While everyone has their own traditions around this time of year, one cookie takes the cake as a tried and true holiday classic: the gingerbread man.
Many claim this cookie to be the toughest of them all, opting to purchase pre-baked gingerbread to get their holiday fill. However, Paula Stickley, owner of Paula’s Pantry and Gifts on Hurontario St., begs to differ.
“A lot of people say gingerbread is difficult, but I don’t find it too hard,” said Stickley.
Stickley fills Paula’s Pantry with gingerbread baked from scratch year after year, 35 years in fact, as the local business just marked its 35th anniversary on Dec. 10.
According to Stickley, there are a few simple solutions that can make the baking process easier for everyone.
First, she said it is important to refrigerate the dough after all the ingredients are mixed together to let it rest.
While it's tempting to want to roll out the dough as soon as it comes together, chilling it for at least two hours or overnight gives the ingredients a chance to absorb one another, making it a whole lot easier to roll out the dough without it cracking.
The rolling of the dough can also vary, said Stickley, depending on how you like your gingerbread.
“If you want a nice crispy cookie, then you would roll it thinner. But if you want a softer, doughy cookie that pulls apart, then you want to keep the dough nice and thick,” she said.
Stickley said to keep this in mind depending on what you’re baking. If she is making gingerbread cookies, she likes to keep the dough thick so it is soft and chewy, but if she is building a gingerbread house, she’ll roll the dough thinner to ensure the base of the house ends up nice and firm.
Regardless of how thick you decide your dough will be, the key is to be careful how much flour you use as you are rolling it out.
“Gingerbread is a dough that sticks to the table, so you need flour to roll it out,” said Stickley.
Each time you roll the dough out to cut more shapes, the dough will get thicker, because you are inadvertently adding more flour, so “you will end up with a tougher cookie because you’ve added extra flour.”
That’s why Stickley said it’s important to be strategic with your shapes and try to roll the dough out as few times as possible.
With regards to the actual ingredients of the gingerbread, Stickley said this is where the baker can have some fun.
“Spices are totally personal,” said Stickley. “I like it traditional, so I keep mine simple.”
Stickley sticks to cinnamon and ginger, but she said people choose from any combination of cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg. She said molasses can also be used to give the dough a nice richness.
Along with shortbread, sugar cookies and Paula’s Pantry’s famous Christmas fruitcake, gingerbread is a clear favourite at the bakery around this time of year. However, Stickley said they actually sell the cookie all year long.
“The shapes will change, but as soon as November and December hit, people are ready for their gingerbread man shapes,” laughed Stickley.
Paula’s Pantry also sells pre-assembled gingerbread houses.
“The most hair-pulling part of doing the gingerbread houses is the construction of it,” said Stickley. “So this way families can buy the house already assembled and then choose their own candies and decorate it themselves.”
A classic gingerbread house is also Stickley’s personal favourite way to enjoy the sweet treat, and every year she makes an elaborate one with her family.
“I get a kick out of putting them together,” she laughed.