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Holiday Desserts: Gingerbread

UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works' recipe for gingerbread, plus his professional cooking advice and garnishing tips.

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By Alison Hewitt, Photos by Reed Hutchinson '71

Published Nov 24, 2008 5:24 PM


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Gingerbread

"This recipe was given to me when I was [the assistant executive pastry chef] at Mandalay Bay," Works recalls. "It's really versatile. It makes nice soft cookies, or it can be really good for gingerbread houses if you firm it up by cooking it a little longer."

This is the recipe Works uses for his latest tradition — annual gingerbread house displays in the dining halls. Works also shares his secret to putting a shine on dull gingerbread, and his recipe for good icing.

A note

For purists, the complete, uninterrupted recipe appears at the end of this page. For the full cooking-school experience, read the annotated version of the recipe below, with tips and interjections from UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works.

Annotated recipe, with tips

Gingerbread

Ingredients

Cookies:
11 oz brown sugar
1 lb, 2 oz. sugar
10 oz. shortening
½ oz. baking soda
½ oz. salt
3 oz. molasses
5 large eggs –
Works recommends using only grade-A large eggs. That way, you know they're always going to be 2 ounces, Works says. "It keeps the proportions just right," he explains. "That's how I know my recipes will turn out right."
¼ oz. ginger
¼ oz. cinnamon
2 lbs, 6 oz. cake flour
2-4 eggs for egg wash

Garnish: (optional)
Royal icing
Your favorite candy
Raisins, currants, etc

Makes about 40 gingerbread men or one large gingerbread house, about 1 foot tall.

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UCLA Sous Chef Anthony Nigro and Baker Thomas Velasquez put the finishing touches on their gingerbread house. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Directions

Prep:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dough:
Combine brown sugar, sugar, shortening, baking soda and salt. Cream these ingredients together well. Mix in the molasses and eggs. Next add the ginger, cinnamon, and cake flour, and mix slowly for 1-2 minutes.

Shape:
Chill the dough until firm.
Chilled dough is firmer and rolls out better, Works says. Spreading the dough out a bit before putting it into the refrigerator will make it chill faster and more evenly. Roll the dough out and cut using cookie-cutters or gingerbread-house stencils. Don't forget to dust flour on your rolling surface to prevent the dough from sticking. "Don't be afraid to use flour. You can brush it off the bottom of the cookies with a pastry brush before you cook them," Works says. Place on a cookie sheet and brush with egg wash. The egg wash makes the cookies shine, Works explains. For an even coat, "brush it with an egg that you've whipped really well, and pour it through a sift to strain out the egg slime," Works says. "That makes 'em really shine."

Cook:
Bake at 350 for 11-14 minutes. Shorter cooking times will create softer cookies.
"The time for cookies just depends on whether you want 'em brittle or soft," Works says. Let cool, then garnish as desired.

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UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works completes his gingerbread house. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Royal Icing:
Mix the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Add the water in slowly and whip.
"Whip the living padooka out of it," Works says. "The more you whip it, the more it will volumize. But don't use a whip attachment, use a paddle." Keep a damp paper towel over the bowl or the icing will dry out. Use the icing to draw features onto gingerbread men or houses, or to cement candy to the gingerbread.

Garnish: There's no single way to decorate a gingerbread house, but here's one of the tricks Works uses. For front-yard Christmas trees and shrubs, he uses ice cream cones covered in frosting. Pointed sugar cones make good trees, and breaking the bottom off a cake cup ice cream cone is a good shape for a bush. Adding green food coloring to your frosting and using a pastry bag with a leaf tip will give you the same effect you see in the pictures of his gingerbread house.

Uninterrupted recipe

Gingerbread

Ingredients

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UCLA bakers Preston Hollister and Larry Bombach ice the roof. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Cookies:
11 oz brown sugar
1 lb, 2 oz. sugar
10 oz. shortening
½ oz. baking soda
½ oz. salt
3 oz. molasses
5 large eggs
¼ oz. ginger
¼ oz. cinnamon
2 lbs, 6 oz. cake flour
2-4 eggs for egg wash

Garnish: (optional)
Royal icing
Your favorite candy
raisins, currants, etc

Royal Icing:
1 ½ pounds powdered sugar
1 oz meringue powder
3 oz water

Makes about 40 gingerbread men or one large gingerbread house.

Directions

Prep:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dough:
Combine brown sugar, sugar, shortening, baking soda and salt. Cream these ingredients together well. Mix in the molasses and eggs. Next add the ginger, cinnamon, and cake flour, and mix slowly for 1-2 minutes.

Shape:
Chill the dough until firm. Roll the dough out and cut using cookie-cutters or gingerbread house stencils. Place on a cookie sheet and brush with egg wash.

Cook:
Bake at 350 for 11-14 minutes. Shorter cooking times will create softer cookies. Let cool, then garnish as desired.

Royal Icing:
Mix the powdered sugar and meringue powder. Add the water in slowly and whip.

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