“Let’s just have dinner at home and go to bed,” my son wailed through tears as we left for another big family meal this weekend. For a full week he had been constantly on the go with his many cousins — sledding, skating, trips to the fire station, the pool, the playground, and he had reached his limit.
Around the table that night all the moms were weary. Holidays like these are created through weeks of planning and preparation, organizing, coordinating and hours upon hours of cooking and cleaning and kid wrangling. All the unseen mental labor takes its toll, and although we enjoyed our time together, we are all relieved to return to our normal lives and routines for a brief respite before the work of Christmas making begins.
As it is for many families, our Christmas festivities begin as soon as the Thanksgiving dinner dishes are done.
We sing carols at the piano, watch our favorite Christmas movies, and make gingerbread (or graham cracker) houses covered in candy. We cut a tree and decorate it with heirloom ornaments made by the parents when they were young.
We watch the fireworks in Kenai from the comfort of our cars and honk our horns at the end (to show appreciation, I’m told), and I host a cookie-decorating event for the children at my house to give grandma’s house a break.
This year I made gingerbread cookies and several colors of royal icing for the kids to use. This recipe makes heavily spiced, soft cookies — perfect for eating, not so great for candy house construction. If you intend to use the dough for gingerbread houses, add ¾ cup flour to make the finished product sturdier.
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon clove
1 tablespoon ground ginger
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup molasses
2 tablespoons whole milk
Sift together your flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, clove, ginger and salt.
Cut your butter into small pieces with a knife and use a pastry cutter/blender (or your cold fingers) to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. When you’re done the dough should be mealy and uniform.
Pour on the molasses and the milk.
Use a spoon at first to combine the ingredients, then switch to your hands to knead until a smooth and slightly sticky dough forms. You can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment for this, but I like to use my hands.
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Liberally flour your rolling surface — the dough is sticky and will definitely stick to your counter if you don’t.
Roll the dough out to no more than ¼ inch thickness and use your favorite holiday cutters to cut out shapes. Consolidate the scraps and reroll as many times as necessary — it would take a lot to overwork the dough, so go nuts.
Bake for 12 minutes and allow to rest on the hot pan for at least 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.
Decorate with royal icing and sprinkles and store in an airtight container.