This recipe for “Really Old-Fashioned Gingerbread People” makes a large batch because, well, anything this good deserves to be made in bulk. They’re perfect for the youngsters on your holiday gift list. A few well-placed bits of candy or nuts for eyes and a nose will give your creations delightful personalities. Pack each finished person in a clear cellophane bag, tied off with ribbon. This recipe is courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac Everyday Baking book.
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Sift 5 cups of flour with the baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a large bowl. Whisk well, to mix. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, gradually adding the brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Add the molasses and continue to beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until fluffy. Blend in the vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, stir the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture 1 cup at a time, blending until smooth after each addition. If, after adding all of the flour, the dough still feels a little sticky, stir in another ¼ to ½ cup of flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into thirds, then place each portion in the center of a 1 gallon plastic storage bag. Using your palms, flatten the dough into disks about ¾-inch thick. Seal and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the fridge an hour before you plan to start baking. Roll the dough, while in the bag, to about half of its existing thickness. Return the dough to the fridge for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter several large baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the bag. Working on a sheet of floured waxed paper or parchment paper, roll the dough, one portion at a time, until it is slightly less than ¼-inch thick. Use gingerbread people cutters to cut the dough. (Remove the scraps, press them together into a dough ball, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling again.) Using a spatula, transfer the gingerbread shapes to the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch in between. Press candy and pine nuts into the dough to make eyes and a nose. Use the sliced almonds for the mouth and buttons. Bake one sheet at a time on the center oven rack for 12 to 13 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack and cool thoroughly.
Plan to work this dough when your kitchen is the coolest: The dough will be easier to handle.
If the dough gets too soft when you’re rolling or handling it, simply slide it, waxed paper and all, onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes before proceeding.
Press cinnamon red hots into the still-very-warm shapes to add facial features, buttons, belts, or other accessories. Use a thin ribbon of frosting for scarves or belts.