***These cookies spread a little, so for Gingerbread People and other intricate cut-out shapes, I still use my standard Gingerbread Cookie recipe, Best Gingerbread Cut-outs.
1 1/2 Cups Shortening
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Molasses (dark or light - it's up to you)
4 Cups Flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
Melt shortening in a medium saucepan on low heat. Cool a little. Add Sugar, Molasses, and Eggs (it is important to let the molasses cool a little so it doesn't curdle the eggs). Beat good. Have all dry ingredients mixed together in a separate bowl, then mix into the wet ingredients and stir until well blended (you can transfer it into a kitchenaid mixer to do this part if you'd like). Chill the dough for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
On a floured board, roll the dough thick and cut into simple shapes like circles. Bake at 350 degrees for 6-9 minutes, until the tops look set and the edges are just starting to turn a little browner than the rest of the cookie. Cool. Ice them with simple milk glaze or Almond Glaze. Let them dry completely before storing these cookies in an airtight container. Due to the moisture in the icing, they soften up while stored.
Almond Glaze: Stir together 1 Cup Powdered Sugar + 1-2 teaspoons of milk and 1-2 drops of Almond extract (the flavor is strong, so go easy). You can adjust the icing by adding more sugar or milk until you get a thick consistency for spreading or piping.
Funny Cookie Story:
I made a Gingerbread Lighthouse to be displayed at the 2012 Boston Christmas Festival. I was so busy working on my house that I forgot we had been asked to also bring some gingerbread cookies so that the judges could award a "Best Taste" prize. Late the night before the contest, I remembered about the cookies. Tired and not wanting to whip up some new Gingerbread dough, I remembered that I had recently made some Molasses Cookie dough and stuck it in my freezer. Molasses Cookies are almost identical to Gingerbread, having all the same ingredients just in different amounts. (Whereas Molasses cookies stay chewy, Gingerbread tend to be a little firmer so they roll out better). I said to myself, "What the heck?" and gave the Molasses Cookie dough a try. I rolled it like Gingerbread and crossed my fingers. I was surprised when they spread a lot, then turned crunchy when they cooled. I was ready to call the experiment a failure, until I tasted them. They were the best Gingersnaps I had ever tasted! After they cooled, I decorated then with a simple milk glaze flavored with a touch of almond extract. I submitted them and to my shock, ended up winning the taste category, beating out two locally famous sweet shops, including one that specializes in gingerbread.
I had submitted them as gingersnaps since they were crunchy when I packaged them, but when I tried some of my leftover cookies later, I noticed they had softened up in the airtight packaging. To this day I don't know if the judges' cookies stayed crunchy or softened up too! But now I have a recipe that can yield three very different results: Chewy Molasses Cookies, Crispy Gingersnaps, or Soft Gingerbread cookies.