Gingerbread makes for charming holiday stocking

Experienced bakers can try their hand at ‘needlepoint’ design

The Washington Post Special to The Washington PostDecember 11, 2013 

Julia Usher, a cookbook author and founder of the website Cookie Connection, has created a terrific, intricate needlepoint design for a gingerbread “stocking.”

The cookie stocking consists of four stacked gingerbread pieces, cut out with a large cookie cutter. A channel is cut in the middle two layers, and that provides a space for inserting the cookie “lollipops” that fill the stocking.

We were so taken with it that we asked her to share tips on ways to achieve it, which you’ll find in the accompanying directions. As you can tell, it’s a project for a steady, experienced hand. But we’ve included here two alternates that, while also fantastic, are easier to accomplish: an argyle pattern and a winter snowman scene. Even if you simply flood and fill, the “edible stocking” construction is simple to assemble with royal icing.

Tips:

- It’s important for this design that all of the stocking pieces line up, so I rolled out the dough on Silpat liners (parchment works just fine) on top on the baking sheet. That way, the cutouts don’t have to be removed, which will prevent distortion. Cut the pieces far enough apart to allow them to bake without spreading into each other, then carefully peel away the excess dough, which can be rerolled.

- The design calls for two hollowed-out cookie layers that will hold lollipops and small bits of candy, but one layer yields a sleeker look. I scored the interior cutout and baked the cookie whole, then retraced the lines and removed the insert piece just after taking the cookies from the oven. To ensure the layers are the same size, I placed the cutter over the cookie and, if necessary, gently pushed the warm cookie sides to line up with the cutter outline.

- Because you’re going to be using small decorating tips that can clog, sift the confectioners’ sugar for the royal icing; there are always a few tiny, rock-hard pieces that prevent the frosting from flowing evenly. I keep a needle close by while I pipe the icing, just in case. It usually does the trick.

- Piping straight lines is hard, even for experienced decorators. Practice a few lines on wax paper before you tackle the cookies. I used a zero (0) tip, which leaves a very delicate line, but a No. 1 is easier to find (most craft stores carry them) and will look fine.

- For the top, heel and toe of the stockings, pipe an outline and then, using slightly thinned icing, flood the areas and let them dry completely, about eight hours or overnight. (I used the same technique for the blue background on the snowman stocking.)

- For an argyle design, I scored the top of the baked cookie with a paring knife to mark the design, then piped the lines and pink background colors and let them dry.

- After the base colors are dry, add details as desired. For the argyle, I piped green lines and immediately sprinkled them with green sanding sugar, which added sparkle and texture. (For sugaring larger areas, such as toes, lightly brush with thinned icing and sprinkle with the sugar.) Let dry for a couple of hours.

- Glue stocking pieces together with thick icing and let them dry completely.

And her thoughts on Usher’s needlepoint design:

-It is a real challenge, but enlarging the design can make it easier. The trick is to pipe the lines as fine and straight as possible. I scored two perpendicular lines on the cookie top to serve as a guide, then piped vertical and horizontal white lines. (Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; it’s just a cookie, and this is supposed to be fun.) After the lines dry, go back and fill in the little squares with colored icing according to the diagram.

-For the cookie lollipops, cut out two cookies for each pop. Gently push a stick on top of one unbaked piece and bake in place, Decorate the cookie tops, and glue the two halves together.

How to make the needlepoint-design gingerbread stocking There are myriad ways to decorate the stockings for this project, so feel free to get creative! This needlepoint pattern is impressive, but it is time-consuming and requires a rock-steady hand. Feel free to cut corners by applying the pattern to just a portion of the stocking body.

For a simpler design, outline and flood stockings and write a family member’s name on each one to turn them into place cards or personalized gifts. Another timesaving note: The back sides of the stockings needn’t be decorated if the cookies will be viewed from only one side.

Step 1. Outline and flood the toe, heel and trim at the top of the stocking with red royal icing. Be sure to adjust the icing to the correct consistencies for outlining and flooding, respectively, for these tasks. Allow the icing to set for 1 hour or more, until a crust has formed. (A longer drying time will help prevent the dark red color from bleeding into the white grid that will be piped in the next step.)

Step 2. Pipe the needlepoint pattern. This step is nothing more than outlining and flooding taken to the extreme. The same basic techniques apply; you will just need to take a little more time if piping a very tight grid like this one.

-Fill a small disposable piping bag with white icing of outlining consistency (before you add any water to thin it) fitted with a very small round tip, such as PME No. 0 (find something like that at a craft store). Slowly pipe thin lines, parallel to one another, running the length of the stocking. If you’re an advanced decorator, challenge yourself by piping the lines about 1/8 to 1/16 inch apart for a very detailed grid. Alternatively, open up the grid by spacing the lines farther apart. Space the lines as uniformly as possible to ensure that your end pattern will also be uniform. Turn the cookie 90 degrees and then pipe lines running perpendicular to the first set, to completely fill the interior of the stocking with a white grid. Let the grid dry until the icing has crusted, about 30 or more minutes.

-Thin any leftover white icing to flooding consistency (similar to Elmer’s Glue). Also, mix red and green icing to flooding consistency. Then proceed to flood some holes in the grid, using a disposable bag and tip for each color. Note: It’s best to allow the icing in one cell to set slightly before filling an adjacent cell, as this will prevent the icing from flowing together and will result in more distinct beads.

Step 3. Use white icing of beadwork consistency to pipe larger white dots under the red trim at the top of the stocking and around the heel and toe “seams.”

Step 4. If needed, conceal the ends of lines with a few icing dots or a larger edible embellishment of your choice, such as sugar snowflakes or dragees. Use fairly thick icing “glue” to quickly adhere those or other relatively heavy sugar objects to the cookies. The thicker the icing, the faster it dries, and the less likely large pieces are to move around.

A piping bag with a tiny tip will help make the fine lines needed to reproduce the needlepoint design.

Gingerbread Stockings

Yield: Makes two 7-inch stockings and at least 9 small cookie lollipops

For the cookies

5 cups flour, plus more for rolling and cutting the dough

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup butter-flavored vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark molasses

2 large eggs

For the royal icing

1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 4 cups), sifted

1/4 cup meringue powder

1/2 cup warm water

1 teaspoon orange extract

Gel or paste food coloring, for decorating (see headnote)

Luster dust, for decorating (see headnote)

Note: These edible cookie containers fall into the “too pretty to eat” category. Each one can hold 3 or 4 cookie “lollipops.” See the accompanying directions and templates for assembling and decorating.

You’ll need a 7-inch stocking-shaped cookie cutter or the template we’ve provided

(((kerry T. says: LINE ABOVE SAYS THERE WILL BE TEMPLATE.)))))

; 1-to-2-inch round cutters; a handful of cake/cookie pop sticks, which are available at craft stores; luster dust and Chefmaster Liqua-Gel food coloring, both of which are available through online purveyors or baking supply shops.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be refrigerated overnight or up to 2 days. Undecorated cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month or individually wrapped and frozen for up to three months. The decorated cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

For the cookies: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cloves and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Combine the shortening and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on low speed until well blended, then add the molasses and eggs, beating until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Gradually add the flour mixture (on low speed) to form a sticky dough. Divide into quarters; shape each one into a flattened disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.

Line three baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Lightly dust each disk of dough with flour and place it between sheets of wax paper. Roll to a thickness of 1/4-inch. Lift off and reserve the top layer of wax paper. Dip the stocking cookie cutter in flour and cut out 8 stocking shapes in the dough, peeling away the excess dough. Use a sharp knife to score U-shaped channels in 4 of the stocking shapes; this will help create the space for holding the cookie pops. (Cut off their loops.) Use the smaller round cutters to create round cookies that will be affixed to sticks. Arrange the stockings and other cutouts on the baking sheets. Freeze for about 15 minutes or until the dough is firm but not frozen.

Position racks in the upper and middle sections of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees.

Use a cookie/cake pop stick to make a slight indentation on the backs of half of the round cookies; the cookies can be baked with the sticks in place or not.

Bake the round cookies for 6 to 8 minutes and the stocking cookies for about 12 minutes or until the edges are light brown. Leave them on the baking sheets for 2 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. While the scored stocking shapes are warm, use a knife to retrace the U shapes; remove them.

Repeat to use all the dough.

For the icing: Combine the confectioners’ sugar, meringue powder, water and orange extract in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on low speed to blend, then high speed for about 5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. If you are not using the icing right away, place plastic wrap directly on its surface. To create different colors, transfer icing to small bowls and add gel or paste food coloring.

Source: Adapted from recipes by Roxanne Roberts’ mother and from Julia Usher.

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