Yule: Gingerbread Men

by Julia O'Farrell

The making of gingerbread men and gingerbread homes is popular Yuletime favorite.

It dates back to the middle ages. The tribes of Germany would sacrifice their prisoners to the Norse God Odin otherwise known as Wodan. They would hang their enemies upside down from trees for nine days, symbolizing an old folklore story that Wodan was hung from the Tree of Life in order to obtain wisdom from runes.

However, as the wars began to end, they began replacing actual men with gingerbread men, as a way of asking for help from Wodan in making it through the dark winter.

In medieval England gingerbread simply meant "preserved ginger" and was an Old French adaptation of gingebras, a Latin name of the spice, Zingebar. It had been noticed that when ginger was added to pastries that it had a preservative effect. This it lead to the popularity of ginger cookies, breads, cakes and even the gingerbread house! It wasn't until the fifteenth century that the term gingerbread was applied to any kind of cake topped with sweet sugars.

For an entertaining activity, share stories while decorating gingerbread men. Here are some of our family's favorite gingerbread recipes.

Gingerbread men

• 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ginger
• 1 teaspoon cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 cup vegetable shortening
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup molasses
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, stir together the shortening, sugar, molasses, and egg until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing well after each addition. Stir until completely smooth. Divide dough in half. Between two pieces of waxed paper, roll each half of dough 1/4-inch thick. Refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degree F. Grease 2 cookie sheets. Remove top sheet of waxed paper and cut dough with a floured 5-inch gingerbread man cookie cutter. Transfer cutouts to prepared cookie sheets. (If dough is too soft, refrigerate until firm.) Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and cool completely. Reroll scraps and refrigerate. Repeat with remaining dough. Decorate as desired. Makes 1 1/2 dozen

Source: Ladies' Home Journal

Classic gingerbread cutouts

• 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 cup butter, softened
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1/2 cup molasses
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
• 4 teaspoons meringue powder
• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 3 tablespoons cold water
• Paste food coloring

In a medium bowl stir together flours, cinnamon, ginger, soda, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until fluffy. Beat in egg until mixture is light. On low speed, beat in molasses and lemon juice. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can. By hand, stir in remaining flour mixture. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill at least 3 hours or until easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll half of dough at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 2-1/2-inch cookie cutters, cut into desired shapes. Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

In a medium mixing bowl combine powdered sugar, meringue powder, and cream of tartar. Add the cold water. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture is combined, then on medium to high speed for 7 to 10 minutes or until mixture forms stiff peaks. (If mixture seems stiff while beating, add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Icing should be fairly thick for piping. For a thinner, glazing consistency, stir in a little more water after beating.) When not using, keep icing tightly covered to prevent drying. Decorate cookies with icing. If desired, tint part of the icing with paste food coloring and add details to the cookies. Makes about 90, 2-1/2-inch cookies.

*Note: One brand of meringue powder is Wilton. Look for the powder at kitchen, cake-decorating, and crafts shops.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens

Easy frosting

• 3 egg whites
• 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
• 1 pound powdered sugar

Combine ingredients in large mixer bowl and beat for 7 minutes. Makes approximately 2 cups.

The traditions and recipes are endless and the stories that go along with them are often full of rich and fascinating history. So from my family to yours, may I wish you a very Happy Yule; may your holidays be filled with love and endless memories.

Julia O'Farrell is a licensed massage therapist and she is the mom of four magical little men, a fairy princess and wife to Jeremy.

Copyright © Julia O-Farrell. Publishing right retained by Pregnancy.org.