Jennifer Causey
Prep Time
20 Mins
Total Time
4 Hours 40 Mins
Serves 24 (serving size: 1 cookie)

When my sister Kaki laughed, a few age lines appeared around her mouth and eyes. We were rolling out holiday cookie dough in my kitchen on that last Christmas spent together, and because she was a dead ringer for our grandmother, a prescient thought occurred to me: “I know what she’s going to look like when she’s old.” Didn’t say it aloud. If I had, maybe life would be different, but that’s magical thinking for you.

The first gingerbread man is credited to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who favored important guests with a likeness baked as a cookie. Four centuries later, my sister, an artist and graphic designer, turned her own crisply browned wafers into an X-rated gender statement, her sense of humor always a little darker and definitely a lot dirtier than mine. The androgynous cookies swiftly developed body parts, with cinnamon red hots and sprinkles explicitly applied. She even smashed dough through a garlic press to create a hairy effect. Santa undoubtedly laugh-snorted his milk when he saw our offering next to the chimney later that night. Full-frontal cookies are Kaki’s holiday legacy to our family.

Recently, I mailed vintage tin cutters and the recipe to a niece named in my sister’s honor after Kaki left us too soon, never destined to be old, though her naughty spirit lingers when I slide a batch of her mature-audience gingerbread into the oven this time of year.

How to Make It

Step 1

Sift flour, spices, and baking soda into a medium bowl. With a hand mixer or standing mixer on medium speed, cream butter in a separate bowl until whipped, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, beating until fluffy, about 2 more minutes. Beat in molasses, egg yolk, orange rind, fresh ginger, and vanilla on medium-low speed. Add flour mixture, and beat until just blended. Gather dough into a ball; divide and flatten into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, about 4 hours.

Step 2

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Step 3

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with 1 dough disk at a time, unwrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out dough disk to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut each dough disk into 12 cookies. Transfer to prepared sheets, placing about 1 inch apart. Bake at 350˚F until puffed and slightly dark around edges, about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets 2 minutes; remove with spatula to a wire rack. Cool 10 minutes. Decorate with sprinkles.

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