I am unashamed to say that it comes from Martha Stewart, who (malign her if you must) is A-OK in my book. This recipe for gingerbread is inspired. It is Just Sweet Enough, wonderfully crisp, holds its shape well, keeps well, and is intensely spiced. Of all the many recipes I have ever tried, this one is definitely top of the heap. Without further ado:
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened [I always use salted]
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
4 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp finely ground pepper [optional, IMO]
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 large egg
1 cup unsulfured molasses
1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
2. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and combine. Divide dough in half and shape into flattened disks; wrap in plastic, chill at least 1 hour.
3. Preheat oven to 350. Have ready multiple baking sheets lined with parchment [or you can spray them with Pam or grease them, or use a Silpat], a long offset spatula, and cookie cutters. Remove dough from fridge and let stand at room temp for a couple of minutes. Dust your clean dry work surface with a generous amount of flour.
4. Roll dough to a scant 1/4 inch thickness [I think thinner is better, although the thinner you roll the more carefully you must watch them as they bake] and keep turning and flipping the dough to reduce sticking to work surface. Place rolled dough on plastic wrap or parchment and return to the fridge to chill in freezer until very firm, about 15 minutes. [IMO, this interim freezing step is not necessary, as you will cut quickly and then re-chill the cut cookies anyhow]
5. Remove dough from freezer and cut quickly into desired shapes. Using your wide offset spatula, transfer to baking sheets, and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes [IMO this step is essential: it helps preserve a crisp design when baking, which is important if your cookie cutters are very detailed or small]
5. Bake 8-10 minutes until crisp but NOT darkened at all, although times may significantly vary according to the thickness of the cookies. Let cookies cool on wire racks, then decorate as desired.
Now, I have icing bags and tips and all that tomfoolery, and in truth, it's idiotically simple to use (if you can put toothpaste on your toothbrush, you can ice a cake). Of course, practice helps. Anyhow, I recommend you hie yourself to your local restaurant supply store and lay in your own kit. This should include a couple or three sturdy vinyl icing bags (or disposable plastic ones), plastic couplers, whatever tips you want, and paste food coloring. For God's sake, don't go someplace like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table, because they will charge you the equivalent of a mortgage payment for EXACTLY the same stuff you get at the restaurant supply places. There's one in every city, and in NYC, many more than that.
Here's a good recipe for Royal Icing. It dries as hard as a stone, so careful that it doesn't blob onto anything you can't immerse in hot water to clean. It does dissolve in water, thankfully.
1 pound confectionary sugar (aka powdered sugar)
2 large egg whites
Scant 1/2 cup water
Gel or paste food coloring
1. In the bwl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all ingredients on low speed. Mix until fluffy yet dense, 7-8 minutes. Use the icing immediately,or transfer to an airtight container. Beat well before using.
2. To color icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into the food coloring and gradually mix in color to white icing until desired shade is achieved (a little goes a long way!)