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Kids in the Kitchen

Cute-as-a-Button Gingerbread People

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Whether your kids start from the top of the cookie and chow their way down or work up from the feet, these yummy holiday cookies are easy to make and fun to eat.
Gingerbread People

Prep time: 20 minutes

Baking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 5–6 dozen

Gingerbread Cookies
Gingerbread People

Prep time: 20 minutes

Baking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 5–6 dozen

My family and I had hardly polished off Thanksgiving leftovers when visions of Christmas cookies compelled me to stock up on butter, confectioners’ sugar, molasses, colored sprinkles, and multiple five-pound bags of flour.

These ingredients, which I use for jam-filled thumbprints, pecan triangles, chocolate-chip meringues, and angel-, heart-, and bell-shaped sugar cookies, would soon fill the kitchen with a sweet aroma. Rolling out dough, cutting cookies into shapes, and frosting the finished creations is a great way to spend time with your kids during the holiday season.

But there is one little treat—red and white candy-cane cookies— that has been struck from our list forever. The only time we made them (a task that entailed braiding strands of red and white dough together) we wound up with red-stained fingers from kneading food coloring into the dough, leaving our hands just the right shade of merry.

Though we tried everything from soap to vinegar to remove the stains, our fingers remained red—up to and including the next day, at work, where my colorful paws attracted at least as much attention as my PowerPoint presentation!

Instead of candy canes, I recommend gingerbread people as a great baking project this December. The dough here is super easy to work with, and the icing is really quick to make, too. Tint it whatever shades you like—just use a spoon when you do to avoid staining your fingers!

Gingerbread People

What You’ll Need
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, and more for rolling out the cookies
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
What to Do
  1. Let your little apprentice measure the brown sugar and the molasses. Show him how to pack the sugar firmly and level it off, and then let him combine the items into the work bowl of an electric mixer by scooping or scraping out the ingredients.
  2. Have your child unwrap the butter, add it to the bowl, and crack the eggs into a small cup, but remove any tiny bits of shell before adding the eggs to the mixture.
  3. Combine the mixture with anelectric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until the contents are nice and creamy. Your helper can then measure in 5 cups of flour, the salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It’s fun to let her sniff the spices as you open them!

    Teachable Moment: 4 Cool Facts About Ginger
    • Ancient Greeks nibbled on ginger wrapped in bread as a way to ease tummy problems.
    • Chinese sailors consumed ginger on long overseas voyages to fight motion sickness, and relied on it to counteract the effects of shellfish poisoning.
    • India dominates global ginger production, producing one third of the world’s supply.
    • The finest ginger comes from Jamaica. It has a stronger aroma and flavor and is more expensive than the rest.—ServingJoy.com
  4. Beat the dough on medium speed just until no traces of flour are visible. Cover and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let your cutie sprinkle a clean work surface with flour.
  5. Cut the dough into quarters. Show him how to roll out one quarter of the dough to about ½-inch thickness. Cut out cookies using a small (3-inch) gingerbread-person cookie cutter. Place the cookies onto large parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

    Teachable Moment: Gotta-Know Cookie Numbers
    • Americans consume 2 billion-plus cookies a year—about 300 cookies for each person.
    • The average American eats 35,000 cookies over a lifetime.
    • The biggest cookie on record was baked on May 2003 in North Carolina. It measured 102feet wide and weighed over 40,000 pounds.
    • A bakery in Ireland holds the world’s record for the most cookies baked in one hour (over 4,600 of them).
    • Sixty Girl Scouts from Nassau County in New York built a cookie tower out of 22,800cookies in 2010. Itstood at over 6 feet all.—The Cookie Elf
  6. Continue cutting out cookies. Demonstrate how to gather the scraps into a ball, place the ball on the floured work surface, and roll out more cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  7. Bake cookies in batches for 6 to 8 minutes, or until just set and edges are slightly brown. Remove from the oven. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Transfer cookies to wire racks to finish cooling. When the cookies are completely cool, demonstrate how to frost and decorate with sprinkles; use raisins or mini chocolate chips for eyes and buttons.

Note: For homemade icing, beat together 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 3 tablespoons softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and ⅓ cup whole milk. Icing is ready to use when it’s smooth and spreadable.