Confession: I didn’t make the one type of Christmas cookie that Ellie requested this year.
Honestly, it wasn’t intentional. I really thought that what I was doing would be okay. You see, Ellie’s request was to make the gingerbread men from Shrek. I thought this sounded like a fun idea, and was excited to create them with her. Then, as the girls and I cut out dozens of sugar cookies for a cookie decorating party we hosted, it occurred to me that we could easily save the time needed to make gingerbread men by simply cutting out some gingerbread shaped men using the sugar cookie dough we were already using.
In my brain, this seemed like the perfect solution.
Until I pulled the perfectly golden cookies out of the oven, showed them to Ellie, and watched with horror as her big green eyes welled up with tears.
After pulling her into a tight hug, I asked her what was wrong. With tears rolling down her 3-year-old cheeks, she tearfully wailed, “Mama, they didn’t turn brown. Gingerbread men are supposed to be brown.”
As I wiped away her tears, I responded the way any
good desperate mother would and exclaimed, “That’s because we are going to frost them with brown frosting!”
This saved the day.
Except that I’d never made brown cookie frosting before and, as you know, I am strongly against the use of artificial food dyes.
After looking at the pink dye-free frosting we’d already made, I decided to use that recipe as my base, and then to add unsweetened cocoa powder until I had achieved a color resembling the gingerbread man from Shrek.
One-fourth cup of cocoa powder later, and we were celebrating a total success. Not only did Annie and Ellie have fun decorating their cookies with friends, we now know how to make a chocolate-y, creamy frosting that is decadently delicious and gingerbread brown.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Ingredients (Makes enough for 3 – 4 dozen cookies, depending on size):
6 oz real cream cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp real butter, room temperature
3 cups organic powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla (not imitation)
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
Instructions (10 minutes, plus time to bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature):
Bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature (at least 2 hours, may be left out overnight).
Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or hand held mixer), cream together cream cheese and butter at medium-high speed for 2 – 3 minutes.
Add 1 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Mix over medium-low until powdered sugar is completely incorporated. Repeat with remaining 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup at a time.
When powdered sugar has all been incorporated, add 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder. Beat over medium speed until cocoa is incorporated and the frosting has a rich brown hue.
Use to decorate any cookie where a brown color or chocolate flavor is desired.
Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to three days. For easier spreading, allow frosting to stand on the countertop for an hour before using. (Otherwise, your frosting will look clumpy like my picture of the gingerbread man above. I learned my lesson before making more. For buttons and eyes, use a toothpick to get just a small amount of frosting.)
Notes: This frosting is naturally vegetarian, gluten-free, and nut-free. It is very important that you allow your cream cheese and butter come to room temperature before creaming. If you make this frosting with conventional powdered sugar, you may need to adjust the amounts. Conventional powdered sugar often contains an anti-caking agent such as cornstarch or calcium phosphate. This causes the frosting to become thicker than when organic powdered sugar is used. The type of caking agent could also cause this recipe not to be gluten-free. Please read labels and source organic if at all possible.
P.S — This frosting would also be perfect for making football shaped cookies for the big game!