Maremman Christmas recipe. Italian gingerbread men

20131211_150126I've already decked the halls with Christmas decorations. I've bought most of my Christmas presents and I've planned the menu for Christmas dinner. I'm so prepared for Christmas that two weeks out, I'm having planning withdrawal. I want to do more Christmas things, but I've already done everything, which is why I found myself in the kitchen last night making one of the biggest mistakes of my culinary life. I decided to make gingerbread men. Sidebar: I don't like gingerbread men. I hate the taste of dried ginger, so you can tell this was a bad idea already. Things got much worse though when I realised that you can't buy maple syrup in Manciano. One of the six ingredients in gingerbread men is maple syrup - a bucketload of the goopey stuff. That wasn't even the worse part. I can't find those little men cookie cutters! They don't sell them in small town Maremma Tuscany. As my husband pointed out, most Maremman have never even seen gingerbread men. The spicy cookies are more common in Northern Italy, where healthy German relations have broadened their culinary scope. I make them because my mum used to buy them for me as a kid in Australia. They'd have little candies for buttons and lollies for eyes. I'd pick both of them off, eat them and give the cookie to my mum. Sometimes I'd lick the icing off first. In typical Australian commercialism spirit, I had just assumed I would find the cutter in little Italy and had already made the dough, so I plowed ahead anyway. The recipe I'm about to share is for Italian gingerbread men. They're gingerbread men with Italian flair and Maremman style, and they'll bring a little Tuscan spirit to your holiday table. I've adapted the recipe so it's small town friendly because Manciano is not the only town you can't find maple syrup in!

Italian gingerbread men

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Ingredients

  • 125g butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp dried ginger
  • 1/4 cup honey (or maple syrup if you can find it)
  • 2 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
Method Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until soft and pale. Add the ginger, honey, plain flour and baking soda. Mix to form a smooth ball. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up the dough. Roll out the dough evenly to about a 0.5cm width. Cut with gingerbread men cookie cutter (or a homemade cardboard cut out alternative like I did!) Bake in a preheated oven at 160°C (325°F) for 20-25 minutes. Now for the Italian bit! Make a batch of icing - I just mix icing sugar and water until I get the runny consistency I want. Divide into three bowls. Add a drop of red food colouring to one bowl, a drop of green to another and a drop of black to the last. Pour the icing into three separate piping bags. Or you could use zip lock bags with the tip cut off. Now decorate with Italian flair. My colours didn't turn out the way I planned, so I had pink, aqua and blue, but you get the idea! Here's what I did for some inspiration!
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my take on Sophia Loren

Italy's version of Santa Claus - La Befana - is on the left with my ode to my father in law with the mustache

Italy's version of Santa Claus - La Befana - is on the left with my ode to my father in law with the mustache

A close up of my father-in-law gingerbread man

A close up of my father-in-law gingerbread man

Elisa Scarton Detti

Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, fell in love (how cliché?) and decided to stick around. Not one to keep amazing holiday destinations to herself, she now writes a blog and travel guide about the infinitely beautiful Tuscany.

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