My house is filled with the smell of freshly cooked gingerbread - it's lovely! This afternoon I made my first batch of gingerbread for 2009. I now have 160 gingerbread babies in my kitchen - half packed into airtight containers, the rest packaged up in groups of three in little cellophane bags. In December I always have near the front door a basket with bags of gingerbread ready to be given to departing guests as a take-home treat. I've been making these gingerbread babies every Christmas for at least 20 years. My recipe is so simple, and always turns out well. I particularly like it because it's done in stages. It's a soft, chewy gingerbread. Here's the recipe:
Place in a large saucepan: 1 and 1/3 cups brown sugar (press the brown sugar down well in the measuring cup); 3/4 cup golden syrup (or 1/4 cup treacle and 1/2 cup golden syrup), 180g (6 ounces) butter, chopped into small pieces; 1 tablespoon ground ginger. Heat, stirring, over low heat till the sugar dissolves and all ingredients are combined. Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan and leave it to cool slightly for 30 minutes or longer.
Meanwhile, combine in a large bowl 1 cup of self-raising flour and 3 and 1/2 cups plain flour, mix well, then make a well in the centre. Lay out 3 pieces of plastic foodwrap (about 45 cm or 18" long) ready for the dough.
Lightly beat 2 egg whites, add them to the cooled sugar mixture and whisk to combine. Then tip the sugar mixture into the flour, and stir to combine. I use a wooden spoon to start, then get into it with my hands to mix in the last of the flour. With clean damp hands, break off a third of the dough, knead it lightly for a minute or so till it's smooth, then wrap it in a piece of plastic food wrap. Repeat twice with the rest of the dough. Refrigerate the dough for an hour or longer.
Preheat oven to moderate 180deg C (350 deg F). Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Roll out one piece of dough between 2 sheets of baking paper to about 6mm or 1/4" thickness. Cut out desired shapes using a biscuit cutter. I use a gingerbread cutter about 6 cm (a bit over 2") long for my gingerbread, and this recipe makes about 80 gingerbread babies that size. Place the gingerbread shapes on a baking tray a little apart (they don't spread much in the cooking). I usually get 20 of my babies on each tray. Cook till the gingerbread changes colour - about 8 minutes for my size gingerbreads, longer for bigger pieces. Cool for a few minutes on the tray (they're very soft when they come out of the oven, but soon firm up), then transfer to a cooling rack. Once they have cooled, store them in an airtight container and they'll remain fresh for weeks. I always make a double batch (ie 9 cups flour) when I bake these. I'll probably make 6 double batches of these gingerbreads in December - mostly for gifts.