Gingerbread Cookies

These classic holiday cookies have a just-right hint of spice.

Gingerbread Cookies

Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

Active Time:
1 hrs 25 mins
Total Time:
5 hrs 10 mins

When you think of classic Christmas cookies, odds are gingerbread men are the first thing to come to mind. Why? Because their adorable shape, jolly smiles, and undeniable charm can swindle anyone into eating one or two, or five or six.

Gingerbread cookies reportedly date back to Queen Elizabeth I's era, when she asked her cooks to cut the cookies into the shapes of her courtiers. The spiced molasses cookies have other links to European traditions, including German heart-shaped lebkuchen, which were ginger-spiced cookies with love notes in icing. In fact, German brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, added to the allure of the treats by writing about a house made entirely of gingerbread in their Hansel and Gretel story. A fanciful idea, indeed!

Today, gingerbread cookies, cakes, and houses are part of holiday celebrations worldwide, but none is more iconic or beloved in the South than the classic gingerbread cookies.

Key Ingredients for Gingerbread Cookies

Among the ingredients for gingerbread cookies, a few play very important roles:

  • Spices: This cookie is nothing if not highly flavored. Of course there's ginger, but there's also cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, which means these cookies will be plenty spiced. You can go up or down on the spices if you like, but remember that the royal icing will help balance out the heat or bite of any spice with its sweetness.
  • Molasses: Reach for dark molasses here, not light or blackstrap. Blackstrap will be far too bitter for these cookies, and light just doesn't have the right punch in our tasting opinions.
  • Dark brown sugar: Chalk one up for molasses again. The molasses content of dark brown sugar is higher than light brown sugar, which just further helps to deepen the flavor of these cookies.
  • Royal icing: This sweet icing starts with powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and water. Meringue powder helps to solidify the icing so that it's hard once it's piped. If you like a sweeter cookie, use more icing. For a cookie that has a more pronounced spice bite, keep the icing limited to smaller details.
icing on gingerbread cookies

Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

Important Tips for Making Gingerbread Cookies

For the best gingerbread cookies, keep these steps in mind:

  • Don't skip the chills. This gingerbread cookie dough is fairly sticky, so you have to let it chill and harden before you can roll it out and cut it into shapes. Otherwise the dough will rip and tear as you move the cut-outs to the baking trays. We call for a minimum of 2 hours, but overnight is OK, too. Chill the cookies, once cut into a shape, again just before baking.
  • Wrap and flatten. Once the dough is made, and before you put it in the refrigerator, do yourself a favor: Place the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk with a rolling pin, then cover with the wrap. This will help make the final roll out easier and speed up cooling.
  • Brush off extra flour. You're going to need all-purpose flour on your work surface and on the top of the gingerbread cookie dough as you roll it out. This will keep the dough from sticking to your rolling pin or surface. But make sure you brush off what extra flour you can (a pastry brush will work great) so you don't have dry bits of flour baking into the cookie. It'll taste bitter once baked.
  • Keep an eye on the cookies. These cookies bake fast—you'll need about 8 to 10 minutes per batch. You'll know they're done when the edges are ever so slightly darker and the middle is no longer glossy. Once they cool, the cookies will have a crispy edge with a soft, chewy interior.

How to Decorate Gingerbread Cookies

Royal icing is the foundation for decorating gingerbread cookies. It hardens beautifully after a few hours so these cookies can be stacked and stored. It can also act like a "glue" to keep sprinkles, sanding sugars, even gumdrops in place.

The trick with royal icing is to know what you want to do with it. If you plan to just do lines and outlining, as we did, you'll want a thicker icing so it doesn't spread the moment it comes out of the bag. But if you plan to fill in lines or "flood" the icing for a more widely iced cookie, you'll want a thinner royal icing.

You can start by making a thicker icing, do your lines and outlines, then add about 1 Tbsp. more water to thin it out for flooding. Stick any decorations on once the icing is in place, and let the cookies sit for a few hours so the icing will harden.

If you can't wait that long, we understand. The icing will just be a bit runny immediately after it's piped onto the cookies, so watch for drips!

Can you color royal icing?

Absolutely! We love that idea. Add color to icing as you're adding water to get it to a piping consistency. We prefer using food color gels so thy don't further water down the icing and delay hardening. Pop in just a bit of the gel, stir it up, and add more if you like a more concentrated color.

Can I use other shapes?

Of course! Feel free to use any cookie cutter you want. We love gingerbread snowflakes, but you could use cookie cutters in the shape of gifts, snowmen, Christmas trees, and teddy bears. You just want to keep the cookies about the same size (around 4 inches) so they cook evenly. Otherwise, batch the cookies into smaller and larger ones so they'll have about the same cooking time.

How to Store Gingerbread Cookies

Once the icing has hardened, you can pop these cookies into an airtight storage container or zip-top bag. They'll be fresh up to 5 days after baking.



  • 3 cups (about 12 3/4 oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger

  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice

  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

  • 10 Tbsp. (5 oz.) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 1/2 cup dark molasses

  • 1 Tbsp. whole milk

  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


  • 3 cups (about 12 oz.) unsifted powdered sugar

  • 4 1/2 tsp. meringue powder

  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt

  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 4 to 6 Tbsp. tap water, divided


  1. Prepare the Cookie Dough: Whisk together flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, and allspice in a large bowl until combined.

  2. Beat sugar and butter with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

    cream butter and dark brown sugar

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    Beat in egg yolk, molasses, milk, and vanilla on low speed just until combined, about 30 seconds, stopping to scrape sides of bowl as needed. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined, about 1 minute.

    gingerbread cookies dough

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    Divide Cookie Dough in half; shape each half into a disk (about 1 inch thick), and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 3 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

  4. Place Cookie Dough on a floured surface, and lightly dust Cookie Dough with additional flour. Roll 1 disk to about 1/8-inch thickness. Using a (4 1/2- x 3 3/4-inch) gingerbread person cookie cutter, cut 12 cookies, rerolling scraps as needed.

    cutting gingerbread cookies

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    Place cookies, 1 inch apart, on prepared baking sheets (about 9 cookies per baking sheet). Refrigerate cookies, uncovered, until firm, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat procedure with remaining Cookie Dough.

    gingerbread cookies on baking tray

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  5. Bake cookies, 1 baking sheet at a time, in preheated oven (3 batches total) until cookies are puffed and set, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Cool cookies on baking sheets 2 minutes. Remove cookies from baking sheets, and transfer to a wire rack; cool completely, about 20 minutes.

    gingerbread cookies on tray

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  6. Meanwhile, prepare the Icing: Beat powdered sugar, meringue powder, and salt with a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add vanilla and 4 tablespoons of the tap water; beat on medium speed until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons tap water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to adjust consistency, if needed.

    royal icing

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    Transfer Icing to a piping bag fitted with small round tip. Decorate cookies as desired. Let cookies stand at room temperature, uncovered, until icing has hardened, 1 to 2 hours. Store cookies in an airtight container up to 5 days.

    icing on gingerbread cookies

    Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

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