Areader recently wrote in saying that she finds most recipes for gingerbread men too hard and dry. She was looking for a recipe that made softer, moister cookies, the problem being that those kinds of cookies tend to spread and don't hold shapes well. I did some searching and found a recipe that ingeniously solves that quandary by freezing the shapes before baking.
Soft Gingerbread People
750 ml (3 cups) all-purpose flour
175 ml (3/4 cup) packed dark brown sugar
3 ml (3/4 tsp) baking soda
15 ml (1 tbsp) ground cinnamon
15 ml (1 tbsp) ground ginger
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cloves
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
175 ml (12 tbsp or 3/4 cup) butter, softened to room temperature, cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) pieces
175 ml (3/4 cup) dark molasses
30 ml (2 tbsp) whole milk
With an electric mixer, blend flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. (Break up any brown sugar lumps.) Add the butter pieces and mix at medium-low speed until the mixture is sandy, 1-2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add the molasses and milk, and mix until dough is moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds more.
Scrape the dough onto a work surface and divide in half. Working with one portion at a time, roll out dough between two sheets of parchment paper to about 6 mm (1/4 in) thick. Leaving the dough sandwiched between the paper, stack both portions on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, 15-20 minutes. Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one dough sheet from freezer, peel off top sheet of parchment paper and cut out dough using 12.5-cm (5-inch) gingerbread people shapes or 7.5-cm (3-inch) shapes. Carefully transfer cookies using a metal spatula to prepared sheets and space about 2 cm (3/4 inch) apart. Repeat with remaining dough. (Because flour is not used for rolling, scraps can be re-rolled and cut for more cookies. Just place in freezer for a few minutes to firm up.) Bake the cookies until set at edges and dough just retains an imprint when touched gently in the centre, 7-9 minutes. Baking time can vary with size. (Do not overbake.) Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Decorate as desired. Store in an airtight container with wax paper between layers for up to one week. (Adapted from The New Best Recipe)
Tester's notes: These were a big hit at our house. The spice level is warm and intense but not harsh, and the cookies, as advertised, are soft and moist.
Rolling out dough using parchment paper has advantages and disadvantages: it's harder to see how the dough is doing, but the method allows you to roll and re-roll without adding flour, which can toughen the dough. Because of my limited decorating skills, my gingerbread people tend to come out looking slightly drunk. After making a half-dozen people, I switched over to small stars and circles.