It started when I was young. Every few months my Dad would come home from the store, sit me up on our kitchen island, and we would bake a cake together. We started with the box mix. We’d measure out the flour and oil together, my Dad holding the cups steady in contrast to my uneven pour. He’d even let me break the eggs myself – although that, unfortunately, often resulted in us fishing out a few bits of shells. As I grew older and spent less time at home, my Dad and I were able to bake together less and less; yet, we were able to become more diverse in our baking style: we moved on from boxed cake mixes to more advanced brownies and cupcakes. Soon, we were only baking together over Christmas break, using premade gingerbread dough to create Christmas masterpieces. We bought special cut-outs and rainbow-hued icings in order to create an appealing scene of purple reindeer, polka-dotted gingerbread women, shiny North stars, and even a gingerbread man with a fondness for lederhosen.
When I got into high school, the game changed again. I became a little too old to continue to just decorate cookies, so we turned to a new baking venture. As an early Christmas present, my Father gave me a magazine of a variety of the best Christmas cookies. We pored over the magazine looking for the perfect from-scratch cookies that didn’t seem too intimidating. I got to take the lead on the cookie baking, and my Dad acted as my ever-attentive sous chef. He helped me scrape the molasses out of the bowl and whisk the eggs when my arms were too tired. That first year, we baked enough cookies to last us until the following Christmas: butter cookies rolled in powdered sugar, chocolate peanut butter cookies that were a bit too gooey (my Dad insisted on adding another half cup of peanut butter), and ginger cookies – big and soft, these cookies yielded the greatest number of cookies and were a family favorite. They tasted just like our old store-bought gingerbread cookies, but better, not as heavy, with a crystal glaze of sugar glancing enticingly from the top.
The next year, and every year after, we would try to change up our cookie menu, adding and subtracting different recipes, but the soft ginger cookies always stayed. They were my mom’s favorite, her way into my Dad’s and my tradition. She would always poke her head into the kitchen after the first pan came out of the oven, asking us sweetly if we could keep one batch in there a little longer, maybe even burn them a bit. She loved them crunchy, like a gingersnap, she would tell us. So each winter, I’d whittle some thin golden-brown cookies away from the pan with crisp dark brown bottoms.
After four years of perfecting them, these were the cookies we’d bring to holiday parties and give to friends, but, we always saved a little bit for ourselves. Personally, I preferred them fresh out of the oven. The cookie had a crackled mosaic on top with nooks and crannies of granulated sugar. It gave way with my bite – offered up a rich, warm, almost gooey texture of spices and sweet. I found it too easy to gorge myself on them and was often left with a sugar stomachache of my own making. Part of the reason we loved making these cookies at Christmas, and only Christmas, was the sweet aroma that filled the house. The cinnamon, cloves, and ginger would waft all the way upstairs, filling the house with a smell no candle could ever match. There was no better time than sitting in my warm, cinnamon-filled house, sampling a bit of my hard work.
I went to college far from home, and when I came back that first winter break, my Dad and I began to talk cookies. I was busy seeing old friends and visiting my own haunts that that year, so I couldn’t bake them on the weekends when my Dad was free. I ended up baking by myself, while both my parents were at work. While I was trying scrape the last of my molasses from the fancy slide measurement (we had bought it solely for these cookies), I half expected my Dad to swoop in and help. As I looked around the empty kitchen and into the living room, I realized that this was what growing up was like. I was now old enough to bake without any supervision, and my favorite family bonding activity had become something I did alone. That night, before my parents got home, I set a plate of cookies out for them, a few extra crispy. We ate them together and we got a taste of home.
Big Soft Ginger Cookies
From Taste of Home, Best Loved Cookies and Bars
Yield: 2 ½ dozen
¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
- In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Combine flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well.
- Roll into 1 ½ in. balls, then roll in sugar. Place about 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. (For crispy ones, a good 14 minutes should do it)