Spicy Ginger Houses

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger or 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Red cinnamon candies or other small candies (optional)
1 recipe Royal Icing (see recipe below)

1. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, ginger, pepper, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and molasses until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

2. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours or until easy to handle.

3. Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper; set aside.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 6x4-inch house-shaped cookie cutter, cut out dough. cut out small heart-shaped windows from houses if desired. Cut additional heart from scraps for decorations. Place house shapes on the prepared cookie sheet about 1 inch apart; place heart cutouts on a separate prepared cookie sheet because they may bake at a rate different from the heart shapes.

5. Bake house shapes in a 350 degree F oven about 10 minutes or until tops of cookies appear dry (bake heart shapes about 8 minutes). Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

6. When cookies are cool, decorate if desired with heart cutouts, candies, and icing, attaching candies and cutouts with the icing. Makes about 8 (6-inch) cookies.

Royal Icing


 In a medium mixing bowl combine 2 cups sifted powdered sugar and 4 teaspoons meringue powder*. Add 3 tablespoons cold water. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until mixture is combined; then beat on medium to high speed for 5 to 8 minutes or until mixture forms stiff peaks. (If mixture seems stiff while beating, add water, 1/2 teaspoons at a time. Icing should be fairly thick for piping. For a thinner glazing consistency, stir in a little more water after beating.) When not using, keep tightly covered to prevent it from drying out; keep refrigerated. Makes 2 cups.