For some, the snap of peppermint bark or a sip of eggnog is the classic holiday treat, but for me, it’s warm soft gingerbread! Once November hits, I’m all over gingerbread in its many forms. I love its spicy-sweet and deep rich flavor with a hint of earthiness from the molasses.
And though I love gingerbread cookies, often I need a hit of gingerbread without the fuss of cookie cutters. That’s where gingerbread cookie bars come in! They’re easy to make in one big pan, yet still have the classic gingerbread flavor that everyone expects during the holidays.
What Kind of Molasses Makes the Best Gingerbread?
Molasses, a bitter, earthy, and sweet syrup, is a key ingredient in gingerbread cookies. It’s a dark and rich sweetener that is a byproduct of making granulated sugar.
As the sugar is refined and crystallizes, the leftover liquid reduces into molasses. The sugar is refined three or more times, to pull out as much sugar as possible and with each processing, the liquid is reduced even more. That’s how you end up with three types of molasses, each more assertive in flavor than the previous one.
- Use either light molasses or dark robust molasses when making these gingerbread bars. Light molasses is more delicate than dark (sometimes called robust or full-flavored) molasses, which has a bold, strong flavor. The choice is up to you and your tastes!
- You can swap out dark corn syrup in place of molasses. Keep in mind the flavor won’t taste the same.
- Don't use blackstrap molasses. Its flavor dominates the other spices.
- Don't substitute honey or maple syrup. The sweetness level and the water content of both of those will alter the texture of the bars and won’t give you that classic gingerbread flavor.
What Spices Are Used in Gingerbread
Gingerbread is predominantly flavored with ginger. I use dry powdered ginger in this recipe as it’s the easiest and most common to use. But I also use a blend of a few other spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Feel free to play around with the spices or use different wintery spices to customize these bars to your liking. Just make sure to use more ginger than any of the other spices to keep the classic gingerbread flavor. Other spices that you might want to try using include mace, cardamom, black pepper, or allspice.
The Best Frosting for Gingerbread Bars
I love the combination of cream cheese and gingerbread! The sweet tangy frosting balances the deep spiciness of the gingerbread. But you can skip the cream cheese frosting if you don’t feel like making it, or if you don’t like cream cheese frosting.
Try these other frostings instead:
- Easy vanilla buttercream frosting if you want that sweet frosting flavor without the cream cheese tang.
- A light dusting of powdered sugar works for a super easy, no-fuss presentation.
- Get fancy and drizzle royal icing on the bars for a festive decorative touch, and immediately shake some holiday sprinkles over the still-wet icing so they stick.
The Best Way to Slice Bar Cookies
For the cleanest presentation, I like to use a parchment “sling” that allows me to lift the bars out of the baking pan easily.
- Spray the baking pan lightly with cooking oil.
- Line the pan with parchment paper, making sure the paper is hanging over the sides of the pan.
- Once baked and cooled, frost the bars.
- Transfer the frosted bars to the fridge for an hour. The chill will help firm up the bars and frosting, allowing for a clean cut with a sharp knife.
- Remove the bars from the fridge, move the entire uncut cookie out of the pan, and place it on a cutting board. Press a sharp knife straight down—don’t drag it through the bars.
- Once cut and plated, you can add a few holiday sprinkles on top if you want!
Make-Ahead Holiday Dessert!
These bars can be made ahead of time! In fact, the spices used in the bars deepen while they sit around so make these bars one or two days ahead of time for maximum flavor.
I will often make the bars and frost them a day ahead, let them chill overnight in the fridge, covered with foil, then cut and serve the next day. You can also break up the work by making the cookie bars one day and frosting the next. These bars store in the fridge for up to three days in an airtight container.
To Freeze: It’s best to store the bars unfrosted. The frosting can get squished if stored improperly. Once the bars have thawed, frost them.
If you have leftover frosted bars, you can still freeze them. Store the bars in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to let the frosting dry out slightly. Then store the bars carefully in an airtight container, in a single layer.
The bars will keep (frosted or unfrosted) for up to two months in the freezer.
More Holiday Cookie Recipes You’ll Love
- Lofthouse-Style Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
- Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies
- Candy Cane Cookies
- Gingerbread Cookies
- Spritz Cookies
- Pfeffernüsse Spice Cookies
Gingerbread Cookie Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
- For the gingerbread cookie dough:
- 3/4 cup (170 g) room temperature unsalted butter
- 1 cup (220 g) packed dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup molasses, light or dark (not blackstrap)
- 1 large egg
- 2 1/4 cups (315 g) all-purpose flour
- For the cream cheese frosting:
- 8 ounces (227 g) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups (345 g) powdered sugar, sifted
- To decorate:
- Holiday sprinkles, optional
Preheat oven and prepare pan
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan lightly with cooking oil.
Line the pan with parchment paper, making sure about 1-inch of paper overhangs the long side of the pan. You will use the overhang to lift the bars out of the pan later.
Cream the butter, sugar, and spices
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on medium-high, cream the ingredients together until the mixture forms a paste and clings to the side of the bowl, about 2 minutes.
Scrape, add molasses and egg, and mix
Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl and add the molasses and egg. Mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds on medium speed.
Scrape down the bowl
Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add the flour. Slowly mix, at low speed, until the dry ingredients are absorbed. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl down halfway through to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. The dough should be the consistency of thick and stiff frosting.
Transfer dough to the prepared pan
Scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan and spread the dough out evenly with a butter knife or small offset spatula.
Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 16 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the pan comes out clean.
Cool the bars
Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack until it is at room temperature, about 2 hours. While the bars are cooling, take the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
Make the frosting
Once the bars are cool, make the frosting by placing the cream cheese and butter in a clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream together on medium-high speed until the butter and cream cheeses are well blended and there are no more lumps, about 1 minute.
Scape down the sides of the bowl and add vanilla and salt and mix for 30 seconds to incorporate. Again, scrape down the sides and add the powdered sugar. Mix on low speed until the sugar is absorbed and the frosting is thick and smooth.
Frost the cookies
Frost the top of the cookie bars generously.
Chill and cut the bars
If you want clean lines for presentation purposes, place the frosted uncut bars, uncovered, in the fridge to chill for 1 hour. Once the bars have chilled, use the parchment sling to lift them from the pan and place them on the cutting board. Use a large sharp knife and press straight down, rather than dragging the knife through the bars. Wipe the knife blade after each cut.
If you want to skip the refrigerator chill step, you can cut the bars after they’ve cooled on the counter. The lines just might not be as sharp.
Arrange the bars on a platter, top with sprinkles if desired, and serve. Store leftovers covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.