Gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, even the smell of ginger signals that the Christmas season is upon us. Made from sugars and spices brought back from the Middle East by soldiers returning from the Crusades, gingerbread first appeared in central Europe in the Middle Ages. Monks baked gingerbread for religious celebrations, and the first gingerbread man is said to have originated in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who gave important visitors portraits made of ginger-flavored dough. During the nineteenth century, this sweet and spicy cake, generally made with treacle (molasses), became primarily associated with Christmas. For a new spin on this old favorite, try these updated gingerbread treats with cream cheese icing. You’ll find this and other holiday recipes in my cookbook Christmas Flavors of Ireland.
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Gingerbread Bars with Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 27 bars
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup molasses (treacle)
3 tablespoons water
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1. Make bars. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 13-x 9-in. baking pan with aluminum foil, adding a 2-inch border on short sides to create handles. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In medium bowl, mix flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
3. In another medium bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, and then gradually beat in flour mixture until combined. Stir in molasses and water until smooth, and then spread evenly in prepared pan.
4. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, and then lift gingerbread out of pan using foil handles. Cool completely on wire rack, and then invert onto a platter and remove foil; return to upright.
5. Make icing. In medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, sugar, lemon juice and zest with an electric mixer until smooth. With a knife or offset spatula, spread icing over gingerbread. Refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes, or until icing is firm, and then and cut into 9 rows by 3 rows. (Image and recipe courtesy of McCormick & Company, producers of spices, herbs, seasonings, and marinades.)