No cookie says Christmas more than a gingerbread 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 men 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 and 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 people I could EAT.
What Spices Are In These Gingerbread 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 cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, along with molasses as any good gingerbread should be, yet sweet enough to be a proper cookie.
The Secret Ingredient for the Best 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.
Decorating with Royal Icing
Royal icing is a quick drying, thin icing that is made from egg whites, lemon juice, and powdered sugar. 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.
If you are concerned about the use of raw egg whites, you can either use powdered egg whites or egg whites from pasteurized eggs. I give instructions for the powdered egg white method in the recipe below.
Regardless of which method you use, be sure to make royal icing right before you are ready to use it because it will set quickly and harden.
More Suggestions for Gingerbread Cookies
If you don't want to make royal icing, you can just pipe regular frosting on the cookies. You can also top them with sprinkles, chocolate chips, currants, raisins, and pieces of candy.
I bake these cookies so they are more tender than crispy. If you want the cookies to have a little snap to them, just leave them in the oven a bit longer.
Storing and Freezing Gingerbread Cookies
These cookies will keep for at least a week in a tightly covered container.
To freeze, stack a few cookies and wrap them tightly first in plastic wrap, and then in foil, to make a bundle. Transfer the bundles to an airtight container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to three months. Undecorated cookies are easiest to freeze, but you can freeze them after decorating, too.
If you would like to freeze the raw cookie dough, wrap the dough tightly in plastic, transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before rolling and cutting the cookies.
- Looking for more Christmas cookies? We've got a whole bunch of ideas right here.
Can't Get Enough Gingerbread?
- Gingerbread Cupcakes
- Gingerbread Waffles
- How to Make a Gingerbread House
- Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
- Triple Ginger Gingerbread Cake
- For the Gingerbread Cookies:
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon 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, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses (do not use blackstrap molasses, it's too bitter)
- For the Royal Icing:
- 1 egg white, raw or pasteurized (or 1 tablespoon egg white powder)
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- Optional, for decorating:
- Raisins, currants, chocolate chips, candy pieces, frosting
Combine the dry ingredients:
In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, baking soda, and spices. Set aside.
Make the dough:
In an stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the egg 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.)
Chill the dough:
Divide dough into thirds; wrap each third in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight. Before rolling out, let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. If after refrigerating the dough feels too soft to roll out, work in a little more flour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll out dough:
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. Transfer the rolled out dough to the refrigerate again to chill for 5 to 10 minutes. This will make it easier to cut out the cookies.
Cut out the cookies:
Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes, or place a stencil over the dough and use a knife to cut into desired shapes.
Transfer to baking sheet:
Transfer to ungreased baking sheets. Press raisins, chocolate chips, or candy pieces in the center of each cookie if desired for "buttons."
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.
Make the royal icing:
Beat the egg whites and lemon juice together, adding the sifted powder sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
If using powdered egg whites: Combine 1 tablespoon egg white powder with 2 tablespoons water. Proceed as you would otherwise.
If the icing is too runny, add more powdered sugar until you get the desired consistency.
Once you make the royal icing, use quickly before it hardens.
Decorate the cookies:
Fill a piping bag with the icing to pipe out into different shapes on the cookies. (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.
Once the cookies are decorated, the surface of the royal icing will dry quickly, within 15 minutes. But the icing may still be soft inside. Let the decorated cookies sit at room temp for 12 hours for the icing to dry completely.