Grandma was raised on these cookies (in England they are called biscuits). In the lean times of World War II they were made at least once a week, perfect for dipping in a mug of milky tea at ‘elevenses’. The dough tastes just as good before cooking, so the recipe was a double whammy for Grandma who would nibble at the trimmings of dough before the biscuits were baked. Honey can be substituted for golden syrup (which is derived from sugar).
Makes a baker’s dozen biscuits
½ cup/200 g golden syrup
1/3 cup/75 g butter, more for the baking sheets
2 cups/250 g flour, more for rolling
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 baking sheets; 7.5-cm/3-in cookie cutter
1. To make the dough: Heat the golden syrup and butter in a pan until melted, stir to mix them, and set aside to cool. Sift the flour, ginger, allspice and baking soda into a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the cooled golden syrup mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to make a smooth dough – it will be quite soft but if it is sticky, work in a little more flour. Press it into a ball with your hand. Cover the dough with a cloth (not plastic wrap) and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F and set a shelf near the center. Butter the two baking sheets. Turn the dough on to a floured work surface and cut it in half. Roll one half to 1/8-inch/3-mm thickness. Stamp out the biscuits with the cookie cutter and set them on the baking sheets. Chill in the freezer until firm, 10-15 minutes.
3. Bake the Biscuits in the oven until golden brown around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes or longer until firm, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Ginger Biscuits do well in an airtight container for up to a week.
When Grandma moved to London, Gingerbread Men invaded her kitchen. This was the first opportunity for grandchildren Lucy and Leo to be creative in the kitchen and soon there were flour footprints all over the kitchen floor and a couple in the community corridor, luckily invisible against the beige carpet.
Gingerbread men are attractive just as they are, but English cooks love to decorate their cakes, so we all made outfits for the little men using ready-made icing pens, with little marshmallows for buttons which were scoffed down when I was not looking. Gingerbread men can be hung on the Christmas tree, or they can make a protective army around the Christmas cake when stuck with a dab of golden syrup. The gingerbread dough is also good baked as plain cookies, perfect for dipping in a mug of hot tea!
Follow the steps above, using a gingerbread cookie cutter (5-in/12-cm) before putting the gingerbread men in the oven, decorate using chocolate chips, currants, or icing pens, or whatever you decide, to help make faces, gloves and boot – Have Fun! Chill each tray of pen before putting in the oven.