The holidays are upon us and Christmas is just a few days away! (How did this happen?!?) The nights are long but bright with Christmas lights twinkling nearly everywhere you look. Holiday parties dot our calendars, and cards fill mailboxes with well wishes from friends and family. As the classic song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!
But for many of us, it’s also one of the most busy and stressful times of the year. Stacks of cards wait to be sent, wish lists still have boxes that need checking off, treats must be made for all of those parties, and everything piles up a little too quickly. It becomes far to easy to forget the real reason for the season among all the madness, because whether you celebrate the birth of Christ, the miracle of Hanukkah, Kwanzza, or Festivus, the focus of this season should be love and peace.
It’s hard to feel peaceful when you’re running around with your hair half done, cookies scorching in the oven, and while screaming that you have nothing to wear (real talk: this has happened in my house). As my gift to my husband and those I love, I have tried to reduce my stress level this year and scream about outfits a whole lot less. We may not have as treats, the lights on the tree are a bit uneven, and I might be addressing holiday cards until 2015, but the real reason for the season fills our hearts a little more when we let go of those things that matter much less than the love we show our friends and family.
One way I’ve been able to simplify my holiday baking is by making these beautiful gingerbread snowflakes my go-to holiday cookie. Frosting them only requires one piping bag, one simple tip, and just one kind of plain, white frosting, so you don’t even need food coloring! Plus, using only white icing saves you a lot of dishes—and washing two bowls instead of eight makes me very happy.
And get ready, because I’m going to let you in on my biggest baking secret: these cookies are a mix. Like from a box. I doctor them up slightly with a few extra spices and a bit more flour, but, after trying many gingerbread recipes over the years, this is just as good—or better—than my favorite, and it’s a lot less work! I use the Deep, Dark Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix
, which is available at Trader Joe’s stores starting in November.
So ditch the stress and the fifty shades of royal icing. You can’t loose with a cookie that looks simply beautiful and is simply, well, simple.
For Gingerbread Cookies:
1 stick butter, melted
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tblsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup flour, plus more for shaping dough
1 Deep, Dark Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix
1. In a large bowl, combine melted butter, vanilla, spices, and egg, and beat until smooth. Stir in Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix. Add flour, mixing in completely. Divide dough into two portions; scoop each portion onto a length of plastic wrap and flatten into a rough disk with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 365°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove cookie dough from fridge and let warm slightly.
3. Scatter a thin layer of flour over a clean countertop. Unwrap dough and sprinkle with flour. Roll out to about 1/8 of an inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Using a very thin spatula (a little metal one works best) lift cut shapes from counter onto prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes with racks in the middle position (these cookies to burn easily, so watch them closely). Allow cookies to cool for a few minute before transferring to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.
4. Knead together any unused dough trimmings and roll out and cut again, following above instructions.
For Royal Icing:
1 1/2 tblsp. meringue powder
3 tblsp. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 or 5 drops glycerine (optional)
up to 1 lb. powdered sugar
1. In a large bowl, stir together meringue powder, salt, water, vanilla, and glycerine (this can be found online or at most baking supply stories; it helps maintain consistency and adds a bit of shine). With an electric mixer, whip mixture on high for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl. Begin adding powder sugar, 1 cup at a time, sifting to avoid lumps. Scrap down sides of the bowl between each addition. Once frosting is thick and will hold soft peaks when you lift beaters, fill a piping bag. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on to any unused frosting left in bowl, covering it completely, as it will harden quickly.
2. Fit piping bag with a small, plain round tip. Frost cookies with a variety of snowflake designs, whether simple squiggles or intricate geometric patterns. Allow frosting to try for at least two hours before stacking cookies. They can be stored in an airtight container or plastic bag for up to 10 days.