Gingerbread Man Cookies

BEST Gingerbread Man Cookies! Deeply flavored with spices and molasses, tender or crispy depending on how long you bake them.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

No cookie says Christmas more than a gingerbread man cookie, right? They’re fun to make, fun to decorate, and even more fun to eat.

Years ago when I first started experimenting with gingerbread recipes, I made one truly terrible batch from a recipe in my favorite 1974 edition of the Joy of Cooking. That recipe called for 1/4 cup of butter for 3 1/2 cups of flour, and the result, as you might expect, had more structure than taste.

My guess is that the Joy cookie was originally developed to be a tree ornament, and while there is nothing wrong with cookie tree ornaments, I wanted gingerbread men and women I could EAT.

Gingerbread Man Cookies

This is the recipe I developed after much experimentation; it has stood the test of time, and produces cookies that are a joy to eat!

They’re deeply flavored with spices and molasses as any good gingerbread should be, and sweet enough to be a proper cookie.

Gingerbread Man Cookies

What would a cookie be without a secret ingredient? The spice that really makes this cookie sparkle is a scant amount of finely ground black pepper. I know we don’t usually think of adding pepper to something sweet, but trust me, it works.

I bake these cookies so they are more tender than crispy. If you want a little snap to them, just cook them a bit longer.

Gingerbread Man Cookies Recipe

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  • Prep time: 50 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Dough Chilling time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Makes 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature, softened)
  • 1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses (do not use blackstrap molasses)
  • Optional for decorating: raisins, currants, chocolate chips, candy pieces, frosting

Royal Icing

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)

Method

1 Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices: In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.

2 Make the dough: In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy.

Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in eggs and molasses.

Gradually add the flour mixture; combine on low speed. (You may need to work it with your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.)

3 Chill the dough: Divide dough in thirds; wrap each third in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. If after refrigerating the dough feels too soft to roll-out, work in a little more flour.

4 Roll out dough, cut shapes: Heat oven to 350°F. Place a dough third on a large piece of lightly floured parchment paper or wax paper. Using a rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Refrigerate again for 5-10 minutes to make it easier to cut out the cookies.

Use either a cookie cutter or place a stencil over the dough and use a knife to cut into desired shapes.

5 Transfer to baking sheet: Transfer to un-greased baking sheets. Press raisins, chocolate chips, or candy pieces in the center of each cookie if desired for "buttons".

6 Bake: Bake at 350°F until crisp but not darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit a few minutes and then use a metal spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired.

 

Royal Icing

The traditional way to make Royal Icing is to beat egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the powdered sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. With modern concerns about salmonella from raw eggs, you can either use powdered egg whites or heat the egg whites first to kill any bacteria.

With the heating method, mix the egg white and lemon juice with a third of the sugar, heat in a microwave until the mixture's temperature is 160°F. Then remove from microwave, and beat in the remaining sugar until stiff peaks form.

Using the powdered egg whites method, combine 1 Tbsp egg white powder with 2 Tbsp water. Proceed as you would otherwise. (Raw egg white alternatives from the 2006 Joy of Cooking)

If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency. Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes. (Or use a plastic sandwich bag, with the tip of one corner of the bag cut off.) Keep the icing covered while you work with it or it will dry out.

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Links:

Triple Gingerbread Cake here on Simply Recipes

Pumpkin Gingerbread here on Simply Recipes

A collection of gingerbread recipes through the ages from the Old Foodie

Showing 4 of 88 Comments

  • Tamara

    I tried this recipe tonight and it worked wonderfully! I used the royal icing recipe, which has hardened nicely on the cookies by now. So, I’m wondering about storing the cookies. Do they need to be stored in air tight containers?
    Also, I put the left over icing in the fridge in a plastic bag and I’m getting the impression that it won’t keep until tomorrow, when I hope to finish frosting them. So, I’ll probably go ahead and make an extra batch when I’m ready.
    Thanks for your help!

    I would recommend storing in an airtight container. ~Elise

  • Yentlsoup

    Although my family made over a dozen types of cookies every year at Christmas, we had no tradition of gingerbread. The last time I was asked to make gingerbread cookies, it was horrible. The dough was probably fine but the rolling and cutting was impossible.

    For this, I followed the recipe EXACTLY except for the pepper. My spice grinder finally gave up and I couldn’t get the pepper fine enough for this kind of thing. Also, for my first batch I skipped the second chilling step, and regretted it.

    For those who have not tried to make gingerbread men before, I would strongly recommend following the instructions carefully on chilling. It makes the difference between nightmare and just making tasty cookies.

  • Teater

    I followed the recipe exactly (except that I did raisins, no icing). They were easy to roll out. I baked them on the softer end of the time spectrum. Spice cookies are often best the next day and this was true here. Fabulous texture. But just pretty good flavor. I love molasses cookies but these should have tasted more of ginger since they’re gingerbread and for the holidays. Next time I will bake slightly crisp (one minute more), reduce molasses and increase ginger, and press the raisins in more firmly. Otherwise great.

  • Carolina

    Hi, I just wanted to thank you for posting this amazing recipe. I made gingerbread men for this christmass and couldn’t believe how great they were! I loved the spicy and softly sweet flavor, also the texture was great.
    I replaced molasses with honey, because I ran out of it and didn’t notice until I start cooking, but it didn’t mean a problem. Also, I didn’t use black pepper and instead added an extra ginger tablespoon.
    Thanks again, I’m visiting your blog again if I need to cook something for sure!
    Greetings from Chile :)

  • Dasha

    Just made those cookies, and loved the texture even though I messed it up a little when I added baking powder instead of baking soda first. Then I thought for a minute and added baking soda anyway. I only had a 1/4 cup brown sugar left so my men tuned out lighter than in the picture.

    I’m no expert in gingerbread but the cookies taste a little too much like pumpkin pie/bread too me. I might experiment with the spices the next time. Thanks for a good recipe!

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