When I was a kid, I didn’t like gingerbread cookies. They were always cute and looked tempting, but the taste was a let down time and time again. The cookies either verged on choking me with spices or had so little spice they tasted bland. Even worse was the texture, since half the time the cookies were so hard that I worried I’d break a tooth trying to bite into them. None of this would have been a problem if I had baked my own gingerbread cookies, I’m sure, and I wouldn’t have had to wait until adulthood (I’ll concede that I may have had a good gingerbread man or two as a teenager) to really enjoy them.
This is one of my favorite gingerbread cookie recipes. The dough comes together quickly and is very easy to work with. It is a rolled cookie dough that needs to be refrigerated before you can take cookie cutters to it, so the waiting is the worst part. The dough can be rolled and rerolled several times without toughening up the resulting cookies and, while the cookies do puff up some during baking, they hold their shape pretty well.
On top of all of that, the cookies taste great. I think I hit upon my favorite gingerbread spicing combination here, with a generous amount of ginger accented with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. I almost always throw in a pinch of black pepper for some extra bite. The cookies can be baked up to get two different results. If you roll them out to be on the thicker side (just under 1/4 inch thick), they will be soft and chewy, and will stay that way even if they’re stored for several days. If you roll them out a bit thinner (1/8 inch or less) the cookies will be crisp, but not hard. Both crispy and chewy cookies should be frosted after they have cooled. I like a lemon-flavored icing for decorating, as it complements the spiciness of the gingerbread and brightens up the cookie as a whole. You can also top the cookies off with sprinkles or chopped, candied ginger if you prefer not to ice them.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp (freshly) ground nutmeg
pinch ground black pepper (optional)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup coffee or water
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper, if using.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in molasses, water and vanilla, then gradually add in flour mixture until a smooth dough forms. Divide dough into two or three pieces (dough will be quite soft), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until firm.
Preheat oven to 375F.
For softer cookies:
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to just under 1/4 inch thickness. Use cookie cutters of your choice (2-3″ gingerbread men are ideal!) to cut dough. Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 9-12 minutes, depending on size of cookie cutter. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch at the edges. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
For crispier cookies:
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to just under 1/8 inch thickness. Use cookie cutters of your choice (2-3″ gingerbread men are ideal!) to cut dough. Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 9-12 minutes, depending on size of cookie cutter. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch at the edges and will be lightly browned. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
When cool, decorate with lemon icing (recipe below).
Makes about 30-40 gingerbread men, depending on size of cookie cutters used and whether you make them thick or thin.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tbsp tsp lemon juice
In a small bowl combine powdered sugar and lemon juice. Substitute milk or cream plus 1 tsp lemon extract, if no fresh lemon juice is available. Add enough lemon juice to make the icing thick and pourable, but not runny (start with 1-2 tbsp and add more if necessary. You can always add a bit of extra sugar to thicken it if you add too much) and stir until very smooth. Scrape into piping bag with a fine tip or a ziploc bag with a corner cut off and pipe onto cooled cookies. Allow to set for at least 30 minutes, until firm, before storing cookies in an airtight container.