March of the Gingerbread Folk

Before the start of the summer holidays I made a list of things to do with Luca.

In the event the list-making was an excellent idea because it meant that rather than wake up in the morning and think ‘what shall I we do today?’ (to which, often as not, the answer is ‘duh’ followed by nothing much) I had a ready made list from which to choose and then tick off activities.

One of the things that Luca likes doing is cooking.  I suspect that’s pretty much inevitable with two borderline-foodie parents one of whom occasionally writes and broadcasts about food and the other who is studying the subject from a clinical standpoint.

So I wanted to make sure that there was at least one cooking session over the summer.  Then it was just a case of deciding what to cook.

The thing about gingerbread people is that children really like them.  How many cookbooks have you read that suggest trying to make food appealing to children by arranging it into smiley faces?  You know, it works.  OK, it doesn’t necessarily work with cubed swede and turnip unless your child is big on root vegetables, but it works with a lot of other things.

Gingerbread people, re-branded in the cause of greater gender equality so that gingerbread women enjoy the same rights to have their heads bitten off as gingerbread men, are pretty much perfect.

I adapted a recipe from the BBC website, adding a few bits and pieces for extra flavour; powdered ginger is nice, but adding fresh as well gives gingerbread people an additional zing and a pinch of nutmeg is always nice.

350g plain flour, and a little over for dusting the worksurface

1 tsp bicarb of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 cube of fresh ginger, about an inch (2.5cm) square, grated

1 tsp ground (ideally fresh ground) cinnamon

½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

125g butter

175g soft brown sugar (light or mix of light and dark)

1 free-range egg

4 tbsp golden syrup


Leaving the sugar to one side sift together all the other dry ingredients.

Run your hands under the cold tap before you handle the butter, take it from the fridge, cube it and work it into the flour and spices with your fingers until it takes on the appearance of breadcrumbs.  Then stir in the sugar.

Whisk together the egg and syrup, grate the fresh ginger into the mixture, add to the rest of the mix, draw together a dough, then as it  wrap it in cling-film and pop it into the freezer  for 15 minutes (stand it on something else in the freezer – basically keep it away from the sides – you’re after a quick but thorough chill, not for bits of the dough to end up frozen).

Stick on the oven to 180C/ fan 160C/350F/Gas 4.

Take the dough out of the freezer, flour a board or worktop, roll it out quickly to about 0.6cm or ¼” thick, and reach for your gingerbread person cutter.  Mine is a plastic 1960s one that my mother used when I was small and that I’ve waited a long time to have such a great reason to use again.

If you’re really assiduous you’ll try to keep the dough as cool as possible while working it.

Pop it onto baking trays lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12-15 minutes.  After your gingerbread workers’ collective has cooled you can decorate it – mini smarties might be better than big ones as these all look like Umpah Loompahs – next time I might even make a couple of gingerbread placards so I can write slogans on them like ‘Don’t bite our heads off’ and ‘Gingerbread folk’s rights – NOW!’

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