When I switched over to vegan from vegetarian, I was worried that I would no longer be able to continue one of the essential Yuletide rituals in our home: holiday gingerbread. But that mythology is one of the reasons many people feel they can’t go completely animal free if they wish. It could not be less of a concern. Vegan gingerbread is even easier than it’s non-vegan counterpart!
If you’ve never tried to make rolled cookies, this is an ideal way to start. Rolled cookies essentially are a base of fat and sugar creamed together, then the wet and dry ingredients are added sequentially. In the non-vegan version, the butter has to be chilled to start with, or the mixture becomes greasy and flat. After all the ingredients are included, it must be returned to the fridge to be chilled for at least another hour, or the dough becomes unworkable.
All that changes with the coconut oil version. Chilling rather has the *opposite* effect! So instead of waiting for overnight, you can and should work the dough as soon as possible.
I adapted this version from my most important book for the holidays “Visions of Sugarplums” by Mimi Sheraton. One of the reasons it’s my favourite is that it contextualizes and provides background for many of the holiday traditions and recipes it contains. It is therefore an invaluable aid to the traditional technologist, as the original version was written decades ago, when many of the traditional practices had not yet fallen out of favour. With the current resurgence and interest in traditional rituals, references like this one are vital to help reClaiming our past and revitalizing our practices.
Like most older cookbooks, she also doesn’t take the ‘quick and easy’ route. The results are of course far better than most of the modern shortcuts, so it’s definitely worth it. However, she expects a certain amount of traditional cookery knowledge that might be beyond the level of some of the beginners out there. So I don’t recommend starting with this cookbook if baking isn’t something you’re already familiar with.
That said, I will help make this as easy as I can by explaining as we go. And prepare to make your gingerbread house for next year! All it takes is a bit of practice, and you’ll have some of the finest goodies for your parties the entire Yule season!
Step one: The Creaming
3/4 cup coconut oil
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Cream together fat and sugar until light and fluffy.
I used the organic “aroma free” Omega Nutrition coconut oil. I personally loathe the taste of too much coconut in my consumables, so I was worried about this choice, but with all the other ingredients, there was no problem with flavour bleed at all. If coconut oil isn’t your cup of tea, vegetable shortening or some other fat substitute will be in order.
Coconut oil is really more of a butter, and is solid at room temperature. This makes it ideal for our purposes. Normally, dairy butter has to be chilled and kept cold so that it doesn’t break down in this process, but coconut oil is already to go as is!
Of course I use organic fair trade brown sugar. Don’t get too crazy with packing the brown sugar. It should be in one cup sized lump, without empty holes, but not so you have to chip it out. White sugar is highly processed sugar cane juice with all the molasses taken out, so it’s not really the same thing for this recipe. However, brown sugar can go funny pretty fast and many folks can run out. When I looked in my cupboard and found the brown sugar was as hard as rock, I nearly despaired, and seriously considered using the organic regular sugar I have and boosting the molasses. But I used what I had anyway, with a bit more moisture and molasses, and it was just fine.
Cream with either a wooden spoon or a beater. I usually use both: the beater first then the spoon to squish the remaining bits. The final product should be fluffy and well mixed.
Step Two: Wet Ingredients
2 & 1/2 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons boiling water
Mix molasses in water and then add to batter.
I have used fancy molasses, blackstrap, and light molasses in batches over the years. Mostly whatever is in my cupboard. All will add a very distinctive and different flavour to your cookies. So don’t worry too much about what kind it is. Just make sure that the molasses goes into solution with the water separately before you pour it into the batter.
Step Three: Dry Ingredients
2 & 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Any or all of:
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon anise
Sift or mix dry ingredients together. Add 2 & 1/2 cups of flour to the mixture. Mix thoroughly and knead slightly. If batter is too wet, add more flour.
I grind all my own spices, using either the Magic Bullet (one of the best pieces of equipment for the money, btw), a dedicated coffee grinder (either hand or electric), or if I’m really desperate, a mortar and pestle. Even if my spices were already preground, giving them a bit of a boost with last minute grinding helps release some of the oils and really increase your flavour. Keep that in mind when you add your spices.
I use organic flour, and that means that I have to compensate in recipes. Organic flour requires more moisture due to it being more like actual food and not just carbs, so in this recipe, I usually pour in the entire amount, and add a bit more water if I need to. It should look smooth and not at all gummy after you’re finished.
Normally, this is the time that you wrap this sucker up and chill it to make the dough more pliable. I did that the first time, and it did not go well. Turns out, it worked way better AFTER it warmed up. So the next time, I didn’t even bother, and started working on the dough immediately.
Step Four: The Rolling
Don’t try to roll all the dough at once. Take off chunks, unless you have a really huge work surface. Keep adding more flour or more water to the end bits and keep rolling out for more cookies. *Be certain that your dough is smooth and homogeneous, or the cookies will flake or fall apart when you cut or bake them.*
How you roll the dough will determine what kind of cookies you get. Do you want gingersnaps that are crisp, or do you want cookies soft in the middle? Gingerbread puffs up alot, so if you want gingersnaps, you need to make the dough as thin as possible. I make it slightly thicker, because I’m lazy, and I like a softer cookie.
Place on slightly greased cookie sheets, or pizza pans, whatever flat surface with no sides that you have, not too close together. I used olive oil for the non-stick, but coconut oil or vegetable shortening will do. Your oven should be preheated and medium hot, about 350 degrees F, and how long they are in will be determined by how thick you rolled the dough.Gingersnaps should be done in about 8 min. Thicker cookies in about 10.
Step Five: I Iced the Suckers!
I’m happy to eat them just as they come out of the oven. But they aren’t really the same with the decorating. Heck, some of them you can’t even tell what they are supposed to be without the outlines or accouterments. It also helps seal the cookies or cakes to keep them fresher. So the main worry this year was making the traditional icing. I had to get over the wierdness using chickpea juice for egg whites, but I managed to over come it, and create the Royal Icing that is the basis for gingerbread houses
2 tablespoons aquafaba
1 & 1/3 cup of icing sugar
1/3 teaspoon lemon juice
Add more icing sugar as necessary. Divide up icing into different batchs and add colouring if desired.
I whipped the aquafaba into stiff peaks first, as the usual procedure, and then added the rest of the ingredients, but her recipe insists that one can do it all at the same time. But she also adds a bit of glycerin, which I never have around. This icing hardens fairly quickly, which is why it’s used in gingerbread house construction, so work fairly quickly. I didn’t put enough icing sugar in, so it was kinda limp, and got a tiny bit gummy after a day.
My daughter didn’t think I’d done enough, and so insisted that she “fix” my rather plainly decorated cookies. I get tired after 4 batches. So sue me.
If you’re interested in the extra challenge, the author of the book has plans for homemade gingerbread houses! It seems much easier than the precut or specially made pans version. I haven’t tried it yet, but that’s my goal. Her suggestions for engineering it are here and of course, in her book.
If you choose to accept this mission, post some pics for us all! Apparently, my decorating isn’t what my daughter expects it to be… Heh.
Now I’m all hungry…