Gingerbread 101 (giveaway: Decorating Cookies)

There’s only one time in the year that I break out the royal icing, the piping bag, and decorative dragées: Christmas-time, when homemade gingerbread cookies are a requirement, preferably available by the dozens. Stars, snowflakes, trees, and the essential gingerbread boy – all are shapes I have been making since I was a girl, and now create with my children.

Every step of baking gingerbread is special, from the grinding and measuring of the spices for the dough, to the rolling and cutting of playful Christmas shapes, and perhaps the most fun of all, the detailed icing work. Sometimes we’ll throw a cookie decorating party, where we ice ten dozen cookies, and coat my floor in sugar in the process; other times I’ll put on some Christmas tunes after the kids are in bed and lose myself for an hour or so creating a drift of pretty white snowflakes.

Both ways to decorate are fun, and you should definitely break out the spices and a rolling pin sometime in the weeks leading up to the holidays. This post will give you enough information to get started. Be sure to stick around for a fun giveaway at the bottom to ensure you are well equipped for the task.

Many of the tips and the gingerbread dough recipe in today’s post are from my friend Bridget of Bake at 350 and her amazing new book, Decorating Cookies: 60+ Designs for Holidays, Celebrations & Everyday. Thanks, Bridget, for helping us to make the best gingerbread possible this holiday season.

The All-Important Dough

I really love Bridget’s gingerbread dough because it is low on sugar and high on molasses. The result is a soft, dark dough, perfectly sweetened, with the flavor of molasses and spices shining through. I’m smitten and so are my children.

Want to switch things up? Shaina demonstrates that gingerbread is a most versatile dough, melding its way into different shapes, sizes and purposes, and capable of giving you a wide assortment of cookies.

Chilling & Freezing

Once the dough is made, it can chill in the refrigerator, well wrapped in plastic, for up to 5 days. Better yet, stash a few rounds of dough in a resealable bag in the freezer and freeze for 3-6 months. Gingerbread doesn’t have to be enjoyed just in December anymore!

When you are ready to roll you cookies, remove the dough from the freezer and thaw at room temperature, then proceed with the shaping.

Rolling & Cutting

Bridget bides us to not fear the flour when rolling out a cookie. Indeed, liberally flouring the counter, rolling pin, and cookie cutters makes this step much easier.

  • My tip is to have the dough at room temperature, so it is quite soft. There will be less cracking of the cookies, and the dough will be easier to roll.
  • When the dough is rolled thin, it will bake up crisp like a cracker. When it is rolled thick, the cookies are plump and soft. Both ways are nice; the end result is up to you.
  • For cutting, start at the outer edge of the rolled dough and work your way inward. Place the cookie cutters as close to each other as possible. Use a flexible spatula to transfer the cookie dough. I love this Good Grips Good Cookie Spatula from OXO.

Don’t forget: If you’re making gingerbread ornaments, punch out a small hole with a wooden skewer before baking the cookies so you have somewhere to tie them to your tree.

Baking & Cooling Tips

  • Always make sure the oven is up to temperature before baking. I like to stick with the middle rack only, as my bottom rack occasionally burns cookies. (Because gingerbread have a lot of molasses in them, they are susceptible to burning quickly.)
  • Don’t mix thick and thin cookies on the same baking sheet, as they will cook for different lengths of time.
  • Allow cookies to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.
  • If you are baking ornaments, now is a good time to double check your holes and puncture them again if needed while the cookie is still soft.

Decorating Gingerbread.

Bridget’s book, Decorating Cookies: 60+ Designs for Holidays, Celebrations & Everyday is the essential guide for perfect, pretty cookies and a good place to start for your gingerbread. She also offers tips to {stress-free} cookie decorating with kids that I’ve found very helpful!

Royal Icing is the standard frosting for decorating rolled gingerbread, so you’ll need a batch or two. Guess who has the recipe? Yep, Bridget: Royal Icing 102 and FAQ.

Plan to let the cookies dry overnight before transferring them to tins or stringing up as ornaments on the tree as the royal icing takes a good 12 hours to dry properly.

Happy baking and cookie-making!

Gingerbread Cookies
4.9 from 9 reviews
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: 18 to 30 cookies, depending on size
I find myself wanting to make gingerbread all year long—not just in winter! For a warm-weather treat, try sandwiching a mixture of lemon curd and marshmallow cream between two gingerbread cookies. You’ll never wait until December again! As far as gingerbread cookies go, I like them thick and chewy. If you like yours a bit crispier, just roll them thinner.
Ingredients
  • 5 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, cold and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
Instructions
  1. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Set this mixture aside.
  3. In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and egg. Mix until well combined.
  4. Add the flour mixture in three parts, mixing on low speed until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  5. Divide the dough in half and form into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Prepare a rolling surface and roll out one of the disks (see Rolling and Cutting Cookie Dough on page 23 of the book).
  7. Cut as many shapes from the dough as possible and place them onto a prepared cookie sheet, approximately 2 inches apart.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350F. Meanwhile, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes. Freezing the cookies helps them keep their shape while baking. Meanwhile, knead the scraps and remaining dough together and continue the rolling, cutting, and freezing process on a second prepared cookie sheet.
  9. After freezing, immediately bake the cookies on the center rack of your oven for 9 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies appear done in the center.
  10. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet. With a thin cookie spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
  11. Rotate the cookie sheets from the freezer to the oven to the cooling rack until all of the cookies are baked.

 

Giveaway!

When she introduced her book for the first time, Bridget said this:

“This book is for you.  You, who have never decorated a cookie.  You, who have attempted and want to try again.  You, who love decorating cookies and are looking for some new ideas.”

Flipping through ‘Decorating Cookies’, it’s plain to see that Bridget means every word. Comprehensive equipment lists, an in-depth troubleshooting guide, a photo index of projects, and her tried and true recipes are just some of the amazing content that comes between the pretty covers of this unique cookbook.

Today you have a chance to win a copy of Decorating Cookies: 60+ Designs for Holidays, Celebrations & Everyday for yourself!

** This giveaway has ended. Congratulations to the winner, Nicole Reis! Thank you to all who participated.**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all you future cookie decorators!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. I am definitely a novice cookie decorator! This sounds like fun, though.

  2. wahooo, I love gingerbread cookies!

  3. I love chewy gingerbread cookies! They may be my favorite. I’ve not yet made them with the kids because growing up we always decorated them very colorfully and my son can’t have artificial food dye. I’m totally inspired to use just white royal icing this year – we will all enjoy it! Thanks Aimee!
    Gina Rau’s last post: Meal Planning for the Holidays

  4. I’m a novice cookie decorator with hopes of becoming braver and more skilled!

  5. Julia Janzen says:

    I’m so baking challenged but I’d LOVE to be able to make those cute mushroom cookies on the cover!

  6. I’m a Novice Cookie Decorator, though I’m an Expert Cookie Eater!

  7. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook, but I’ll pin this post.

  8. Amanda Rae Smith says:

    Total beginner!

  9. Hmm, I would have to say beginner since I’ve only made gingerbread cookies and sugar cookies a few times to decorate :D But I love baking cookies!

  10. I have never decorated cookies… but we tried our first gingerbread structure this week… and I am inspired!

  11. I just started a home based cookie business. I’m already overwhelmed. It was kind of crazy, I took a class and a month later started this. Yikes. So, I’m a novice/?????. It’s going well and I’m really enjoying it though!

  12. This afternoon’s Advent activity is making gingerbread! It is a definite favorite tradition and yours looks beautiful!
    Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch’s last post: Coq au Vin Blanc Recipe

  13. Hmm- I’d say as far as decorating goes, I’m somewhere between a beginner and novice. I’m artistic and have a steady hand, so although I haven’t had true experience decorating a lot of cookies, it comes pretty easily to me. :)
    Nicole’s last post: how they’ll remember Daddy

  14. I made a triple batch of gingerbread yesterday! Our family’s tradition is for everyone to decorate a house and make a village which gets destroyed on Christmas. I made all the pieces for 9 houses as well as a few gingerbread boys and girls. I found ninjabreadmen cookie cutters at Dix Mille Villages last year. Not traditional, but fun! I guess I would consider myself a novice cookie decorator, even though I’m still mastering icing consistency. A least with cookie decorating your mistakes are edible!

    • Jennifer, my daughter wants to make gingerbread houses for her birthday party. I am mixing up the recipe about at this moment. Any words of advice? I was planning on rolling the dough a little thinner like Aimee said to make them a bit crispier. Anything else I should be thinking of?

      • I rolled my dough 1/4″ thick. My sister said it’s best to bake the pieces well in advance of putting the houses together. This is my first year putting them together. I’ll be doing it with my mom – it’s definitely a two person job. I think that no matter what, it’s important to remember that no one cares if it’s perfect. Your mistakes will be covered with copious amounts of candy and royal icing and all anyone will remember is the fun they had decorating it (and eating the candy).

  15. Novice!

  16. I am a complete novice and am totally jealous of the adorable cookies, I’d love to be able to make them.

  17. I am a beginner and in need of much practice!!

  18. Sadly.. I’m a beginner cookie decorator..

  19. I’m a wannabe expert. I fancy myself quite good, but then reality sets in and my cookies are garish. It’s good that the kids help. I can blame them. LOL
    Mama B’s last post: Salted Caramel Sandwich Cookies

  20. I love Christmas cookies – I make my grandmother’s molasses cookies every year (the first batch has already been devoured by my friends!)
    The classic gingerbread and sugar cookies are also great as well!
    I would like to learn to make a prettier cookie though. Sometimes I attempt, but sometimes I’m too lazy and just want to eat them right away!

  21. I am a beginner :)

  22. Middle of the road. I don’t do it too much, but I enjoy it.
    Emily @Random Recycling’s last post: Our Christmas Bucket List

  23. I suppose I’m a beginner. I’m a novice baker but don’t really do the whole decorating thing very well.

  24. I suppose I’m a beginner. I bake regularly but don’t really do the whole decorating thing very well.

  25. I am a beginner, I do more cooking and baking, but not much decorating. I have been wanting to decorate more for my grand kids.

  26. beginner i’d say. my son and i made some sweet totoro cookies a few weeks back and i was feeling like a pro! thanks

  27. I’d have to say I’m a beginner.

  28. Jacquie Snell says:

    I am not sure, probably intermediate. I bake and frost but not great

  29. Carol Lynn says:

    I’m no novice when it comes to baking, but my decorating could sure use a little help!

  30. I would say novice, but I lack variety.

  31. I am a novice.

  32. I’m definitely a novice decorator but love to bake!

  33. Definitely a beginner!

  34. very very novice, but such an appreciator of their beauty. I would try on a day when my kids were in school and I could cry over them if I needed to!

  35. heidi defaut says:

    I have decorated my share of cookies and like to think I’m good at it but, there’s always new things to learn and different ways to do things. To me, the essence is the fun, the joy and the sharing. Love that!

  36. Stephanie says:

    Um I know I’m just a beginner for gingerbread cookies but I can’t seem to find what temperature to bake this recipe at… I’m going to hunt around on google now to figure it out ebcause my dough is just about ready for cutting, but in the meantime perhaps you could update your file here for future reference. Thanks! (and sorry if I’ve missed it somewhere…)

  37. THANKS… this recipe has been a huge hit in my family! I linked to your recipe here: http://koskersidlewild.blogspot.com/2013/03/happily-ever-after-my-parents-40th.html

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