When the weather starts to get colder and the holidays get closer, we start to seek out foods with a bit of spice. While a bit of spicy heat can be nice during the winter, many of us tend to gravitate toward warm spices like cinnamon or ginger. But one iconic Christmas treat combines these spices with a bit of sweetness for a one-of-a-kind cookie — the gingerbread man.
Key Elements of Gingerbread
Gingerbread is primarily made up of two components — a warming spice mixture and a sweetener. Traditionally, this spice mixture is a combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The sweeteners are often sugar, honey, or traditionally, molasses. In fact, the best gingerbread recipes utilize a combination molasses and brown sugar, creating a crispy outside and fluffy inside.
As for the spice mixture, you’ll want to test to find the balance you prefer best, but since the spices are all so strong, you’ll want to go easy at first. You’ll want equal parts ginger and cinnamon and about half the amount of cloves and nutmeg as cinnamon and ginger. For example, if you have three teaspoons (a tablespoon) of gingerbread spice, two teaspoons should be cinnamon and ginger combined and the remaining teaspoon should be nutmeg and cloves.
You’ll want equal parts ginger and cinnamon and about half the amount of cloves and nutmeg as cinnamon and ginger.
The cookies can come in many shapes and forms. Depending on what you’ll be using the gingerbread for, you’ll bake it differently. Some make it as almost a spongy cake, baking it in a pan. Others roll it thinly and cut the dough into little men. You could even cut your dough to make walls for a gingerbread house. How you shape your gingerbread can change the cook time, with thinner cookies taking less time than a gingerbread loaf. More importantly, it’ll change some of the ingredients, with cookies calling for a drier dough and the loaf requiring more water to make a batter. It helps to decide which type you’ll be making before you start making it.
Tips for the Baking
The ingredients of the dough are only a portion of what goes in to making a really good gingerbread cookie, though. How you make the dough and bake it is also critical. Some people even split the whole process into three steps over two or three days. The first step after forming the dough is to let it cool and rest in the fridge for at least two hours. Not only does this give the dough time to meld flavors of the spices and settle, but it will also help you roll the dough thinner and not stick to the rolling pin. You can even allow it to rest in the fridge overnight.
Don’t bake your gingerbread at higher than 350°F or 325°F if you’re making cookies.
Whether you’re making a bread loaf or a cookie, it’s important that you avoid baking the gingerbread at too high of a temperature. Many of the ingredients, molasses and brown sugar especially, can easily burn under high heats. For this reason, don’t bake your gingerbread at higher than 350°F or 325°F if you’re making cookies. Don’t ruin your hard work making the gingerbread dough by burning it.
Your final step is decorating your gingerbread, especially if you’re making cookies or a house. The most important thing to note is to allow your gingerbread to fully cool before you begin decorating it. If you decorate too soon, any icing you use could melt, ruining your intricate craftwork and giving your gingerbread men a droopy expression that you may not have been going for.
Now that you have the basics, are you ready to make your own gingerbread men?
Homemade Gingerbread Men
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp of ground ginger
- 1 tsp of ground cloves
- 1 tsp of nutmeg
- 2/3 cup of brown sugar
- 2/3 cup of molasses
- ½ tsp of baking soda
- 1 tsp of vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 12 tbsp of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- Add the brown sugar and molasses into a large mixing bowl and begin mixing with a stand mixer or hand mixer at medium speed. Begin adding the softened butter by the tablespoon and mix until the butter is creamed.
- Add the egg and vanilla extract and continue mixing thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes.
- In a different bowl, combine the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and flour.
- Lower the mixer to low speed and begin adding the dry ingredients, scraping the side of the bowl with a spatula so everything mixes.
- Allow to mix until a sticky, thick dough forms.
- Separate the dough into 2 even dough balls and wrap with plastic wrap.
- Place in the fridge and allow to chill for at least 2 hours to overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and the plastic wrap and place it on a lightly floured surface.
- With a floured rolling pin, roll the dough until it’s ¼-inch to ½-inch thick.
- Cut out your gingerbread men or round cookies and place them on parchment paper-lined baking sheets with at least ½-inch of space between each cookie.
- Bake for 8 to 12 minutes (depending on how thick the cookies are) or until the cookies have puffed slightly and the outside has set but has a slight give when pressed lightly.
- Remove the cookies from the oven and gently transfer them to cooling racks. Allow them to cool completely before decorating them with icing and sprinkles.