But the process of rolling the dough, cutting out shapes, then decorating the baked cookies is a tradition I look forward to every year.
This year I got to wondering about the origin of gingerbread cookies. In case, like me, you’ve ever asked yourself, “Where does gingerbread come from”, according to Wikipedia, “Gingerbread dates from the 15th century, and figural biscuit-making was practiced in the 16th century. The first documented instance of figure-shaped gingerbread biscuits was at the court of Elizabeth I of England. She had the gingerbread figures made and presented in the likeness of some of her important guests.”
Now we all know Wikipedia isn’t always the most accurate, but I found this next part to be even more interesting, “According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world’s largest gingerbread man was made by the staff of the IKEA Furuset store in Oslo, Norway, on 9 November 2009. The gingerbread man weighed 1435.2 pounds (651 kg).”
Whatever size you make your gingerbread cookies, I hope you enjoy the process every step of the way.
How to Make Gingerbread Cookies
Should gingerbread men cookies be hard or soft? Is gingerbread supposed to be chewy?
The texture and consistency of gingerbread cookies is such a personal preference, and it also seems to be determined somewhat by where you live! Here in the US, we like our cookies soft with a little chewiness, but in the UK, people prefer their biscuits (and therefore gingerbread men) more crunchy or crisp. Personally, I like them soft and a little chewy, so that’s what you’ll find this recipe yields; but be cautious with the bake time, as overbaking these will still cause them to get hard! More on that below.
What is the main ingredient of gingerbread?
Gingerbread’s delicious flavors and intoxicating smells are thanks to two things: molasses, and spices (namely ginger and cinnamon). Molasses brings so much flavor to these cookies, and gives them their characteristic color, as well as bringing moisture to the cookies. More on molasses below. The spices are what really round out the flavor. I use ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg for an incredible flavor and a smell that will outmatch any candle for heavenly holiday scents. Some recipes use black pepper or cayenne, and you’re welcome to add a little of either if you like, but I personally don’t prefer it.
What are the ingredients for gingerbread man cookies?
- Flour: I used all-purpose flour for this recipe. Be sure to measure your flour correctly! If you add too much flour, you may end up with tough, hard cookies, and nobody wants that!
- Spices and salt: ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and a dash of salt give these cookies the best Christmas-y flavor.
- Leavening: baking powder & baking soda are both used here. Check out my Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder article to learn about the surprising differences between these two leaveners, and learn how to test that your leaveners are still fresh.
- Butter: Always use unsalted butter in baking. It’s important that your butter is at a cool room temperature. Your sticks of butter should give slightly when pressed with your finger but still hold its shape. To be precise, your butter should be 67°F.
- Light brown sugar: For the best flavor and additional moisture, we’re using brown sugar here. We haven’t tested using dark brown sugar, so I recommend sticking with light brown sugar here.
- Molasses: Be sure to use unsulphured molasses in this recipe, not blackstrap molasses. More on this below!
- An egg: At room temperature. Be sure to use a large egg, about 56 grams in shell. If your egg is too large or too small, that will impact the outcome of your baking greatly.
How to bake gingerbread cookies:
- Combine the dry ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to combine. Set aside.
- Beat the butter and sugar: Place butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes.
- Beat in remaining wet ingredients: Add the egg and molasses and mix until just incorporated.
- Add the dry ingredients: On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated.
- Refrigerate: Shape the dough into a thick disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours or up to 2 days.
- Once chilled, roll out the dough: Remove the gingerbread cookie dough from refrigerator and let stand until just warm enough to roll with ease. Roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness.
- Cut into shapes: Use a gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out shapes from the dough and place on prepared cookie sheets, spreading at least a 1/2-inch apart. Reroll remaining dough scraps into 1/4-inch thickness and cut out more shapes.
- Bake: Bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set and begin to brown slightly at the edges, rotating sheets halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the pans for 3 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
What type of molasses is best for these cookies? Can I substitute the molasses?
Be sure to use unsulphured molasses in this recipe, not blackstrap which is very potent.
I’ve received a few comments from readers who live somewhere molasses isn’t available. Molasses is a critical component of this gingerbread cookie recipe. So unfortunately substituting it with something different will affect the final taste, texture, and color of these cookies.
If you live in the U.K., you can use treacle in place of the molasses. It’s basically the British equivalent.
If you can’t find molasses or treacle, use maple syrup, dark corn syrup, or honey in its place. You may want to increase the spices in the recipe if you’re using a substitute to make up for that lost molasses flavor.
How to roll out and shape cookie dough:
To make things quicker, easier, and cleaner, I like to roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper or layers of plastic wrap. This way, you don’t need to worry about a lightly floured surface or a floured rolling pin, and avoids incorporating excess flour.
Be sure to keep the dough moving in quarter turns and push the rolling pin from the center out so you roll it into an even thickness.
As you cut out the gingerbread men shapes, you may find the dough has become too warm and soft. If this happens, just take the entire sheet of dough and pop it in the freezer or fridge until it’s solid again. If the cookie dough is super warm when it enters the oven they may not keep their shape as well, so you can again pop the tray in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up the dough.
How to make SOFT gingerbread cookies:
This recipe should yield gingerbread cookies that keep their shape but stay soft after baking, and are slightly chewy. To ensure this, avoid overworking the dough. It’s not bread dough, so definitely don’t knead it. Use a gentle hand!
Also, be sure not to over bake these. You’ll need to adjust the baking time depending on the size of gingerbread men cookie cutters you use. The smaller the size, the less time they’ll need in the oven. Take the cookies out just before they look completely done, they’ll continue to cook on the pan from the residual heat of the oven.
How do you know if gingerbread cookies are done baking?
Gingerbread Cookies are done when they are set and begin to brown slightly at the edges. They will harden further as they cool, so avoid overbaking so you don’t end up with hard, crunchy gingerbread! Underbake slightly to achieve soft, slightly chewy gingerbread cookies. If you’re not sure, you can always bake one cookie off first, to gauge the timing your cookies will need to be baked to your preference.
How to decorate gingerbread cookies:
I’m not a fan of royal icing, so I just included a very simple cookie icing in this recipe. You can learn more about my cheat for easy cookie icing here.
I find the simplest way to decorate these cookies is by making borders with the icing. You can also add buttons or a face with the icing, or frost the entire cookie if you prefer! A squeeze bottle is the best way to make quick and easy work of icing all of the cookies. Plus even the kids can get involved with squeeze bottles!
How to make gingerbread cookies ahead of time:
You can make and refrigerate the dough for up to 2 days. Just make sure it’s in an airtight container so it won’t dry out. The spiced flavor will actually intensify in the fridge, kind of like marinating a steak.
How to freeze gingerbread cookies:
The baked but un-iced cookies can actually be stored in the freezer for a couple months. Simple pop a tray of cookies in the freezer until they’re solid, then remove them to an airtight container. To defrost, allow to thaw at room temperature for a couple hours. If you’d like, you can refresh them in a 325°F oven for a few minutes.
Yum! We only have blackstrap molasses here in NZ but the dough has turned out great (I’ve eaten a fair bit of raw dough and its delish). Dough is cooling off in the fridge (summer Christmas, yuck) before we chuck the gingerbread in the oven so fingers crossed – thanks for an awesome recipe!
Way too much molasses. Overpowering. They don’t taste like a gingerbread cookie. At least they held their shape while baking, but that’s not really much to ask for. Would not recommend unless you are looking for a soft molasses cookie.
We appreciate your feedback. What kind of molasses did you use?
These are super easy to make! Everyone loved them. I live at 7000 feet and did not make any changes to recipe.
Thanks so much for sharing, Dina! Glad they were a hit 🙂
I chose this recipe, after searching for dark brown gingerbread cookie recipe. I’ve made regular gingerbread for years. I researched and found I needed to use “full flavor” molasses to get the dark color. Well, they turned out light brown, like always!! I’m really wondering what is going on…can you help?
Hi Kristen! I discussed this with Tessa, and she said you may have to experiment with different brands to get the specific color you want. Blackstrap molasses will produce the darkest color, but it also produces the most bitter flavor, which is why we don’t recommend it. Tessa’s favorite molasses brands are Grandma’s Molasses Unsulphured Original and Brer Rabbit All Natural Unsulphured Molasses Mild Flavor. I hope that helps! Please let us know what you find out!
I ended up using Brer Rabbit’s Full Flavor—and it turned out light. For about ten years I’ve used the Grandmas Original, as you mentioned.
When I’ve written to people on blogs, they always say they’ve used one of these two types. Are you saying your cookies turn out super dark brown when you use these types of molasses? Blog pictures show super dark brown, but then the cooks always say that they used these types of molasses but when I use them they’re not dark at all. So I’m thinking maybe the pictures are not from what is actually baked?
I’m going to experiment and use blackstrap. One cook’s blog said that she didn’t notice a flavor difference between it and these lighter molasses types. We’ll see what happens! Thanks for responding.
Hi Kristen, I had Tessa look into this further, and she said our photographer used a molasses product from the farmer’s market but couldn’t figure out what kind it was after she shot the photos because it wasn’t labeled like grocery store molasses. She wanted me to let you know also that photos and screens aren’t always true to life as far as precise colors go, especially for browns and tans. Please let me know how it goes if you attempt blackstrap, I’m interested to find out!
Thanks for looking into this, it’s been interesting to hear from you. I finally found one cook that did indeed use photographs of their cookies and not stock photos or other photos. She reported that only blackstrap molasses will give the super dark brown color, and the other types of molasses all create light gingerbread. She also said that she could not tell a flavor difference between the blackstrap and regular molasses. After reading maybe a dozen blogs/baking websites that say not to use blackstrap, but have accompanying photos showing cookies clearly made with blackstrap molasses, it seems these bakers just copied and pasted info onto their articles without really being doing the work of trying it out. When I do give it a try, I’ll try and get back to you. Sadly I purchased a lot of full flavor molasses as recommended by so many people, and I can’t get more until I use this stuff up. It’s pretty expensive stuff!
Hi, how can I replace the egg with if I want to make it vegetarian.
We don’t publish egg-free recipes, so I can’t say for sure!
In Australia we use Golden Syrup for our gingerbread bikkies or cookies as you Americans like to call our biscuits/bikkies ☺️ at Christmas time. It does alter the taste as it’s lighter than molasses hence changing the taste but I love it the way I make it and it can be substituted with same amounts in any recipe that has molasses.
I imagine UK may be same. Not sure just thought it might help.
I appreciate you taking the time to write in with your suggestion, thanks! 🙂
I made this as part of my Bakemas series for my IG. They were so delicious and my family and I had a lot of fun decorating them and spending time as a family. My only thing was I rolled the dough too thin so it wasn’t as fluffy as I expected.
These were so good! Soft with First time making gingerbread and these were so easy! Liked the easy icing too!
*Soft with great flavor!
Can I just reduce the amount of molasses in the recipe if I only have blackstrap?
Just was wondering how long can I keep the dough before I bake it, so I can make it in advance to bake it a few days later.
I have been baking and cooking my whole life. this is the first time I made gingerbread cookies, this was so easy. Thank you so much.
Hi, I made the cookies and the flavor is great and texture soft, but I was wondering how yours are so dark? Mine were the lighter brown color.
I haven’t made these but it calls for light brown sugar. Maybe using dark brown sugar will help get the dark color too?
Are unsulfured molasses the same as fancy molasses which I can get here in Canada?
Hi Lynne, as a fellow Canadian, I use Crosby’s Fancy molasses for baking, it is unsulfured. Crosby’s also has cooking molasses which can be used for baking and cooking as well as an unsulfured blackstrap, which I haven’t tried yet.
i like this recipe thank you.
yes i like.
Is there any alternative for molasses?
Hi! I’ve just updated the recipe tips box in this blog post with directions for subbing the molasses 🙂
Hi Tessa, I’m not sure I can find molasses in my country. Do you think it could be replaced with another ingredient? Thanks in advance! Ps. I love your work!
Hi! I’ve just updated the recipe tips box in this blog post with directions for subbing the molasses 🙂
I’m curious to know…you used light brown sugar instead of dark brown, & then you added in molasses? Isn’t it possible to eliminate the molasses by switching to use the dark brown sugar instead of the light one? The dark brown sugar already has molasses added to it…doesn’t it?? Thank you Tessa! I need to know before I screw anything up! LOL!
Also; I have snowmen cookie cutters my cousin bought me for Chanukah as a gift. I’m finding that the cookie dough loves to get stuck in the crevices of the ‘hat’ upon its head. Dough breaks off…well, you get the idea! Any suggestions as to use these cutters without an issue, when making this recipe? PS…THIS RECIPE LOOKS SOOOOOOO YUMMY!❤️
Not quite, Rita! Dark brown sugar does have a touch more molasses than light brown, but nowhere near 1/2 cup more as called for in this recipe. You can see more here: https://handletheheat.com/make-store-brown-sugar/
I would stamp out the shapes with the cookie cutter, but not remove the shaped dough to the baking pan yet. Instead, transfer the stamped out sheet of dough to the fridge or freezer and allow to firm before removing the shapes. This should help prevent breakage. Use your finger to hold down the hat part of the dough as you pull away the cookie cutter too. Hope that helps!