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Memories of Childhood
As child, one of my favorite holiday traditions included eating beautiful and delicious handmade gingerbread boys and girls. These were crafted by my lovely mother for many many years. She would make the delicious dough and let it chill overnight until firm so it would be easy to roll out into 1/3 inch thick sheets from which she used a cookie cutter to cut out the gingerbread folk. After they were baked she would decorate these 7 inch x 3 inch cookie people with piped frosting in pink for girls and blue for boys. Raisins were set into the dough before baking for eyes and a slice of cherry was used for every smiling cookie. Once the frosting decorations were in place and dried, she would then carefully wrap each cookie in saran wrap and tie a red or green ribbon into a bow tie around the neck. My mother would always show up with 20-30 of these special holiday treats at my classroom holiday party. The gingerfolk cookie production didn’t stop when I grew up….it just shifted to my children who adored grandmas gingerbread men. In support of this theory I can say that this very blog topic was given to me by my 28 year old son who assigned this topic to me to help honor my mother Ruthie, his grandmother, on this first Christmas that she will no longer be with us to make these special treats. Sadly Ruthie passed away in September at age 95 but many things about her live on in her family. Old sayings, silly jokes, free advice, Danish toasts and Gingerbread folk cookies are just a few of her lifes artifacts that were left behind.
In celebration of my mother’s long and fruitful life and my lifelong love for the pungent essences of gingerbread spices, I’m going to share with you my mother’s cookie recipe as well as its offspring my gingerbread soap recipe.
Did you ever wonder who invented the gingerbread man cookie?
The first documented instance of figure shaped gingerbread cookies was at the court of Elizabeth I of England. She directed her cooks to create the cookies into human figures and presented them in the likeness of some of her guests who were delighted with the party favor in their own image. It was a creative time in history, after all! The English Renaissance was in full swing. William Shakespeare was writing plays such as the comedy Love’s Labours Lost ( “An I had but one penny in the world, thous shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” the clown Costard quips).
Also during this time folk medicine practitioners (aka witches and conjure women) would create gingerbread cookies shaped like men as love tokens for young women. If they could get the man of their choice to eat the gingerbread cookie that had been made for them, the man was suppose to fall in love with the young woman.
Over all the big gingerbread traditions come from Germany, France, the Netherlands and British Isles. Some English cooks were using sugar instead of honey by the end of the 16th century and molasses by the mid 17th century. The addition of butter and cream gave rise to the 18th century recipes that very much resemble the gingerbread cookies of today, according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America.
The family recipe I am sharing with you here goes back three generations to my great grandmother
Dora Wilshusen…who passed it to my grandmother Clara Jensen who passed it to my mother Ruth Smithoover who passed it to me.
Gingerbread Men Recipe
1 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 cup Molasses, 2 Tbls Vingegar
Sift and add to creamed mixture:
5 cups flour
1 ½ tsp soda
½ tsp salt
1 TBLS Ginger
1 Teas Cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
Refrigerate dough for 3 hours or overnight.
Roll onto floured board to 1/8 inch thick and cut with gingerbread boy cookie cutter
Add ½ raisin for each eye and a slice of cherry for a smiling mouth
Bake on silicone or parchment lined cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 6 minutes
Decorate with frosting and xmas springles.
Gingerbread Soap Recipe
Liquid Phase 97 degrees F
10.5 oz lye
24 oz water
Stir lye into water in well ventilated area or outdoors. Set aside and cool to 97 degrees F. CAUTION (Do NOT stir the WATER INTO THE LYE or it will spatter and possibly cause burns to the skin. Always pour the lye beads slowly into the water while carefully stirring with a wood or stainless spoon. ( Do not use aluminium untensils only glass or stainless steel. Use rubber gloves and safety glasses. For additional tutorial support visit www.soapteacher.com
Oil Phase 97 degrees F
Melt together in a stainless kettle that will hold approx. 1 ½ gallon of liquid and then cool to 97 degrees F
24 oz Canola Oil
31 oz Coconut oil
13 oz High Oleic Sunflower oil
Scent oils and spices
When lye and oils are both at 97 degrees F slowly pour the lye into the oils stirring well for a minute or two then add powdered spices after the oils and lye have been mixed together. Then add the fragrance oil and be prepared to mix and pour quickly into one or two rectangular plastic molds that have been greased with shortening and covered with parchment paper to prevent sticking. Note: As soon as you add the scent oils the soap mixture will start to thicken. You must mix quickly and get the mixture into the mold asap. The silicone or plastic mold should be approx. 8” w x 14” x 7” High . or you can use two smaller molds.
1 oz of cinnamon
1 oz of ginger powder
1 tablespoon clove powder
Mix together with whisk and 1 cup of soap mixture before adding back into kettle.
Add 4 oz of gingerbread cookie fragrance from www.brambleberry.com and stir quickly before pouring mixture into molds.
Once the soap is in the mold, cover with a cloth and a blanket or put in an insulated cooler for 36 hours before cutting into bars.
Cure bars for approx. 2 weeks and wrap in parchment paper and then gingerbread boy x mas paper or fabric. Tie with a ribbon and add a hang tag cut from old holiday cards for a special handmade gift.