Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg Gingerbread Cookies (12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies - Week 4)


If my family had a collective recipe box, it would most certainly contain today's recipe. These simple spice cookies are a holiday staple in our house, and they also happen to be my brother's all-time favorite. Each Christmas, he spends hours in the kitchen mixing up a double batch of dough and rolling out hundreds of floury, gingerbread rounds - which we consume almost as quickly as they are produced. As with any cut-out cookie, it's a labor of love but one that certainly doesn't go unappreciated.


These cookies really are one of a kind, not just because of their molasses- and nutmeg-rich flavor, but also because of their unique backstory (because everyone loves a backstory!). As the name suggests, this recipe comes from Colonial Williamsburg, but you won't find it in their official cookbook. You won't even find it on their excellent Historic Foodways website (which, by the way, does include several other historical recipes, as well as some fascinating facts about food and dining in the colonial era), and that's because this recipe came to us from Colonial Williamsburg via my mother.


An even greater history enthusiast than myself - and Queen of the Backstory - it was my mother who guided us all around Europe, touring the castles, museums and historical sites of my childhood. When we returned to the states, she immersed herself, and us along with her, in American history - and Williamsburg became one of our favorite attractions.

On one particularly memorable visit, the year I turned seven, my parents indulged us with some treats from the bakery (no small luxury when there are seven mouths to feed!), and this soft, spiced gingerbread was one of them. The bakery sold them in thick, cake-like rounds, covered with a thin film of flour, and I can still remember the tenderness of that first bite and the way the flour coated our lips. Who knows, but that that might have been the very moment I became a devoted lover of spice cookies!


I certainly wasn't the only one who enjoyed that first bite, because my mother marched right back into the bakery and asked for the recipe - and to our great surprise, they gave it to her! In the nearly 20 years since, it's been handed round, and copied out and dusted off countless times.

It's a great comfort recipe, the abundance of spices and dark, treacly molasses fill the kitchen with warming, wholesome smells even before the first cookies are out of the oven. Though we usually bake them in rounds reminiscent of that first experience, I decided to bake leaf shapes this time. It's still fall and I was eager to put my pie crust cutters to a sweeter use - I think they turned out rather well.

These cookies are excellent with a cup of tea, or even enjoyed on their own. I have no idea how authentic the recipe is, but it's wholesome enough that I don't feel bad about even having a cookie or two for breakfast (okay, maybe I should feel bad, but at least it's not chocolate chips!). I've also taken them on numerous sailing trips - the ginger and molasses are said to palliate motion sickness, and they keep and travel very well.


Colonial Williamsburg Gingerbread Cookies


1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulfered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
4 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Add melted butter, evaporated milk, molasses and vanilla extract (if desired). Stir until well combined. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition to prevent lumps. The dough should be very smooth and stiff enough to handle without sticking to your fingers. If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup additional flour to prevent sticking (I like to knead in some extra flour during rolling and cutting), and chill dough before using.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with novelty cookie cutters or a round biscuit cutter. It may be necessary to re-flour your surface several times to prevent dough from becoming sticky.

Bake on a lightly greased baking sheet for 10-12 minutes (I like my gingerbread soft so I always underbake - and there are no eggs here to worry about!). For small cookies like those shown in the picture, reduce baking time to 6-7 minutes. The cookies are done if they spring back when touched (but before the edges begin to brown!). Remove cookies immediately from baking sheet and cool on a clean countertop.


A few notes: This recipe makes a LOT of cookies - especially if you make them as small as I did. It can also be used to make crispy, gingersnap-like treats. Just increase baking time and remove cookies once the edges have just begun to brown. These are great served with a bit of milk for dunking!


This post is shared at:
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27 comments:

  1. I'm always a little on the fence when it comes to spice cookies but these really sound truly delicious!

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  2. These sound amazing! I am still looking for a good gingerbread cookie recipe, and it looks like I just may have found it!

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  3. I love spice cookies too! This gingerbread recipe sounds amazing!! I can't wait to give it a try. Thanks for sharing the story behind the cookies. :)

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  4. I know these soft, chewy cookies taste delicious, but they have never looked so beautiful. Great job, Rachel!

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  5. What lovely cookies! Your cookie cutter shapes are adorable, and I could practically taste them from your description.

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  6. I LOVE this post. I felt like I was in Williamsburg with you, wiping flour off of my mouth. Thanks for sharing. The recipe looks great, and I will definitely have to give this one a try soon. I very much enjoy spice cookies and gingerbread cookies, and these look too good to pass up. Not to mention, they look terrific as autumn leaves!

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  7. What beautiful cookies! I love the way those cookie cutters make the cookies so special.

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  8. Mmmm! What a great story! And how beautiful! I'm impressed. I still struggle with cut out cookies.

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  9. These cookies are so pretty, love that u've used pie crust cutters for them. And what a lovely story to go with it!

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  10. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I too have had a love affair with these gingerbread cookies since I was a child and often wished I could make them at home. You just don't know how happy I am to find this. I can't wait to make them and take that first floury bite. Thank you!!!

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  11. They are beautiful! I have everything I need, maybe Sunday!
    Thanks so much for sharing your recipe.
    Here from Foodie Friday!

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  12. We went to Williamsburg on our honeymoon, over 41 years ago! I remember eating the gingerbread cookies there & they were so good!!!! Thanks for posting this recipe. I'll make them soon. YUM!! I'm here from Foodie Friday.

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  13. Just found your blog through Sweets for Saturday. These cookies are lovely and so beautiful. :)

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  14. Such a lovely story! Thank you for sharing the recipe and the history of this cookie! :) Williamsburg is also one of my favorite places - so beautiful there in the Autumn!! I really enjoyed reading through your post and I can't wait to try this recipe (even though I already have a favorite gingerbread cookie cut-out recipe). ;) HeHe!

    Blessings!
    ~Miss Rachel~

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  15. These are beautiful! I've been meaning to buy some molasses because I want to start making my own gingerbread cookies and cakes. Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing on Sweet Indulgences Sunday.

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  16. Hi this is Nicole from Colie’s Kitchen I just discovered your blog and wanted to drop by and say hi. I am now a new follower. I would love to have you stop by Colie’s Kitchen if you get a chance. www.colieskitchen.com

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  17. Two of my favorite things: gingerbread cookies and Colonial Williamsburg! I love them both. I can't wait to make these. Gingerbread is my all time favorite cookie! Thanks!

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  18. I just came across your recipe on mangia mondays! These look wonderful! The ingredients remind me of my grandmother's ginger snap cookies which I ate as a child. Great back story, as well! And I'm so jealous of your beautiful leaf cookie cutters! Where did you get them? Your photos are just lovley! I'm your newest follower!

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  19. Wow! What a yummy sounding recipe, and beautiful looking cookie. I also love cookie cutters, and those leaf cutters are FABULOUS!!!! Visiting from Show and Share. I've also joined your hop!

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  20. Beautiful cookies. I have a weekly anything goes linky fri-mon, but added an ongoing Fall, and an ongoing Winter linky. I would love for you to share your holiday posts and more.
    http://bacontimewiththehungryhypo.blogspot.com/

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  21. I cannot wait to make these cookies! My sister and I lived near CW when we were children. I have been told that they no longer make them at the bakery in Colonial Williamsburg. Truly a pity because they are delicious. Thank you for posting the recipe. It will be fun surprising my sister!

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  22. I have great memories of Colonial Williamsburg at Christmastime...particularly the amazing warm apple cider. I love a good gingerbread cookie, and can't wait to try this!

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  23. Those cookies are beautiful and sound absolutely delicious. I'm definitely going to try them. Thanks for telling the back story!

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  24. Hi! Just wanted to let you know this will be featured in this weeks Tasty Tuesday party features! Please come by and grab a featured button. Hope you will also link up again.
    http://nap-timecreations.blogspot.com/

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  25. These look almost too good to eat--almost. :) You did a fabulous job! I am so happy to have you share this @ Show & Share, thank you very much!

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