Like many great cookie recipes, this one was born by accident. One year while I was making gingerbread men, some careless dough-rolling birthed a man who baked up chubby, thick and cakey, not flat and crisp like his brothers. Surprisingly, this textural mutation of a gingerbread man turned out to be the best one of all. You can call it cookie evolution, the accident that led to the creation of these chewy, molasses-spiked cookies. With their warm, spiced flavor and cake-like softness punctuated by the coarse crunch of sparkly sugar, you might also call them a new holiday tradition.
The dough is a basic gingerbread cookie dough, spiced with a good amount of black pepper. Once made, it needs to firm up in the refrigerator for several hours, but it can also be made up to two days before baking. For maximum cakey thickness, the dough is formed into balls before being dipped in coarse sugar, which adds a pretty sparkle and compelling crunch to the finished cookies.
Although it might be tempting to substitute more butter for the vegetable shortening, the resulting cookies won't have the same puffy softness. Instead, the all-butter version of this recipe sinks down into a flatter, crinkly cookie — still good, but in my opinion, not as much of a stand-out as the version with shortening.
It's been years since my accidental discovery of these thick, cake-like cookies and they've made an appearance in my holiday cookie spread many times. Without fail, whenever they do, someone always approaches me to say, "That one, that gingerbread cake one..." in a tone of voice that says they could have eaten two dozen more. Accident, evolution, gingerbread cookie revelation — whatever you want to call it, this recipe has become a holiday classic for me.
Gingerbread Cake Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg
Turbinado sugar or other coarse sugar
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt, and black pepper, and set aside.
Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening until smooth and well-combined. Add the brown sugar and beat until fluffy and pale, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. With a spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture. Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours, or up to 2 days.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Pour a little of the coarse sugar into a small, shallow bowl. Break off a small piece of dough and form into a ball about 3/4 inches in diameter, or scoop out dough with a small ice cream scoop. Dip the top in the sugar and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges of cookies are firm and look dry, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking.
Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Related: How Much Gingerbread Would It Take To Build a Life-Size Gingerbread House?
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)