For the past six years we have been celebrating Chinese New Year with a small group of friends. Chinese new year begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice, during those typically snowy days that occur after Christmas and before the spring thaw. In 2012, Chinese New Year of 4710 began on January 23rd. Because of schedules and other commitments we will be having our Chinese new year dinner in February. The Chinese calendar is represented with twelve animals. Chinese legend recounts the story of the animal kingdom in a race to meet the earth god, and the first twelve animals were rewarded with their own year, hence a twelve year cycle. We have celebrated the year of the dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit and 2012, the year of the dragon. Each year I make ginger cookies in the shape of that year’s animal.
Ingredients ready for the food processor. This dough could also be made in a stand mixer.
I purchased my dragon cookie cutter from cheapcookiecutters.com
Gingerbread Cookies -adapted from Cooks Illustrated
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon-I prefer the Chinese Tung Hing variety from Penzey’s
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 tablespoon white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
- 3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
- 3 tablespoons milk or cream
1. Process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, five spice powder, white pepper, salt, white pepper and baking soda in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture and process until mixture resembles fine meal, about 15 seconds. Add the millk and molasses in a constant stream while the machine is running, process until dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds.
2. Scrape dough onto work surface, divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll 1/2 inch thick between two large sheets of parchment or wax paper. Place rolled dough on a cookie sheet and chill in freezer for about 15-20 minutes, until firm. If time allows, refrigerate the dough overnight.
3. Adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees, I used 325 at the convection setting. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper.
4. Remove one dough sheet from the freezer, place on work surface. Peel off the top and bottom sheets of wax paper. Cut dough into desired cookie shapes and transfer the cookies to the lined parchment sheets, a thin metal spatula will do this nicely. Space cookies out enough for them to expand while baking, about an inch apart. Re roll scraps, freeze again if too soft, then cut out remaining cookies. Bake cookies until set in centers and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes. Rotate cookie sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Do not over bake. Cool cookies on sheets for about 3 minutes before moving them with a metal spatula to cool to room temperature.
Additional notes-if you like your cookies spicier, another tablespoon of either black or white pepper could be added, I have even added a teaspoon or so of fresh ginger on occasion. I also like to chill my unbaked cookies before baking so they don’t turn into amorphous blobs! Light or dark brown sugar could be used, unless you just bought your sugar, it may need a minute or so in a bowl covered with a moist paper towel to soften it.