Christmas is coming and I thought it would be fun to make gingerbread people with grandson Freddie. At just two and three-quarters he doesn’t quite understand Christmas but he certainly understands the excitement. This morning when I went over to the family’s home, Freddie was eating his breakfast. ‘Would you like to come to Nonna’s house and make biscuits?’ I asked him. ‘Yes,’ he told me. Then when I said, ‘Would you like to help me make gingerbread men?’ he said, ‘Wow! Yes!’ He clearly knew what gingerbread men were. His mum Lyndsey told me he had a book about a gingerbread man. We tend to talk about ‘gingerbread people’ now and it’s up to you to decorate your people men, women or non-gender – or a mix. I also thought it would be nice to make stars – though when it came to cutting the dough, Freddie wasn’t so keen to cut stars and that was left to Nonna. We had limited time this morning so I made the dough last night and kept it in the fridge. I took it out before I went to collect Freddie so it had softened and was easy to roll out once I got back with him.
Gingerbread Stars & People (makes 20+ – depending on thickness!)
- 350g plain four
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 125g butter
- 175g light muscovado sugar
- 1 egg
- 4 tablespoons golden syrup
- writing icing
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon together and transfer to a food processor. Add the butter and process until you have a breadcrumb-like mixture. Then stir in the sugar.
Mix the egg with the golden syrup and pour into the processor. Mix until it all comes together into a clump of dough.
Take the dough out and pull altogether into a ball and knead briefly into a ball shape. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes. (If like me you make it a few hours ahead of using, then take out for at least 30 minutes to soften or it’s too hard to roll out easily.) Preheat your oven to 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4 when ready to cook.
I bought some lovely copper pastry cutters in John Lewis. I was keen to find a reasonably small person and some of the cutters I looked at were very big people. Anyway, it would be nice to have stars too, I thought, so I was happy to buy the set of three shapes. Roll out the dough until it’s about 0.5cm thick. Then use your cutters to cut out shapes. Place them on a baking tray lined with some greaseproof/parchment paper. Little hands excitedly helped cut out the people shapes.
Don’t they look sweet, laid out together? Put them into the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until nicely browned.
Remove and cut a hole in the top. I used a straw for this; an idea I found online.
There was some discrepancy in recipes about whether to cut the hole before baking or after. If you leave it to after, you need to do it immediately they come out of the oven as they cool and harden up quickly. Transfer the gingerbread shapes to a cooling rack.
Once they’re cold, you can start the decoration. I decided to put in holes so I could thread some ribbon through and then you can hang them up on your tree if you want. It also makes them look pretty. But the holes and hanging aren’t essential and you can just omit the hole making. I bought some lovely narrow Christmas ribbon – ideal for my purpose – in Paperchase. I bought a tube of writing icing for ease – especially working with a toddler!
I threaded the ribbon through first, worried that I might spoil the icing decoration if I left it to after.
Freddie, being a very independent little man, didn’t want help, so I did some and let him decorate some on his own. He’s quite serious about helping me cook, which makes it such a joy to work with him. At the end, I packed his own decorated gingerbread stars and people separately for taking home (and another pack of some I’d decorated).
I put the little gingerbread people in a perfectly sized biscuit tin I had.
I kept most of the stars for myself and just a couple of people. I wrapped a star and person in a little clingfilm ‘bag’, tied it at the top with more ribbon, and it made a nice little present – freshly baked gingerbread – for my Italian teacher Fabio, who’s going home to Sicily over Christmas and New Year, so today was our last lesson until January. This is the fun thing about making this kind of food – I did the same with little panettone a couple of years ago (click here) – because you can wrap some up to make a nice presents for people.
It was such a fun morning making these. It’s not something I’ve done for years and years but I really enjoyed the baking with an enthusiastic little toddler and what a great way to start to prepare for Christmas.
Oh, and of course taste! One of the biscuits had broken as we were decorating them so Freddie and I had that all-important taste. No good them looking lovely if they didn’t taste good! But they were ‘yummy’ – Freddie wanted more; a really good spicy, ginger taste; a nice crunch on the outside and gorgeously chewy in the middle.