Nothing quite symbolizes the holidays like gingerbread, from candy-studded edible houses to spiced, dense loaves of cake and remarkably decorated cookies.
Throughout Europe, gingerbread has taken many forms since the 10th century. Once prepared using honey and ginger and flavored with other warm spices like cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, today’s gingerbread is made with molasses or treacle for sweetness and baked into soft loaves or Christmas cookies.
A living gingerbread man is so entrenched in our culture that a version of him has shown up as L. Frank Baum’s protagonist in his novel John Dough and the Cherub, in the holiday classic story of The Gingerbread Man, as the game piece that moves through Candy Land, an edible sidekick in the Shrek movies, and even in our architecture. And during the holidays, you’ll find gingerbread cookies on every Christmas cookie platter… everywhere.
Festive in any form, bake up some warm moments and sweet memories with one of these traditional gingerbread recipes.
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling surface
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
Royal Icing Sprinkles, cinnamon candies, and other candy decorations of your choice
In a medium saucepan, heat the molasses to the simmering point. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Stir in the brown sugar. Allow it to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon.
Add the cooled molasses and the egg to the flour mixture and mix very well until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands to really incorporate the wet mixture into the dry mixture.
Wrap dough in wax or parchment paper and chill for 1-2 hours, or until firm enough to roll.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer chilled dough to a lightly floured rolling surface and roll out the dough to one-quarter inch thickness. Cut cookies with your choice of a cookie-cutter. Transfer cut dough to a baking sheet that has been lightly greased with nonstick cooking spray or lined with a silicone baking sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cookies will puff up, but won’t spread much. Add dough scraps to the next batch of dough and continue rolling out, cutting, and baking cookies till all the dough is gone.
Cool cookies completely on a rack before decorating with royal icing and decorative sprinkles and candies. Let your cookies dry overnight so the royal icing can be set. Store cookies in an airtight container.
3 tablespoons Meringue Powder
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons warm water
- Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency.
- For stiff icing: Use 1 tablespoon less water.
- For thin icing: To thin, add 1 teaspoon water per cup of royal icing. Use a grease-free spoon or spatula to stir slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until you reach proper consistency.
Servings: About 4 dozen 4-inch tall gingerbread men Adapted from: The New York Times Heritage Cookbook by Jean Hewitt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each of clove and nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (optional)
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (optional)
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup diced crystallized ginger
Grease and flour a 9" square pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper.
Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, and pour into the dry ingredients in the bowl, mix just until moistened. Stir in the grated fresh ginger.
Add the water, stirring until everything is moistened. Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir into the batter until it's evenly combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan.
Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan to cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Ice cooled gingerbread with Lemon Icing or dust with confectioner's sugar.
Ingredients: 1/4 teaspoon salt Grated zest of 1 lemon 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Directions: Place confectioners’ sugar in a bowl, whisk in the zest and salt, then lemon juice (add up to 2 additional tablespoons to moisten if necessary). Spread over top of the cake, allowing glaze to drip down the sides.
The dough for gingerbread house projects is perfectly edible; it just has more flour in it to make it sturdier than gingerbread cookie dough. It's simple to put together and can be used for gingerbread men, trees, and other decorations, as well as for the house itself.
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 large egg
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
4 cups (1 pound) unsifted confectioners' sugar
optional peppermint oil, lemon extract, vanilla extract, or the flavor of your choice, optional, to taste *Or use directions above for meringue powder version
In a large saucepan, heat the buttermilk and butter until the butter is just melted; remove from the heat.
Add the brown sugar and molasses, then beat in the egg.
Whisk the baking soda, spices, and salt with 1 cup of flour. Add this to the wet mixture and mix until incorporated.
Add flour 1 cup at a time until you have a smooth, stiff dough. It should be stiff enough to be flexible, and neither crumbly nor sticky. Divide the dough in half, flatten each half, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Using a quarter of the dough at a time (keep the unused portion to the refrigerator), roll the dough 1/4" thick. Cut your construction pieces as needed, pulling away the scraps to be re-rolled.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake the dough for 15 to 18 minutes, until set and very lightly browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and trim any rough edges while the pieces are still warm.
Cool completely before using for construction.
To make the royal icing: In a large bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy. Sprinkle in the sugar gradually, whipping all the while. The more you whip the icing, the stiffer it'll be and the faster it'll harden up. Cover the bowl of icing, taking out only as much as you'll need immediately. The easiest way to store the icing for long periods of time is in a plastic pastry bag, or zip-top food storage bag. Yield: Enough dough for a 10" x 7" house (approx.), plus decorations.
For sample house patterns, check out these templates on Pinterest.
If you love baking at this time of year, we have more treats you may enjoy! Try the recipes in our Favorite Holiday Cookies blog.