"Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread." - William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
It’s the best season for baking where I am and I’m not saying this because Christmas is round the corner. It just happens to be the coolest time of the year and standing in the kitchen with the oven on doesn’t make feel sweaty and miserable. It is a lot cooler and less humid (about 29C in the day, 18C at night and 50% humidity compared to 35C and about 80% humidity in summer!) and of course, Christmas is in the air.
Different parts of the city (If you can think of Panaji as one) is all lit up with lights, shops are selling artificial trees and all the stuff needed to decorate it, and bakeries and pastry shops are full of Christmas goodies. Christmas stars light up porches (as do Diwali lanterns put up in November and still up) late in the evenings and through the night and I have neighbours listening to “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” and other Christmas songs most mornings. The tourists in town already seem to be ringing in Christmas and the New Year as we can hear strains of party music from the resorts on the weekends.
If all this wasn’t enough, just take a look at food blogs around and there’s a mouth-watering array of cookies and other goodies on display. We don’t celebrate Christmas being Hindus, but I don’t need an excuse to bake and we never need an excuse to celebrate or enjoy good food. So I too, have been on a cookie baking spree last week but just didn’t have the time to post any of it.
I couldn’t let this season pass me by so I decided to post the quintessential Christmas cookie – the Gingerbread Man! Apart from the fact that I love anything ginger, the gingerbread man has a special place in our memories. The story of “The Gingerbread Man” used to be one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little and wanted to be read a story. Akshaya used to be very enamoured with the idea of a cookie that came out of the oven, got up and ran away.
Once she discovered the gingerbread man got eaten by a fox at the end, she would ensure that we never got to that part of the book no matter how many times we read the story. We would reach the critical part of the story and she would announce that she didn’t want to hear a story anymore or would decide she was suddenly feeling very sleepy! And this would be the girl who till 5 minutes before, was jumping and yelling “Run, run as fast as you can; you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man”!!
I made a gingerbread house last Christmas, but have never made gingerbread cookies before, as most recipes require molasses which I don’t get here and I wasn’t too sure what else to substitute for it. Food bloggers are a very supportive lot and when I asked for advice, Pel told me I could use jaggery which ought to give me gingerbread cookies tasting reasonably close to the real thing. Bindu suggested using date syrup, which I shall once I can get hold of some from Kerala.
I adapted a recipe I found at Taste.com. This recipe didn’t require molasses but had golden syrup on the ingredient list. I substituted honey for that and used jaggery instead of brown sugar. I also left out the egg and added some baking powder instead. For the spice mix I decided to add my own twist and used cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and cardamom which are all not really traditional gingerbread spices.
I can tell you this spice combination is heady, and I’d love to have it bottled. In fact, even though I washed my hands thoroughly after kneading the dough, I still have the faint fragrance on hands as I type this post.
I wanted to make the kind of gingerbread men in my daughter’s story book with black raisin eyes, smile and buttons but didn’t have any. I used this eggless royal icing instead as Akshaya happens to like cookies decorated with it.
And if you want make sure these gingerbread men do not run, just use a skewer to make small holes on top of them as soon as they come out of the oven. Once they cool down you can thread them with ribbon. Should your gingerbread men happen to run away before you can tie them down, I guess you’ll have to console yourself that you just saw some Christmas magic!