Several years ago during the holidays, I experimented with different thicknesses of gingerbread dough and patterned rolling pins and cookie molds. I found that the dough I was using made a perfect soft cookie with some adjustments to the butter and sugar, and the addition of a little extra molasses and corn syrup. The dough also kept the impression from an antique pin I had, and when it was glazed and cut into rectangles, the resulting cookies looked like tiles, with the glaze settling into the grooves and turning white from the crystallization of the sugar.
Originally, I used what is called a thread glaze, meaning that sugar and water are cooked together to the thread stage, cooled slightly, and then brushed on. The brushing action made the sugar crystallize and set. A simple water icing, confectioners' sugar and water mixed together to a thin brushing consistency, is easier and works just as well. The glaze seals in the moisture in the cookie and gives it a perfect amount of extra sweetness.
Sift the confectioners' sugar before combining it with the water to ensure a smooth glaze. If you are using a pin or cookie forms with a carved design, make sure to flour the top of the dough so that it doesn't stick in the crevices of the design. As long as the flour is lightly and evenly distributed, it will disappear from the surface during baking. The patterned pin and cookie plaques are often sold as spingerle molds or pins, after the Scandinavian cookie traditionally made with them.
To make the dough, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Set aside. Using a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy.
Slowly add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed until the mixture is completely smooth and soft. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and mix well.
Add the molasses and corn syrup and beat until incorporated. Stop the mixer again and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until a dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it on a large piece of plastic wrap into a rectangle about 1 inch thick, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick liner.
Unwrap the dough and place on a floured work surface. If using a plaque with a design, roll out the dough 1/3 inch thick, lightly dust the top with flour, press your cookie molds over the dough, and then cut out the shapes with a small knife and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart.
Alternatively, using the mold as a guide, cut around it with a small knife, flip the mold over so the design is facing you and place the dough over it, pressing it into the design. Unmold the shapes onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them.
If using a patterned rolling pin, lightly dust the lined baking sheet with flour and transfer the dough to the pan. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and roll it into a rectangle about 1/3 inch thick with a plain pin. Then, using the patterned pin, roll over the dough with enough pressure to ensure a clear impression of the design. Trim the sides with a small knife. It is not necessary to cut into smaller sizes before baking.
Bake the cookies until lightly golden along the sides but still soft to the touch in the centers, 7 to 15 minutes. The timing will depend on the size of the individual cookies, or if you have made a single large patterned piece that will be cut after baking.
While the cookies are baking, prepare the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and water until smooth.
When the cookies are ready, remove from the oven and let cool on the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then, while the cookies are still warm, using even strokes, brush a light coat of glaze on the top of each cookie, evenly covering it. Let the cookies cool completely.
When the glaze dries, it should leave a shiny, opaque finish. If you have used a patterned pin to make a single large plaque, cut into the desired sizes with a small, very sharp knife. At the bakery, we cut them into 3" x 4" rectangles, but 1 1/2" x 4" makes a nice smaller size.
The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for about 2 weeks. They do not freeze well, however, as the glaze becomes watery when they are thawed. Makes 12 to 20 cookies, depending on size of cutters.
If you want to make the traditional thread glaze for finishing cookies, heat 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 cup water over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat to medium and cook without stirring until the mixture registers 225 F to 230 F on a candy thermometer.
Remove from the heat and let the syrup cool to 180 F. Brush the syrup over the cooled cookies with a clean, dry natural-bristle pastry brush, brushing quickly back and forth to encourage sugar crystals to form. Once the crystallization begins, the glaze will continue to turn opaque over the next hour or so. Store as directed above.
Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson, Tartine (Chronicle Books, 2006).