Baking Large Martha by Mail Cookies- with Recipe!

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My Favorite Cookie

As a little girl I can still remember coming home from school and knowing when my mom was baking gingerbread. It was my most favorite thing in the whole world. She had a set of nativity cutters, but some were missing. The camel was the one that fascinated me. and I can still remember, even as a tiny child, having a camel gingerbread cookie. Did you know that there are two ways to spell cookie? It used to be more common for it to be cooky. But from what I can tell when the popularity of chocolate chip cookies became so great around the 50’s-60’s (they were invented in the 30’s though) people just used the plural noun spelling and it became the preferred spelling. I still think cooky is great though. I remember reading a Melendy Family book (Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright) and seeing the spelling as cooky. Of course they were written during and right after world war II. Gingerbread was a favorite of the Tudors and the royal court even had a gingerbread chef whose job it was to make it all day long! I think gingerbread is perfect for its taste and its history- it was used for very elaborate cookies and when the first fancy wood trim started showing up on the gothic houses of the 1840’s it was called gingerbread after the cooky. Wishing I had more gingerbread on my house, but thankful I don’t have to crawl up in some third floor eave of the roof and paint it, I became resigned to eat it instead!

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The Equipment

Equipment can either make a job a drag or a joy, but you don’t need to rush out to buy things- you can probably use what you already have. Instead acquire things gradually, replacing what you have with better as the first thing wears out. One thing that is essential to baking these large cookies is some sort of silicone baking mat. The dough is rolled out, cut, then baked and cooled all on the mat. I’m thankful that I was able to steadily acquire what I needed to bake these cookies because I do it often!

For the dough you will need either a hand or stand mixer. A stand mixer will make it much easier, but it can absolutely be done with a hand mixer, and then when the dry ingredients are added switch to hand mixing.

For the cutting of the cookies you need a Silpat or other silicone baking mat and a cookie sheet that it will fit into.  Save your Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons so you can get your Silpats at a discount. They are expensive, but worth it. They last YEARS and you will save tons of money by not having to buy baking spray. Also you won’t have to scrub the sticky spray off of your pans! Get heavy duty aluminum cookie sheets. I like to use jelly roll pans (they are just cookie sheets with sides) as they are easier to find and hold. You also need plastic wrap to put over the dough so the rolling pin doesn’t stick. This is key to maintaining the texture of your dough. If you add flour to keep the pin from sticking it starts to get stiff and unmanageable. I have 4 Silpats and 4 cookie sheets so I can have 2 cooking and 2 cooling at the same time. This speeds up the work a lot.

You won’t need any cooling racks as the cookies cool on the mats. But you will need some large Tupperware containers to store them in. It also helps to use the cookie sheets as trays to put the cookies on while decorating.

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Here the Cup of Tea cookies rest in a large Tupperware box I found at the Goodwill.

A Word About Ingredients

Most ingredients can be store brand, but there are a few that you will want to invest in and they make the most difference. The most important thing is food safety. So, I use only Eggland’s Best eggs as they have a great record of safety practices and are the least likely to have salmonella. I usually taste my raw doughs before proceeding to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. This saves me a lot of heartache. As I am interrupted quite a lot by my children this gives me a little extra assurance that the recipe is right! I have never gotten food illness from Eggland’s Best eggs and I love to eat raw chocolate chip cookie dough made with it. We have been using these eggs for over 10 years. We buy them in bulk at a warehouse club to help offset the extra expense. My family eats about 6 dozen eggs a month!

Other things I buy  good quality are vanilla, butter, and molasses. I do not buy butter at our warehouse store (Sam’s) because their butter is terrible for baking. If your cookies spread out really bad and the butter fats separate when you cream the butter and sugar you have poor quality butter. This is what we were getting at Sam’s and so I just buy the store brand. I buy the generic ginger in bulk because its cheaper, but I buy the best vanilla I can in bulk because it’s one of the most important ingredients. Buying in bulk saves a lot when you buy vanilla. And buy real vanilla.

Everything else I buy store-brand. It’s a great way to save money and you can’t tell!

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During Thanksgiving I was cutting dough with the Big Tom Turkey and Chubby Pumpkin cutters. Here those sugar cookies are baking in our O’Keefe & Merritt.

Cutting the Cookies

The best way to cut out the very large Martha by Mail cookie is to do everything directly on the Silpat. This reduces stretching and breaking; giving you professional results every time. Simply put a disk of dough on the Silpat, cover with enough plastic wrap to cover the Silpat and roll it out with a rolling pin.

When it is the desired thickness (this is very personal!) remove the plastic wrap and save it for the next round. Push a cookie cutter into the dough. If you use Martha’s don’t push very hard on the handle as the handle will bend. (Copper is very soft.) You can push around the perimeter to get a good cut, then lift straight off with the handle.

When you have fit as many cookies as possible into the dough start removing the extra dough from around the cookies. This is the negative dough and it can be used again. Do this by lifting a piece of the extra dough and roll it with your finger until it rolls up.

When done, place the Silpat with raw cookies on it onto your cookie sheet and bake!

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Big Tom Turkey sugar cookies along with scrap dough baking away at 350!
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Results! This shows the set-up: dough on Silpat, cut and negative dough removed, then baked and cooled- all on the mat!

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About the Recipe

I am making these cookies with my beloved gingerbread recipe. Tasha Tudor, one of my favorite children’s authors and illustrators called them by their old-timey name, reciepts.  This one I developed after many taste tests and batch tests. I needed something delicious, easy to work with, easy to make, with workable dough that made large batches and cooked well, held up well but wasn’t going to break teeth, and wasn’t too spicy.  (Did you know that some recipes have pepper in them? Maybe some of you like my DH think this is great, but pepper, to me, does not ever belong in cookies!)

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We have had a gas stove for the last 3 years and I love it! Her heart beats at the center of our kitchen and she warms everything up with a delicious baking smell. I swear, Mrs. O’Keefe is magic!

 

Heirloom Gingerbread Cookies

6 Cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ginger
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 & 1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks butter
1 Cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 Cup unsulfured molasses

Mix together all dry ingredients with a wire whisk. In a separate bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together, butter and sugar, then add eggs and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients and molasses altering cups of each until done and a dough forms.

Divide dough into 4 balls and flatten. This dough works best if you use it right away but can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Allow to come to room temp. before baking with it.

When ready to bake, roll out dough onto Silpat. First cover dough with a sheet of plastic wrap, then roll out with the rolling pin. Cut out cookies and gently remove negative or extra dough from around them. You can do this by rolling up the extra dough with your finger once you pull up a piece. Bake for 10 minutes in a 350 Farenheit oven. Let cool on the Silpat on the cookie sheet while another batch bakes. Then transfer carefully with a metal spatula to your storage container. This way your very large cookies won’t break. Put layers of wax paper between cookies so they won’t stick together in storage.

 

Next time we will learn all about royal icing and its beautiful applications! Meanwhile let your cookies stay in storage for a week or so and rest!

With love and wafting smells of baking gingerbread from Kansas Street to you,

-Jaime

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