Sherrill’s Soft Gingerbread Boys: Gingerbread is another must-have in the holiday season. The big question is whether you want - or need - them soft or crunchy. In the two database recipes we pitted against each other, soft came out on top. Sherrill's Secret Soft Gingerbread Boys, a copycat from a long-departed Washington eatery, won out for both texture and a spiced, but not overpoweringly so, flavor. These are simply decorated with a glaze and currants or raisins, but there's nothing stopping you from getting fancy with your favorite icing.
Servings: 16-18 large cookies
This is cookbook author Nancy Baggett's re-creation of a popular gingerbread cookie sold at a former landmark eatery on Washington's Capitol Hill, Sherrill's Restaurant and Bakery. The cookies are fragrant with spice, plump and slightly soft, yet not cakey. They are finished with a light, sugary icing that is reminiscent of doughnut glaze.
You'll need a 4- or 5-inch gingerbread man cookie cutter.
Make Ahead: The dough needs to be refrigerated twice; first, for 30 minutes, and then for 30 to 40 minutes or up to 12 hours (or freeze faster; see times, below). Pack the cookies flat, with wax paper between the layers, in an airtight container for up to 1 week. They can be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.
For the cookies
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/3 cup corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil
1/2 cup clover honey
2/3 cup light (mild-flavored) molasses
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
3 1/3 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Raisins or currants for the eyes and buttons
For the glaze
1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring if lumpy
1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil
3 1/2 tablespoons water
For the cookies: Combine the butter, oil, honey, molasses and brown sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the butter melts and the mixture just comes to a full boil; immediately start timing and cook for exactly 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Let cool slightly.
Combine the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Beat on low speed; working carefully to avoid splashes, add the cooled butter-molasses mixture, beating (low speed) until the ingredients are incorporated. Increase the speed to medium, beating until very well blended; if the mixer motorlabors, stop and complete the mixing by hand. (The dough will seem too soft at this point.) Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until the dough has stiffened and is barely warm.
Divide the dough into thirds. Roll out the portions a generous 1/4-inch thick between sheets of parchment or wax paper. Stack the rolled portions (paper still attached) on a tray or baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 30 to 40 minutes, or freeze for 20 to 25 minutes or until cold and firm. (The dough may be refrigerated for up to 12 hours, if preferred.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners
Working with one dough portion at a time (leaving the remainder chilled), gently peel away one sheet of paper, then lightly pat it back into place. (That will make it easier to lift cookies from the paper later.) Flip the dough over, then peel off and discard the second sheet. Using a 4- to 5-inch gingerbread girl or boy cutter, cut out the cookies. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. (If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a tray or baking sheet, and chill until firm again.) Gather up and reroll the dough scraps between sheets of paper. Continue cutting out cookies until all the dough is used. Very firmly press raisins into the cookies for eyes and front buttons.
Bake one sheet at a time (middle rack) for 9 to 14 minutes, until the cookies are slightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges; it's better to over-bake than under-bake. Cool on the sheet for about 4 minutes; then, use a wide spatula to transfer to wire racks set over a sheet of wax paper. Have all the cookies lined up and slightly separated before beginning the glaze.
For the glaze: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, oil and water in a medium saucepan until well blended over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring, for 30 to 45 seconds or just until the mixture is smooth and becomes translucent. Stir to recombine the glaze, then use right away while it is still hot. (If the glaze is allowed to stand and cool, it may thicken and become sugary. In that case, add a teaspoon of hot water to thin it again, place over medium heat and continue stirring until the sugar dissolves. Immediately remove from the heat and use.)
Use a pastry brush or a paper towel dipped in the glaze to brush the cooled cookies until their tops are coated all over with an even layer, not too thick or too thin. Stir the glaze frequently to prevent it from separating. Let the glazed cookies cool completely, at least 1 hour; the glaze may become slightly sugary and flaky.
Baker Howard Ward was not willing to part with his original recipe, but several fans of the Sherrill's version have told Baggett that hers is very close to the original. Adapted from her "The All-American Dessert Book" (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).