Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top Secret

Once upon a time, from 1992 to 1994, my family resided in a frighteningly cold city called Edmonton. Upon our arrival in August it snowed. My mom cried, my dad shrugged, and we all tried not to think of how long it would be until we could go back home to Vancouver. My dad was finishing off his PhD at the University of Alberta, while my mom stayed at home and desperately tried to protect us from frost bite. My brother and I loved to play in the snow and there were only two rules: 1. Balaclavas were manditory. And 2. If the temperature dipped below -20 we weren't allowed outside.

We lived in a modest apartment just off of Whyte Ave. I don't remember it much, except that in the few months of warm weather we got a year, the garden out front was filled with bright bulbous, red flowers that smelt like dirt. Also, one time a skunk decided to make itself a home right underneath our apartment building. That was unfortunate. The one and only thing I remember clearly about that apartment was a wonderful woman named Linda Chorney who lived on the same floor as we did. Linda was a friend of my dad's from school. She was an artist who had hair down to her bum and an apartment full of masks. I loved to go to her house because it was full of toys and sometimes, if I was lucky, Linda would french braid my hair. I vividly remember my brother and I running down the hall to her apartment to visit with her. She would make us butterscotch pudding and we would sit in the middle of the kitchen floor spooning that sweet creamy pudding slowly into our mouths.

When our first Christmas in Edmonton came around, Linda presented us with a gift that would change our lives forever: a box full of innocent-looking Gingerbread men. "Oh how cute!" was probably the first reaction. But my how we were caught off guard by the first bite- these certainly weren't the gingerbread we had previously known. It was the texture that threw us for a loop. You see, Linda's gingerbread are soft, tender, and slightly chewy. Our love for these cookies was instantaneous. We were hooked.
Lucky for my mom, we never had to endure another snow storm in August again and we didn't stay in Edmonton forever. In 1994 we said goodbye to Linda and moved back to Vancouver. Linda promised to keep in touch and that she did. Nearly every holiday of the year Linda would send us a package. It would be loaded with all sorts of goodies: festive stickers, little toys, and a batch of her soft little gingerbread men. We looked forward to these parcels with the approach of every season. We quickly came to realize that no distance could keep us from our gingerbread friends.

Linda eventually grew tired of Edmonton and moved to Victoria. The packages became fewer and fewer and eventually stopped all together. Surprisingly the world kept spinning and the holidays still came and went the same. We nearly forgot about the famous gingerbread altogether until...

It was Christmas time last year. I was shuffling through my dad's very unorganized, very large, very messy recipe book looking for something inspiring. A little brown envelope caught my eye. "Recipes" was scrolled delicately across the front of the envelope. Curiosity got the better of me then, and I am sure glad it did. Inside lay that top secret, highly-coveted recipe for Linda's gingerbread. Right then and there I stood in the kitchen and started screaming. This is true. And if this doesn't give you an idea of how incredible these gingerbread are, then I don't know what will. I had uncovered the top secret recipe that I thought was lost forever. It was some kind of miracle. I baked a batch that very afternoon. We sat around the dining room table slowly eating our gingerbread men with blissful looks on our faces. It had been a long time since our last rendezvous, but things still felt the same. It was comforting and oh-so familiar, like and old friend you haven't seen in years. We sat there, nibbling on arms and legs, wrapped up in memories of snowfalls in the middle of summer and the woman who started it all.
Linda's Gingerbread

The key to soft gingerbread, Linda writes, depends on three steps:
1. Make the dough soft (just firm enough so that you can transfer it from the work surface to the pan)! If the dough is too stiff, she suggests that you add a bit of milk. I however have never had this problem... you should be fine :-)
2. Cut the cookies thick!
3. Remove the cookies from the oven just before they are fully cooked. They will be soft when they leave the oven but they'll harden as they cool! I have found that 9-10 minutes does the trick for me.

1 ½ cups butter
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups molasses (I use just under two cups of cooking molasses)
3 tablespoons vinegar
7 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cream together butter and sugar. Then dissolve baking soda in molasses. Add molasses mixture to creamed mixture along with vinegar.
Sift together next seven ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Combine thoroughly.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and roll to about ¼ of an inch thick. Cut dough with cookie cutter and transfer shapes to a parchment-paper-covered pan.
Bake cookies 9-10 minutes.

Yield: Makes a lot of gingerbread men. Fear not, for they freeze beautifully and make lovely, "life-changing" treats for all your friends.


  1. Hi! I like your blog - great writing and recipes so far. I'm 20 (well, 26...) and hungry, too. Are you still in Vancouver? I'd heard BC is really lovely; I've never been, although I lived in ON and QC for a few years each.

    The gingerbread men sound really, really delicious! Nice decorating, too. In my family, we grew up making nutmeg-spiced cutout sugar cookies with an eggnog-buttercream frosting, and my mom always made sure to cut them out thick (1/4") and take them out of the oven before we thought they were done. They were always perfectly soft, too. Maybe it's just a good technique for cutout cookies?? You know, I might make these for a cookie exchange I'm going to with some girlfriends on Friday - these would be perfect!!

    I'll be stopping back ... glad I happened upon your blog!

  2. Nightowlchef:

    I am delighted that you stumbled upon my blog and are enjoying it! I am happy to have you here!

    Yes, I reside in Vancouver and I love it. I seriously encourage you to make the journey out here one day. It is beautiful... the perfect place for an adventure!

    Oh those cookies your family used to make sounds sooo scrumptious! Eggnog icing nonetheless! Mmmm!
    You know, I've always preferred my cookies soft over crunchy...