The jury is in on these Gingerbread Cookies!

I have a confession to make: I used a boxed mix. These are not my cookies; they are Trader Joe's. Maybe that makes this a product review more than a typical recipe post from me, but I don't mind. You see, I all-but swore off gingerbread after my last foray with the notoriously unruly dough when my aunt let me in on her gingerbread secret, the secret that I am about to share with you. This secret is that if you go to Trader Joe's and buy their Deep, Dark Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix, you don't have to deal with any stubborn, sticky, tantrum-inducing dough, and you wind up with some of the best darn cookies you've ever had. Seriously. Now, they apparently only sell this mix around Thanksgiving, but my aunt had an extra box and encouraged me to try making it - after all, she reasoned, L does love gingerbread cookies a whole lot. So, willing to try anything once, and being very interested in this un-taxing method for cookie preparation, I set to work on what would be our indulgent snack over this past weekend's skiing trip.

This dough comes together in one bowl - that's right, and not even the bowl of a stand mixer. Just a regular, glass mixing bowl. I mixed it with a wooden spoon instead of nervously watching the thick dough as it threatens to break even the dough hook of my house's beloved KitchenAid. I rolled it out without an extra pound of flour to remedy the sticking, cut out the shapes with ease, and watched as they baked and actually retained their shape. Well, most of them, anyway. They made the entire house smell like when autumn meets winter, and they tasted even better. There's a strong ginger taste, but they're soft - even though they're thin. Be careful, though, because this makes them really addicting, too.

I'll let you in on another secret: ice them. I don't mean flood them with icing, completely coating them, but decorate them with just a little bit. I initially decided to do this because my only resolution in 2011 is to conquer the Decorated Sugar Cookie, including botch finding a recipe and mastering the art of icing embellishment (as you see from the photos, I still have a long way to go). However, upon tasting them both plain and iced, I have to advocate for the iced ones. That extra sweetness gives the cookie a 1-2 punch that can't be beaten. My icing was sketchy at best, as I didn't have enough confectioner's sugar for the recipe and accidentally added too much milk. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to change it from a goopy, gloppy liquid into a firmer, more controllable substance, but there's only so much flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar you can add to an icing before you compromise its taste (though the cinnamon and brown sugar were nice additions, if I do say so myself, and might even suggest that you try doctoring your own icing recipe to include these two ingredients for this particular cookie - just be careful that you get rid of the chunks of brown sugar, which can back up your pastry bag and wreak goopy icing havoc).

Trader Joe's Miraculous Gingerbread Cookies
Yield: 2 1/2 - 3 dozen, though it will vary according to how large you make each cookie

The Ingredients
1 package Trader Joe's Deep, Dark Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg

The Method
Melt the butter in a medium-large, microwavable mixing bowl. Add the remaining two ingredients and mix well.

Form the dough into a ball and chill for at least one hour. When ready to start working with the dough, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out to approximately 1/8" thickness, cut desired shapes, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. These cookies do not spread very much, but still leave at least a 1/2-inch space between them. Bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes (I baked mine for 8, and only a few particularly thin ones were on the overdone side), then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and finish cooling.

Once completely cool, make your icing of choice (I used one that called for 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup milk; I wound up with something more along the lines of 1 cup powdered sugar, 3 1/2 tablespoons milk, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 cup flour, 2 tablespoons loose brown sugar, and as much cinnamon as I dared). Pour into a pastry bag, icing gun, or make-shift tool using a ziplock bag with a small cut made in one corner. Decorate cookies as desired, allow to harden, and then store in an airtight container.

Now, these will not be my go-to gingerbread cookies. As dirt easy and delicious as these gingerbread characters are, I'm still determined to find a successful from-scratch version. The fact that they came out of a cake mix has got me thinking that My Future Gingerbread Recipe will come from a marriage between cookie and cake, rather than pure-bred cookie. But until I find that cookie, these are fabulous, and every bit worth it.
Oh, and L loved them!

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