Gingerbread cookies are one of our favorite holiday cookies, not only because of their cute shapes and complex flavors but also because of their rich and fascinating history.
In the 11th century, crusaders returned to Europe from the Middle East with many new culinary surprises including ginger, which over time was combined with breadcrumbs, honey and other spices. Later during medieval times different shapes were made from the dough to commemorate the seasons, special events and even specific people. Throughout history, gingerbread has been celebrated at festivals, prescribed for medicinal purposes, and even was used as currency at one time in Nuremberg Germany, where lebkuchen (gingerbread) has a Protected Designation of Origin and must only be produced within the confines of the city.
We love a more substantial cake-like cookie so we tend to roll out the dough a little thicker than many recipes describe. Stars, leaping reindeer and of course gingerbread men are some of our favorite shapes to decorate with intricate royal icing designs. Gingerbread freezes extremely well, and thaws out quickly, so we try to make plenty of extra to have on deck for emergencies like blizzards or late night cookie cravings.
- 3 cups sifted flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 tsp powdered ginger
- ½ tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
- ½ tsp allspice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp lemon extract (or lemon zest)
- ½ cup soft unsalted butter
- ½ cup light-brown sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ cup molasses
- Sift the flour, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, baking soda and salt together into a bowl and set aside.
- In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and egg at medium speed until fluffy and the color turns light.
- Turn the mixer speed to low and add the molasses and lemon and mix until smooth.
- In small amounts, add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl, beating until smooth each time and well mixed. Turn off the mixer.
- Collect the dough into a ball and wrap with plastic wrap or wax paper, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling out.
- Preheat the oven to 375F and prepare 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper lining.
- Remove dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm up for 15 minutes before rolling.
- Flour your work surface and then roll out the dough to about ¼" thick. Cut shapes into the dough with cookie cutters or create your own designs.
- Transfer the cut out shapes to the cookie sheets. Take any dough trimmings you have left and re-roll then to ¼" thickness to cut out more cookies.
- Bake one sheet at a time for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool, and decorate with royal icing, powdered sugar, or just enjoy as they are.