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