Classic gingerbread cookies with lightly crisp edges and soft centers. The spiced molasses dough is easy to roll and cut out into festive shapes, perfect for decorating with icing!
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Rolling out gingerbread cookie dough always brings excitement and cheer for my kids. The mixture contains molasses and warm spices, and the recipe yields cut-outs that hold their characteristic shape after baking. The taste and tender texture are so good. No more bland and dry cookies!
The key is chilling and resting the dough so that it’s easier to work with. However, to achieve the best texture, it’s essential to know when to pull the tray from the oven. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you, as I have plenty of helpful tips to share. You can also prepare the dough or cookies in advance, making it convenient when you’re ready to decorate.
I use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to make the cookie dough. It’s able to cream the butter and sugar together, but not add too much air that would make the surface too puffy after baking. It efficiently incorporates the rich molasses and eggs and dry ingredients briefly at the very end. Make sure not to overmix, or the cookie texture will become tough.
Soften butter lightens the dough
Butter at just below room temperature, about 65 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC), works best. The softened fat better traps air pockets, so the cookies will be light instead of dense. If the butter is too cold, it will be difficult to cream. And if it’s too warm, the needle-like beta prime fat crystals won’t be able to hold their shape to trap air.
It takes about 30 minutes to soften butter when left on the counter, or some microwaves have a particular setting for this. I find that cutting it into thin slices speeds up the process. Give the butter a poke, you should be able to leave an indent but it shouldn’t stick to your finger.
Two sweeteners are better than one
Molasses is a thick dark syrup that gives gingerbread its distinctive color. It’s sweet but has a slightly bitter taste. I use light brown sugar to enhance the sweetness and help the texture stay soft and chewy. This type of sugar is a humectant that attracts and holds onto surrounding moisture, trapping it inside the cookie, especially during storage.
Spice things up
Most store-bought gingerbread cookies lack warm, bold spices. They tend to be dominant in just the ginger. I use a combination of concentrated dried herbs to improve the flavor. A generous amount of ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice make your taste buds tingle and release a lovely aroma when baked.
You’ll be surprised to find some lemon juice in the recipe. The acid is a natural flavor enhancer, balancing the sweetness and intensifying the taste of the spices.
Be sure to chill and rest
After mixing, the dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. The sheer force from the paddle increases gluten-formation, so it needs time to relax. Otherwise, the cookies will have a tough bite. Chilling firms up the butter so it’s easier to roll and cut. This process works out well if you want to make part of the recipe several days before baking.
Rolling out the cookie dough
Due to the high level of sticky sugars, make sure that you use flour to dust the working surface. Whenever the dough begins to stick to the rolling pin, sprinkle a small amount of flour on top of it. You can always use a brush to remove any excess flour on the surface. For soft and chewy cookies, roll out to ¼-inch thick. Any thinner and the texture will dry and become crispy.
Cutting out shapes
If needed, dip the cutters in some flour, then press into the dough. I find it most comfortable to lift the shape up when it’s still in the blade, then transfer it directly to the baking pan. A small offset spatula works well to release and lift from the board or counter.
Our family likes to make traditional gingerbread people, snowflakes, and hearts, but there are so many options! You can also build walls for small gingerbread houses, but not larger ones. These cookies are also great to add to a cookie gift box because they’re sturdy enough for packing and shipping.
Bake while the dough is still chilled
To prevent the cookies from spreading, bake the shapes while they’re still cool. I like to work with one piece of dough at a time (you will have three). Roll and cut quickly, then bake right away. If needed, you can place them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. I do not refrigerate the pan I plan to use for baking. Use a separate pan, as it will impact the cooking time.
Cookie size affects bake time
Cookie cutters come in various shapes and sizes, and I did my testing with the most common ones, 2 ½ and 3 ½ inches, to see the impact on bake time. As expected, smaller cookies need about 1 to 2 minutes less time. The smaller surface area and less moisture release into the oven make the top and sides cook faster.
If you have different sized cookies baking on the same pan, keep an eye on the change of color on the bottoms. It should be very lightly golden brown, nearly the same color as the surface. Transfer the smaller cookies to a wire rack to cool, and let the larger pieces bake longer as needed.
- Royal icing – dries matte and stiff, great for gingerbread houses.
- Cookie frosting – light and fluffy with pipeable texture.
- Cookie icing – for a glossy and smooth surface.
- Cream cheese frosting – for a little bit of tangy flavor.
- Sprinkles – just apply while the frosting or icing is still wet.
Checking for doneness
Just an extra minute in the oven can quickly change the texture from soft to crispy. The cookies should be set and easy to lift off the parchment paper with a spatula. I find that the best way to check for doneness is to look at the cookie’s bottom. If similar to the surface, it’s going to be soft. If it begins to get golden brown and you can see the contrast, it will be more crunchy, or hard if baked too long.
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- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 65 to 67ºF (18 to 19ºC)
- ¾ cups light brown sugar, packed
- ⅔ cups molasses
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, sift in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves. Add the salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the softened butter and brown sugar. Mix on low speed (setting 2) for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Mix on medium-low speed (setting 4) until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl again.
- Add the molasses. Mix on medium-low speed (setting 4) until combined, 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.
- Add the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed (setting 2) for 5 seconds, then increase to medium-low speed (setting 4) for 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the flour mixture from step 1 to the bowl in three additions. Pulse the first third on and off about 8 times, then increase to low speed (setting 2) for 5 seconds. Repeat the process with the remaining additions, pulsing, and then mixing at low speed. On the last addition, mix until just combined, do not overmix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal-sized round discs, flattened to 1-inch thick. Tightly wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 3 hours or up to 7 days placed inside a resealable plastic bag.
- Set the oven rack to the middle position and the heat to 350ºF (177ºC). Line three sheet pans with parchment paper.
- Work with one piece of dough at a time to keep it cool. Allow the dough to sit on the counter for 3 to 5 minutes to make it easier to roll. Lightly dust the rolling surface, the top of the dough, and the rolling pin with flour, using more as needed. Roll out, rotating, and dusting until ¼-inch thick.
- Immediately use cookie cutters to cut out the desired shapes. Cut them as close together as possible. It helps to lift the dough out of the cutter or use a small offset spatula to lift it off of the rolling surface. Transfer to the parchment paper lined sheet pans, about 1-inch apart. Any cookie dough scraps can be rerolled out 1 additional time. If needed, chill before rolling.
- Bake the cookies while still cool, one tray at a time. If not baking right away after cutting, keep chilled in the refrigerator.
- Bake for 5 minutes, rotate and bake for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until the surface is dry and bottoms are lightly golden brown in color. For softer cookies, bake for a shorter duration. For more crisp and crunchy cookies, bake longer, the bottoms will be more browned. For smaller 2 to 2 ½ inch cookies, bake for a total of 7 to 8 minutes.
- Let the cookies sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating, about 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and baking process for the rest of the dough pieces. Decorate the cookies once cooled, or store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
- Storing: Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
- Make-ahead: Store cookie dough in a plastic resealable bag in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
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