Taste: The perfect balance of sweetness and spice that’s quintessential to this time of year! Texture: These bake up soft and a little chewy with slightly crisp edges. Ease: Very easy! You can make the cookies ahead of time and freeze them, too. Pros: An essential recipe to add to your Christmas cookie repertoire. Cons: None!! Would I make this again? Every year.
Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like a batch of homemade Gingerbread Cookies baking away in the oven. The aroma alone is the epitome of festive!
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. 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).”
Can you imagine?! I wonder if that giant cookie was even edible?
Whatever size you make your gingerbread cookies, I hope you enjoy the process every step of the way.
How to Make Gingerbread Cookies
Ingredients for gingerbread man cookies:
Flour: I used all-purpose flour
Spices: ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and a dash of salt give these cookies the best Christmas-y flavor
Leavening: baking powder & baking soda
Butter: use unsalted butter that has come to room temperature
Light brown sugar
Molasses: more on this in the next tip!
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 plastic wrap. 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. The 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.
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! 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!
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. Allow to defrost at room temperature. If you’d like, you can refresh them in a 325°F oven for a few minutes.
1 1/2sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2cup(100 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/2cup(168 grams) unsulfured molasses
For the icing:
2cups(250 grams) powdered sugar
2 to 3tablespoonsmilk
Make the cookies:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to combine.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg and molasses and beat until combined. On low speed slowly add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Shape the dough into a thick disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Remove the dough from refrigerator and let stand until just warm enough to roll with ease. Place the chilled dough in between two large pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap on a work surface. Roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Use a gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out shapes from the dough and place on prepared baking sheets, spreading at least a 1/2-inch apart. Reroll remaining scraps of dough into 1/4-inch thickness and cut out more shapes.
If at any point the dough becomes too warm to hold its shape, return to the fridge (or freezer) until firm again.
Bake 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 wire racks to cool completely.
Make the icing:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the ingredients until a thick and smooth icing forms. Add more milk if the icing is too thick, or more sugar if it’s too thin.
Transfer the icing to a piping bag, ziptop bag with a small hole cut in the corner, or to a squeeze bottle. Decorate the cookies with the icing. Allow to set before serving or storing.
If you make this recipe, be sure to snap a picture and share it on Instagram with #handletheheat so we can all see!
Recipe byTessa Arias
Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.
I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)
As a trained chef and cookbook author, I share trusted baking recipes your friends & family will love alongside insights into the science of sweets. I help take the luck out of baking so you *always* have delicious results! Learn more here.
Order your Ultimate Cookie Handbook Hardcopy!
Over 200 pages with 50+ cookie recipes that'll make you a COOKIE PRO. Discover how to turn your biggest cookie flops into WINS by mastering the sweet science of baking. Even learn how to customize your own recipes! Beautiful, hardcopy, full color, photos of every recipe so you know EXACTLY how your cookies should look. Order now to have the book delivered to your doorstep!
Do you want a more delicious life? Instead of digging through cookbooks and magazines and searching the internet for amazing recipes, subscribe to Handle the Heat to receive new recipe posts delivered straight to your email inbox. You’ll get all the latest recipes, videos, kitchen tips and tricks AND my *free* Cookie Customization Guide (because I am the Cookie Queen)!