Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over 20 years. She has cooked on multiple television stations, including the Food Network.
Our Family's Favorite Christmas Tradition
When my oldest children were really little, I would make these little ornaments and hang them on the tree on Christmas Eve after I wrestled them all into bed. As they got older, they joined me in the project, in turn helping surprise the youngest when they awoke on Christmas morning. A tree hung with cookies and candy canes has been our Christmas-morning tradition for years. My youngest is still the most excited about that part of Christmas morning.
Now they help me, which is even better. They pick the shapes they want (a dachshund-shaped cookie is the most popular in honor of our dog, Boudin Choux). I let them loose with the icing, and they have a ball. There aren't many activities appropriate and fun for all the kids, but this is one where they all get in wholeheartedly (currently aged 8 to 21). That's the best part of it!
I'll never be a Pinterest rock star, but I do know how to create fun memories with kids, and this is one of my favorites. How awesome is a tree covered with cookies and candy? And these are easy—the dough is easy to make, forgiving to work with, and if you keep the shapes simple, they'll look great even if you have zero skills as a decorator. Trust me—I have zero skills there. So this is simply about the fun. Own the fun, and the mess and the giggles. And the fact that every single kid that helps you will—without exception—take shots of icing right out of the piping bag. Every. One.
A couple of notes I've learned over the years:
- Toddlers tend to just lick off the icing, so watch for soggy cookies dropped in odd places.
- Dogs LOVE a tree hung with cookies, so there's that. And if you have cats, well, you'll know all about cats and Christmas trees, so plan accordingly.
All of those things are just part of the fun, so just remember you're after the story your family will tell in years to come.
Now go make a mess. And enjoy it.
Cook Time (Not Including Time to Decorate)
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
72 Average-Sized Cookies
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup molasses, not blackstrap
- 1 tablespoon ginger, ground
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
- 2 teaspoons cloves, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon mace, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg, grated
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup butter
- 7 cups flour, all-purpose
How to Make DIY Edible Gingerbread Ornaments
- Preheat oven to 325˚F. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt together the sugar and molasses. Use a pan larger than you think you'll need since the hot mixture will expand quite a bit.
- Add all of the spices, and stir well. Bring the mixture up to a boil, and boil just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda. The stuff will foam up and expand at this point, so work carefully and give yourself plenty of room. You don't want to get the hot sugar on your skin! The mixture will have a bit of a strange, sticky texture at this point which is just fine. That's what you want.
- Transfer mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. Turn the mixer on, and add the eggs one at a time. Working in batches and scraping down the side of the bowl as you go, add the flour, and mix the dough just until it's fully incorporated and the dough is smooth.
- Turn the dough out onto plastic wrap, and cover. Let it rest for about 30 minutes before rolling it out.
- Roll the dough out on a sheet of parchment paper to about 1/4 of an inch thick. Cut whatever shapes you like. This dough puffs a bit but not too much, so it's ok to work with more detailed cookie cutters. I like to keep them simple though—it's easier to pipe royal icing that way. But if you're much better at piping and icing than I am, knock yourself out!
- Pull the excess dough out from around the cookies before moving the cutter. The extra dough can be re-rolled and reused, and this keeps the shapes from distorting.
- Once cut, use a skewer or toothpick to put a small hole in the cookie for the ornament hangers. Do it before you bake it. The cookies are nice and sturdy, which means you can't really do this after baking. The hole stays in place, making the whole thing much, much easier.
- Keeping the cookies in place on the parchment paper, slide the paper onto a baking sheet. This also keeps the cookies from distorting and helps them keep their shapes. Bake for 12 minutes.
- Let the cookies cool for just a minute on the baking sheet, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. This lets them set a bit before moving them, which also helps them keep their shapes nicely.
- Once cool, pipe with royal icing in whatever designs you like. Again, I keep it simple and easy and usually just make outlines. I do use piping bags, but plastic ziplock bags work just fine too. Let the icing dry, and you're ready to hang them on your tree!
Step-by-Step Photo Guide
Check Out This Quick Tutorial!
How to Make Royal Icing
© 2017 Jan Charles
Jan Charles (author) from East Tennessee on December 20, 2017:
Donna - this is the exact same dough I used to make our gingerbread house. As Jill mentioned it is nice and heavy, but as it dries it's nice and sturdy, and never gets too 'hard'. It does stay a bit softer than most. I'll be posting our ginger bread house soon, it works well for those of us who are NOT great decorators, which is why I love it!
Jill Spencer from United States on December 19, 2017:
The dough does look very heavy, but the cookies themselves look tender and chewy rather than crisp. Really nice.
Donna Herron from USA on December 19, 2017:
I'm planning to make my first gingerbread house next year. I've thought a lot about the design and look I want for my house (though too late for this year), and I'm excited to build and decorate it. Pinning your recipe and advice for next Christmas season. Thanks for sharing!