Gingerbread Men! The ultimate Christmas cookie, is it not??
Is it too early to get into Christmas baking? I think not.
And is there any cookie more Christmas-y than Gingerbread Men? I KNOW not! Smells like Christmas, tastes like Christmas, looks like Christmas!
You’ll love these Gingerbread Men. You can actually really taste the ginger and spice flavour. They are lovely and moist inside, and you can make the dough months in advance – super handy to bake up fresh when the necessity arises!
What you need for Gingerbread Men
Here’s what you need to make these little Christmas Gingerbread Men!
Just some notes on a few of the ingredients:
- Molasses – Essential for that deep, rich, caramel-like gingerbread flavour! It also helps hold the dough’s shape. Golden syrup makes a great sub, or treacle. Honey will also work, but the cookies will spread out a touch more and not have the same deep flavour (but still very, very good!). Maple syrup is no good, it’s too thin.
- Brown sugar – I’ve used ordinary brown sugar here. Light brown sugar results in a slightly lighter colour gingerbread and dark brown sugar can also be used which yields a richer, deeper brown colour. All are tasty!
- Softened butter – If you want specifics: 17°C/63°F is ideal. It should be malleable but should not make your fingers shiny with grease when you poke it. Your finger should basically be clean. The texture is important: If it’s too soft, this will compromise your cookie dough!
- Large egg – This is an egg that is 55-60g / 2oz, labelled as “large eggs” on the carton (it’s standardised). Make sure it’s at room temperature. Fridge cold eggs won’t blend in well (and also could cool the butter).
- Ground ginger, of course. We are making GINGERbread men, after all!
- Mixed Spice is a store bought blend of spices used holiday dishes that gives Gingerbread Men more layers of flavour. Using just ginger and cinnamon as many recipes do is just too one dimensional! Smells of Christmas, hails from Britain, common in Australia but if you can’t find it where you are, don’t worry – it’s easy to make up your own using standard spices: cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and coriander (in recipe notes, and don’t worry if you’re missing one or two); and
- Cloves are optional but add a nice hit of spice and warmth to the dough.
How to make Gingerbread Men
Gingerbread Men are made using a soft, generously-spiced cookie dough. It’s rolled out then a Gingerbread Men cookie cutter is used to cut the shapes out. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a Gingerbread Man – you can make any shape you want!
Making the Gingerbread Cookie Dough
- Cream the butter and sugar, then add egg and vanilla. You can use a stand mixer or a handheld beater, as I have done;
- Beat in the molasses – it will change the colour to a deep golden brown colour;
- Beat in the dry ingredients in 4 equal batches. Adding them gradually helps them incorporate more easily; and
- The dough will be soft and sticky – kind of like clay – and should stick together when you press it together.
Cutting Gingerbread Men Shapes
- The dough is quite soft and sticky so refrigerate it to firm it up. Do so for at least 2 hours, but you can leave it in the fridge for up to 5 days, or even freeze it for 3 months!
- Cut the dough in half so you have one half to work with while you return the other half to the fridge to keep it cold.
- Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking paper / parchment paper;
- Cut out Gingerbread Men shapes. My cutter is 11cm/4.5″ long. Press down firmly to cut all the way through so they lift out cleanly (though if you have scrappy edges, you can just tidy them up easily on the baking tray).
Gingerbread Dough Rolling Tips
Gingerbread dough is quite soft and sticky which is what makes the cookies moist instead of dry inside. Refrigeration makes the dough easier to work with. At any point during the roll/cutting process, you can stop and refrigerate it to make it easier to work with (be sure to cover dough with cling wrap).
Rolling out between paper is easiest. Try to minimise use of dusting flour otherwise you will have white dust on the cooked gingerbread.
When rolling, paper on underside tends to wrinkle as dough spreads out (which blemishes dough surface), so flip dough, peel off wrinkled paper then put it back on, smoothing out wrinkles.
Transferring and Baking
- Peel off excess dough from around the Gingerbread Men;
- Transfer shapes to a baking tray using a palette knife or large kitchen knife. Something long and thin is best to minimise ruining the shape!
- Place on a baking paper/parchment-lined tray, adjust the shapes and tidy up the edges if needed (I use a butter knife – just press on the scruffy edges to make them neat); and
- Bake for 12 minutes for light golden and mostly soft (though slightly crisp on edges), or 14 minutes for deeper golden and crisp. The gingerbread men will be soft out of the oven but will firm up as they cool. Note however even crisp gingerbread men soften the next day. I’m yet to discover the secret to keep Gingerbread Men crispy (other than using a drier dough but that just makes dry Gingerbread Men!).
Crispy vs Soft?
If you want a softer cookie with the signature golden colour (pictured – my pick!), stick to 12 minutes bake time. For a crispy cookie with more colour, bake 14 minutes. For the latter, the cookies will be soft straight from the oven, but will harden upon cooling. Note however, even crispy cookies go soft the next day. They just won’t stay firm, sadly!
This recipe makes 20 Gingerbread Men using a cutter that’s 11cm / 4.5″ tall. I use 3 baking trays because the flow of this recipe works nicely to fill and bake one tray at a time.
Decorating the Gingerbread Men
The best icing to use to decorating Gingerbread Men is Royal Icing. It’s suitable for piping intricate designs which means it’s perfect for putting smiley faces on our Gingerbread Men, giving them decorative pants / skirts / shorts and gluing on belly buttons etc.
Also, this icing sets hard and so won’t soften the Gingerbread Men.
You can get as fancy as you want with your decorations! The way I’ve piped the icing across the arms and waist in a zig-zag is a pretty classic way of decorating Gingerbread Men.
I use mini M&M’s and silver balls for the buttons.
And yes, I did give him a smiley face. Nobody wants to eat a grumpy Gingerbread Man! And even through this toughest of years we can all find some reason to smile, right? – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
This goes down as the cutest recipe video I’ve made all year!!!
TOP TIP: The dough is quite sticky to work with (but sticky dough = moist cookie!). The trick is to make sure it’s cold – so if it gets too sticky, return to refrigerator for a bit at anytime during roll out/cutting process.
- 3 cups flour , plain/all purpose
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp mixed spice (Note 1)
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves (Note 2)
- 85g / 5 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter , softened (Note 3)
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (Note 4 re: light or dark brown)
- 1 large egg , at room temperature (Note 5)
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 1/2 cup molasses, light / true (NOT blackstrap)(Note 6)
Whisk Dry Ingredients on one bowl.
Cream butter & sugar – In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together using a stand mixer or electric beater on speed 7 for 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
Egg & vanilla – Add the egg and vanilla, then mix on speed 5 until combined (~30 sec).
Molasses – Add the molasses, mix for 1 minute using speed 2.
Gradually add dry ingredients – Add 1/4 of the Dry ingredients, then mix until you can’t see flour (start on speed 1 to stop flour flying everywhere!). Repeat until all Dry ingredients are mixed in, then mix for further 15 seconds. Dough should be soft and a bit sticky – see video for texture.
Refrigerate – Pat dough into a disc shape, wrap in the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm. (Can refrigerate 5 days or freeze 3 months).
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C (170°C fan) and set a shelf in the middle. Line 3 x baking trays with parchment/baking paper.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut into half. Wrap half and return to the fridge.
Roll out (Note 7)- Sprinkle a sheet of baking paper very lightly with flour. Place dough on top, sprinkle surface very lightly with flour. Place another sheet of baking paper on top. Roll dough out until 4mm / 1/6″ thick using a rolling pin. As you work, flip and if paper is wrinkling, peel it off then put if back on, smoothing out wrinkles.
Cut out shapes (Note 8) – Use a gingerbread cookie cutter to cut out gingerbread men shapes, firmly pressing to cut all the way through. If the dough sticks to the cutter, dip it into flour.
Transfer – Use a palette knife (or large knife) to transfer shapes onto baking sheet. Place 6 on the first sheet. Tidy edges if necessary using a butter knife.
Bake Tray 1 – Bake for 12 minutes (for classic light golden) or 14 minutes (dark golden and crisp). Then remove and cool fully on tray.
Repeat – Meanwhile, gather scraps of dough, press together then roll out again. If dough is sticky, return to refrigerator and work on the other half of the dough instead. Repeat rolling out and cutting out. You should have 18 to 20 gingerbread men in total (depending on cutter size)
Trays 2 & 3 – Fill and bake 2nd and 3rd tray with gingerbread men, 6 to 8 on each tray. I find the workflow that works best is baking one tray at a time ie. roll/cut-out/fill/bake one tray while you prepare the next.
Decorate – Fully cool on trays, then decorate! Use a half batch of this Royal Icing recipe to pipe and stick on decorations (sets hard and doesn’t soak into cookies). The recipe makes more than you need, but it’s impractical to make less. So freeze leftovers in fully sealed piping bag for future use.
1. Mixed Spice is a store-bought blend of spices used in a lot of holiday dishes, and it gives Gingerbread Men that really amazing special Christmas touch. Smells of Christmas! Standard spice in the UK and Australia, but if you can’t find it, here’s how to make it:
- 1/4 tsp each cinnamon and all spice
- 1/8 tsp each nutmeg, cloves, ginger and coriander
If you’re missing one or two of the above, don’t fret, just skip it and replace with the same amount of ginger powder. So many spices going on in these cookies anyway, you won’t miss it!
2. Cloves are optional but add a nice hit of spice and warmth to the dough.
3. Softened butter – Technically 17C/63F. It should be malleable but should not make your fingers shiny with grease when you touch it. If it’s too soft, this will compromise your cookie dough results!
4. Brown sugar – I’ve used ordinary brown sugar here. Light brown sugar results in a slightly lighter colour gingerbread and dark brown sugar can also be used which yields a richer, deeper brown colour.
5. Large egg – This is a 55-60g / 2oz egg, labelled as “large eggs” on the carton. Make sure it’s at room temperature – fridge cold eggs won’t blend in well (and might cool the butter – not good).
6. Molasses – Essential for that rich, caramel gingerbread flavour! Golden syrup makes a great sub, or treacle. Honey will also work, but cookie will spread a touch more, not be quite the same deep golden colour and not have the same rich flavour (still very, very good!).
Maple syrup is too thin and will lose its flavour. Molasses sugar cannot be substituted either.
7. Rolling tips – Gingerbread dough is quite soft and sticky, which is what makes the cookies moist instead of dry inside. Refrigeration makes the dough easier to work with. So at any point during roll/cutting process, you can stop and refrigerate to make it easier to work with (be sure to cover dough with cling wrap).
Rolling out between baking/parchment paper is easiest. Do not use too much flour otherwise you will have white dust on the cooked gingerbread.
When rolling, paper on the underside wrinkles as dough spreads out (which blemishes dough surface), so flip dough, peel off wrinkled paper then put it back on, smoothing out wrinkles.
8. Gingerbread man cutter I used is 11cm / 4.5″ long. My favourite shape which I only have is plastic which unfortunately doesn’t cut as well. Metal ones I’ve found may cut better but the shape isn’t as nice!
9. Crunchy vs soft – If you want a softer cookie with the signature golden colour (pictured), stick to 12 minutes cook time. For a crunchier cookie with more colour, bake 14 minutes. The cookies will be soft straight from the oven, but will harden upon cooling. Note however, crispy cookies go soft the next day. They just won’t stay firm!
10. Different measures in different countries – Tablespoon and cup sizes differ slightly from country to country. In most recipes, the difference is not enough to affect the outcome of the recipe, but for baking recipes, you do need to be more exact.
This cookie recipe as written works no matter what country you are in EXCEPT Japan (please use weights provided if you’re in Japan!). I’ve made it mixing up US and Australian cups (between which you see the greatest common size variance) and it came out the same. In fact, that is why the butter is 5.5 tbsp instead of 6 tbsp which 85g concisely converts to!
11. Storage – These cookies last for 1 week in a tightly-sealed airtight container. Actually, I just ate one that was two weeks old and it was a bit dry but still delicious – no one would complain! The recommended icing for Gingerbread Men will not soften cookies.
Dough – You can refrigerate the dough for up to 5 days or even freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in fridge then use per recipe.
12. Nutrition per Gingerbread Man, assuming 20 (excluding icing).
Life of Dozer
You wear an elf hat for a photo, I’ll give you a Gingerbread doughnut …. pretty good deal, if you ask me!