This year I've taken an interest in the history of Christmas traditions. My research has been casual at best, (having taught a college English seminar, I've maintained a knee-jerk skepticism of Wikipedia) but I've found a few interesting tidbits. One tradition that puzzled me was gingerbread men. Why is it that every year millions of people bake ginger-flavored cookies in the shape of men? Not angels, not Christmas trees, but chubby little men?
Wikipedia (cringe) says that this tradition started in the court of Elizabeth I, where she would have gingerbread men made in the likeness of important guests. If it's true, it's an awesome intimidation tactic. I mean imagine showing up to court, only to find the queen slowly nibbling off your head.
As I've currently run out of political nemeses, I'll stick to making my cartoonish smiling men. But under the smile is some serious spice. These cookies have a heavy dose of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Those spices, combined with molasses, gives the dough a warm, sweet flavor. But it's my secret ingredient—pureed candied ginger—that makes the flavors pop. Texturally, they're a chewy-crisp hybrid. Though crisp on the edges and sturdy enough to last as gifts, the middle is giving and chewy.
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About the author: Carrie Vasios is the Community Manager of Serious Eats and writes the Wake and Bake, Cookie Monster, and Serious Entertaining columns. She likes perusing her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar.