough left.
1 egg white
130 g powdered sugar (1 cup)
lemon juice to taste (a few drops, no more than a teaspoon)
If you desire to decorate the cookies, use an icing bag. Cut a very small opening using sharp scissors. In a bowl, stir the powdered sugar in the egg white, add a few drops of lemon juice until desired consistency and flavor is achieved. Avoid whipping the icing, as that would cause undesirable bubbles. Decorate the cookies to your liking—and have fun with it! For quicker but equally delicious results, brush the icing on the cookies using a pastry brush. Let the icing dry completely before you store them until Christmas or enjoy right away.
Note: these cookies will soften up over the weeks, and they can safely last for long after the holiday season thanks to the honey contents. That said, if they’re baked for too long, they’ll remain dry and almost hard. If that’s the case, you can still enjoy them anyway: dip them in a nice hot beverage of your choice and make a note to adjust the baking time accordingly for next year.