When I was eleven, I learned how to make gingerbread cookies in the kitchen of family friends. I fell for the cookies’ intoxicating spiced aroma and have made them nearly every winter since—first for relatives and neighbors, later for customers at my own bakery.
Gingerbread is a spiced sweet that dates back to the Middle Ages. The classic cookie is dense, heavy on ginger, and usually flavored with molasses. My Gingerbread Cookie recipe is traditional, though I’ve refined it over the years. I’ve adjusted the spice mix to boost the pepperiness of the ginger and intensify the cinnamon aroma, and I use just enough nutmeg and cloves to round things out. I opt for mild molasses instead of blackstrap and have taken to using orange zest for an added layer of complexity. I’ve also figured out how to best work with this somewhat sticky dough and have developed a foolproof royal icing that makes for easy decorating. The result? A recipe that’s sure to become a keeper in your kitchen, too.
Need to Know
Use mild molasses, not blackstrap. Molasses is the thick liquid that’s left after sugar has been extracted from sugar cane juice. Blackstrap molasses is very dark, sticky, and somewhat bitter, and can overpower other flavors. Mild molasses is golden-brown and sweeter but still has a kick that pairs nicely with spices like ginger and cinnamon.
Consider the age of your spices. Ground spices last about a year; after that, they’re less flavorful. Restock your cabinet if you think your spices might be old, and use freshly grated whole spices, like nutmeg, whenever possible.
Freeze the dough and roll it in batches.Freezing the dough makes it firm and less sticky. To keep it that way, work with one-quarter of the dough at a time and leave the rest in the freezer. Try to roll the dough no thicker than 1/8 inch, or the cookies will be more chewy than crunchy.
Re-roll but don’t overwork the scraps. You can gather and re-roll the dough scraps once. After that, press any remaining scraps into a new portion of dough; this will prevent them from being overworked, tough, and dried out. Add cream of tartar to the royal icing. Although decorative royal icing is usually made with just egg whites and confectioners’ sugar, adding cream of tartar stabilizes the icing and makes it thicker and easier to handle
There’s more than one way to pipe icing. A pastry bag fitted with a small tip is the most common piping tool, but you can also use a plastic squeeze bottle or a small plastic bag with a tiny bit of the corner trimmed off.
3 Ways to Make Ahead
• Freeze the dough, wrapped in plastic, for up to 4 weeks. If frozen solid, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling it out.
• Refrigerate the royal icing with a layer of plastic wrap pressed directly on its surface for up to a week. Stir before using it.
• Store baked and decorated cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.