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Gingerbread Butter Drops with Lemon Glaze

I have eighteenth-century cookery book author Amelia Simmons to thank for inspiring this confection. In her 1796 cookbook, American Cookery—the first cookbook authored by an American—she included two spiced Butter Drop cakes (cookies, really) among her no less than five gingerbread recipes. My version of these buttery gingerbread butter drops indeed puts me in mind of the small spice cakes and sugary confections that adorned dessert tables in Europe and America centuries ago. Usually arranged on silver or glass épergnes or surtouts de tables (ornamented center dishes), sweetmeats of this kind were as visually dazzling as they were celebrations of the confectioner’s skill. Cloaked elegantly in sheer white glaze, these petite treats would have been well suited to a gleaming eighteenth-century silver dish or glistening cut-glass tray.

Fortunately, these tender gingerbread butter drops, flavored delicately with lemon and spice, are easier to prepare today than they might have been centuries ago. The dough comes together quickly and requires no chilling before shaping and baking. The glaze (which often seems daunting but really isn’t) is also a snap and only requires whisking together a handful of ingredients.

Served for dessert, as part of a petit four tray, or packaged as gifts, these gingerbread butter drops offer a unique and elegant twist on traditional dark gingerbread.–Jennifer Lindner McGlinn

Gingerbread Butter Drops with Lemon Glaze Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H
  • 3 H
  • Makes 32 butter drops

Ingredients

  • For the drops
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon heavy (whipping) cream, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or oil
  • Royal Icing (optional, see recipe below)
  • For the lemon glaze
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract or lemon oil (optional)

Directions

  • Make the drops
  • 1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • 2. Whisk together the flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
  • 3. Put the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Incorporate the cream and lemon extract, mixing until smooth. Reduce the mixing speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together. (The dough should form a fairly moist clump when you squeeze a bit in your hand. If it seems too crumbly, mix in additional cream, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until you’re satisfied.)
  • 4. Turn the dough out onto a flat work surface and shape into a cylinder about 3 inches in diameter. Divide the dough into quarters. Divide each piece into quarters again, and then cut each of those pieces in half, creating 32 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. (The butter drops expand slightly during baking.) Press the balls lightly so they stay put and don’t roll around on the sheet.
  • 5. Bake the butter drops for about 20 minutes, or until they are very light golden brown. Cool the butter drops on the baking sheets set on wire racks for about 2 minutes before removing them to the racks to cool completely. (You can store the butter drops at this point in airtight containers for up to 5 days, or proceed to coat them with glaze.)
  • Make the glaze
  • 6. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, hot water, lemon juice, and lemon extract (if desired) in a large bowl until smooth. Warm the glaze in the microwave at about 10-second intervals until it is just barely warm to the touch. (Warming the glaze will loosen it a bit and make it easier to coat the butter drops).
  • Finish the drops
  • 7. Arrange the cooled butter drops on a large wire rack set over a large baking sheet or sheet of aluminum foil. Drop the butter drops, one at a time, into the glaze, turning them with a fork to coat them completely. Using the fork, lift the butter drops out of the glaze, tap gently on the edge of the bowl to remove any excess glaze, and return them to the wire rack. Warm the glaze again in the microwave, if necessary, about halfway through the batch.
  • 8. After the butter drops have dried for about 5 minutes, gently reposition them on the rack, using a clean fork or paring knife, to prevent the glaze from clumping at the bases. Set the coated butter drops aside in a dry, cool area until the glaze is firm, about 45 minutes. Coat the butter drops a second time in the same manner, warming the glaze again to loosen it. (Store any leftover glaze in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
  • 9. To decorate the butter drops, pipe dots or swirls of royal icing on top of the butter drops, if desired. Set aside to dry completely, about 1 hour. (Store the butter drops in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment or waxed paper, for up to 1 week.)

Royal Icing

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
    1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
    4 large fresh or pasteurized egg whites
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and begin beating on medium-low speed. Add the egg whites, increase the mixing speed to high, and continue beating until the icing is smooth, thick, and glossy, about 7 minutes, stopping at least once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. (If you’re working on a particularly dry day, you might need to drizzle in more egg whites to reach this consistency.)
  • Scrape the icing into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly on top of the icing to prevent it from drying. (Use the icing immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Warm the icing to room temperature before beating again until smooth).
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