In large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. (Tip: To measure flour, stir it, spoon into measuring cup then level off. Do not scoop measuring cup into flour container to fill.)
In separate bowl, use an electric mixer (stand or handheld) to blend brown sugar and shortening (this will look crumbly). Gradually beat in molasses and 1/2 cup (125 mL) water until smooth.
Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the molasses mixture. Combine with a wooden spoon, using hands as needed, to form a dough. If it sticks to the bowl, work in another 1 tbsp (15mL) flour. Divide into 2 portions. Flatten into thick disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill at least 1 hour. (Note: This dough will keep in the refrigerator several days. Or freeze up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.)
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Line 3 or 4 baking sheets with parchment paper (or use fewer sheets but allow to completely cool between batches).
Flour board and rolling pin. Working with one portion of dough at a time. Roll it to about 1-in. (2.5 cm) thickness. The dough is soft. Lift off the board and reflour surface. Flip dough over and roll to 1/4-in. (5 mm) thickness.
Dip cookie cutter in flour. Cut shapes. Use a small knife to lift cut-outs off board. Place 1.5-in. (4 cm) apart on lined sheets. Re-roll dough scraps. Makes 28 4-in. (10 cm) gingerbread cookies.
Bake cookies 10 to 12 min., one sheet at a time. Cool on baking sheets to firm up before transferring to racks to cool completely.
To decorate, pipe with cookie icing available in baking aisle or make royal icing: place an egg white into bowl, gradually mix in 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) sifted icing sugar. Pipe onto cookies, sticking on any silver dragées, candies or sprinkles. Allow icing to dry until hard. Store cookies in single layers between parchment or waxed paper, in sealed containers, at room temperature. They will keep well for several weeks.
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