These spicy gingerbread sandwich cookies get their kick from black pepper and cayenne in the dough. The cream cheese frosting works double time -- as a filling it mellows the ginger kick just enough, and it decorates the tops of the cookies, too.
a 3 1/2 inch-wide by 3 3/4-inch-tall Christmas tree cookie cutter; a large piping bag with a small round tip (tip size 6)
For the cookie dough: Whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, salt, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne and baking powder in a medium bowl.
Beat the granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses until combined, then the egg (the mixture might look curdled). Add the flour mixture and mix on low until the dough comes together. Divide the dough in half, flatten each half into a disk and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Keeping one dough disk refrigerated, roll the other on a well-floured work surface to 1/4 inch thick, sprinkling flour on and under the dough as needed and sliding a spatula underneath every so often to prevent sticking (if the dough looks crackly or breaks apart, press it back together from the outside edge in). Use a 3 1/2-inch-wide by 3 3/4-inch-tall Christmas tree cookie cutter to cut out trees as close together as possible. Pull away the extra dough around each shape, then use a small offset spatula to transfer the trees to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 1/2 inch apart (they will not spread much during baking). Reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Repeat this process with the remaining dough disk to make about 22 total. Freeze the cookies until firm, about 15 minutes.
Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through cooking, until the cookies are slightly firm to the touch but not browned at the edges, about 12 minutes. Cool the cookies for 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 20 minutes. The cookies will continue to firm as they cool.
For the filling: Beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar and salt and mix until smooth and creamy. Transfer the frosting to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (size 6).
For the add-ins: Pipe frosting in the style of a garland on half of the cookies. Lightly press the candy-coated chocolates into the frosting garlands. Cut the pretzel sticks to the same length as the cookie tree trunks. Pipe a small amount of frosting onto the trunks, then press pretzel stick pieces into the frosting. Turn the remaining cookies over (bottom-side up) and pipe frosting onto each. Top each with a decorated cookie and serve immediately.
When measuring flour, we spoon into a dry measuring cup and level off the excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)
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