This recipe is actually an adaptation of the dough I used for the house. You can use the house dough to make cookies (add some baking powder), but I remembered thinking the dough was pretty soft and greasy. For the house I baked the pieces until they were very brown and crisp, so the soft, greasy didn't matter. But for cookies I needed a dough I could cook until just barely done so the cookies would be soft. And I wanted to use butter instead of shortening in cookies I would eat (trans fats and all that).
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, can be cold
1/2 cup mild molasses
Royal Icing for decorating (see below)
1. Heat your oven to 375, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.
3. Combine the butter and molasses in a medium pot. Heat it over medium heat until the butter is half-way melted, stirring often. Remove from the heat and whisk until the butter is melted completely. While whisking, add the egg, and whisk the mixture until the egg is completely incorporated (this is important to keep the egg from cooking in pieces in the hot butter-molasses mixture).
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough to about 1/4-inch thick (mine was a little less than 1/4 inch). Use a cookie cutter to cut your shapes, remove the excess dough from around the shapes, and use a metal spatula to move the cut-outs to the prepared baking sheets.
5. Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until they are puffed and not shiny anymore, but not starting to brown around the edges. Let the cookies sit on the pan for about 3 minutes, and then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. If you're not going to decorated the cookies right away, store them, neatly stacked to prevent breakage, in a zip-top bag (make sure to squeeze out as much air as possible). You can freeze them for longer storage.
This recipe made 24 4-inch X 2 1/2-inch cookies. You can easily double the recipe for more cookies.
Note: I used 6 tablespoons of butter, instead of 1/2 cup, as an adjustment for my high altitude. If you live at lower altitudes, feel free to use the whole stick of butter.
1 lb (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue
6-8 tablespoons cold water, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer running on low, and 6 tablespoons of the water, 1 tablespoon at a time; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the vanilla and mix on low for 30 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix until stiff peaks form, 7-10 minutes (stiff peaks are when you hold up your beater and the pointy "peak" of frosting doesn't droop). With the mixer running on low, add the remaining water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you get the consistency of marshmallow fluff (don't add more than 2 more tablespoons unless you're going for a thinner icing). Keep the icing covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap to keep it from developing a crust.
For these cookies I used a plastic disposable decorating bag and a #3 decorating tip. If you're decorating with small kids, I've found it works great to put the icing in a plastic squeeze bottle (usually sold for making chocolates). My 2 year-old can even decorate with us with almost no mess when I use a squeeze bottle for her icing.