Gingerbread is the scent of the season. This richly spiced cookie, teeming with ginger, cloves, and cinnamon, perfumes your house from the moment you begin mixing the dough to the first tray that's pulled out of the oven. But gingerbread cookies can be a little finicky. With the wrong recipe or a few missteps they can become hard or, worse, bland! We're not having that, so we created a gingerbread cookie recipe that is not only incredibly flavorful, but also easy to handle.
Starting with a cherished family recipe, a few wise words from a gingerbread expert, and a few trays of cookies later, we ended up with the recipe we're sharing here. So ready your icing and round up the gum drops because this is the gingerbread cookie recipe to carry you through the holiday season.
An Heirloom Gingerbread Recipe
When we started the quest for the perfect gingerbread cookie recipe, I immediately messaged my friend and former colleague about her family's gingerbread traditions and recipe. Being the generous friend she is, she sent along the recipe with the following note:
"Our yearly tradition [of baking gingerbread cookies] comes on the weekend following Thanksgiving when we gather to build gingerbread houses. It's a tradition that started more than 40 years ago when my mom tore a recipe from Family Circle magazine in the early 1970s. She was a newlywed and I'm sure she had no idea that from those grease-stained pages would come years of memories with friends, children, and grandchildren. Over the years we have all tweaked the recipe to get a dough that feels just right when we cut it out — some years we've added an extra egg or a few more scoops of flour depending on the humidity and whether we are eating the cookie out of hand or building our own Christmas village. This is the most recent incarnation of this heirloom recipe."
Read more: The History of Gingerbread
Baking with Molasses
Starting with my friend's family recipe, we increased the spices and molasses to make a soft, more flavorful cookie. Molasses flavor is at the forefront with spice in the background. This isn't the bland, one-note spice cookie that is abandoned on the holiday cookie platter. The molasses adds both moisture and acid to the dough, making it quite lovely to roll and cut into clean shapes. It also helps the cookies rise a bit better while delivering a final product that has a chewy center and crispy edges.
Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Molasses
How to Freeze Gingerbread Cookie Dough
Stash plastic-wrapped dough in a freezer zip-top bag and freeze for up to one month, making sure to label with baking temperature and time. Thaw the dough overnight in the refrigerator before rolling, cutting, and baking. Baked cookies can also be frozen — just bring them to room temperature before serving.
Hosting a Cookie-Decorating Get-Together of Your Own
With our cookie recipe solidified, I called on expert Catherine Beddall, author of The Magic Of Gingerbread, to talk gingerbread decorating and gifting. Catherine has spent her career creating stunning gingerbread houses, but says she enjoys hosting her children's friends for cookie decorating each year.
Her best advice: Be prepared. Make sure that your cookies are baked and cooled before guests arrive. She also suggests limiting icing to two or three colors, making multiple bags (or squeeze bottles) of each. Decorating gingerbread cookies with candy is a nod to their Medieval roots, but Catherine suggests keeping it simple with gumdrops and candy-coated chocolates.
How To Make Gingerbread Cookies
Makes 4 1/2 dozen (3-inch) cookies
What You Need
(18 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus 1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) for rolling
1 1/2 teaspoons
freshly grated nutmeg
(6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
(5 1/2 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
(12 ounces by weight) molasses
Measuring cups and spoons
Stand mixer with paddle attachment
Cookie cutters, such as rounds, person, trees, snowflake, star
Whisk the dry ingredients together: Whisk the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl; set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar: Place the butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until the butter is fluffy and lightened in color, about 3 minutes.
Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla: Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla and mix on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. The butter may appear to separate out, but it will come together as you add the flour and continue mixing.
Add the dry ingredients: Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add the flour mixture, then mix on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute. The dough should be thick and tacky.
Chill the dough: Remove the dough from the bowl. Divide the dough into 2 portions, then shape each portion into a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm but pliable, at least 2 hours or overnight.
Heat the oven: Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Roll the dough: Sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour onto a work surface and rolling pin. Unwrap one portion of dough and place on the flour. Roll 1/4-inch thick, turning and flipping the dough every few rolls to prevent sticking. Brush any excess flour from the top of the dough with a pastry brush.
Cut the cookies: Use cookie cutters to cut as many shapes as possible from the dough. Transfer the cut shapes to the baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between each cookie. Dough scraps can be rerolled and cut, but may need to be chilled again if the dough becomes too sticky to get a clean cut. Repeat rolling and cutting the second portion of dough until the baking sheets are filled.
Bake the cookies: Bake for 4 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets between racks and from front to back and bake until the edges appear dry and are slightly darker brown than the rest of the cookie, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating. Repeat baking the remaining dough, letting the baking sheets cool completely between batches but reusing the parchment paper.
Decorate the cookies: Once cooled, decorate the cookies with Royal Icing.
Freezing instructions: Stash plastic-wrapped dough in a freezer zip-top bag and freeze for up to 1 month. Make sure to label it with baking temperature and time. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before rolling, cutting, and baking. Baked cookies can also be frozen. Just bring to room temperature before serving.