To make the Gingerbread People: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In a mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in the ginger, cloves, salt, and pepper, then the molasses and eggs.
Add the flour mixture; combine on low speed just until the flour is incorporated. Divide the dough into thirds, and wrap each piece in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
On a floured work surface, roll the dough 1/8 inch thick.
Using cookie cutters of various sizes, cut out your gingerbread people!
Transfer to ungreased baking sheets, and bake until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on wire racks for 20 minutes before decorating.
To make the Royal Icing: In a mixer, beat the powdered sugar, water, and meringue powder on low speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium, and continue beating until the icing forms soft peaks, 6 to 8 minutes. For a thinner icing, add 1/2 teaspoon additional water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
Working quickly, transfer enough icing to fill half a piping bag. Twist the bag to close and secure with a kitchen tie. Cover the surface of the rest of the icing with a slightly damp kitchen towel until refilling the bag, or cover and refrigerate for later use. (Makes 3 cups)
Decorating your Christmas buddy can be as simple as a few dots of royal icing, or as fancy as you like. Red Hots and mini chocolate chips are old favorites, while colored sugar sprinkled on top of freshly piped icing can be used to add wonderful color and texture. Cookies will take approximately 30 minutes to set. Store cookies in a large Tupperware container by laying them flat between sheets of parchment or waxed paper.
At room temperature, they will last up to 1 week; refrigerated, 2 weeks; and frozen, 3 months.