Do you have a special recipe from your grandmother for Gingerbread Cookies that you WANT to love (because you love your grandma), but never actually make, because eating it feels like taking a bite of actual cardboard? You are not alone! I have finally discovered all the secrets for perfectly soft, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth-buttery Gingerbread Man Cookies. Plus recipes for Royal Icing, Glaze Icing (my favorite), and Buttercream Frosting!
Table of Contents
- A confession
- Soft gingerbread cookies that actually taste good, it’s a freakin miracle
- What makes gingerbread taste like gingerbread?
- Gingerbread cookies that hold their shape and don’t spread into depressing blobs
- What makes gingerbread cookies hard or soft?
- How to frost gingerbread cookies
- How to choose gingerbread cookie cutters
- Gingerbread cookie recipe ingredient list
- How to make gingerbread cookies
- What to serve with gingerbread man cookies
- Host a cookie decorating party
- How to store leftover gingerbread men
- Can you freeze gingerbread cookies?
- Freeze the decorated cookies
- Gingerbread cookie frequently asked questions
- More ginger spiced goodness
- Even more of the BEST holiday cookies
- Gingerbread Man Cookies Recipe
We are getting ready to have 3 families come stay with us for the Christmas holidays. Tis the season for pandemonium, right?! It’s been a whirlwind of preparations over here, getting ready for the chaos that inevitably comes when you have 18 people living under the same roof. Last year we had 27 people at my brother’s house. It’s so fun, especially for the kids. Maybe a little too much fun.
At one point last year the kids emerged from the basement to tell us that Valentine (my 6-year-old) had verbally bought something on the Alexa. My brother searched through all the recent purchases and couldn’t find anything.
I got a call from him months later, in April. Hey, remember when the kids thought Val bought something on the Alexa? She actually upgraded my account. I’ve been charged an extra $17.50 every month since December. 🤦♀️
This is what happens when the adults are having too much fun to check on what shenanigans the kids are up to! I have a picture from several years ago when Charlotte was about 5. It’s just my hand, showing all the things I found in her hair after not touching it for several days of Christmas-cousin time. Twigs, leaves, lint, even a tiny bead-size toy. It’s like she actually started to go feral.
Another year, when there were FOUR cousins who had all just turned 2, all the moms went to an afternoon movie. We trusted that the guys could, you know, take care of their own children. But you seriously cannot imagine how fast four toddlers can cause mayhem. We came home to the toddlers diaper-less, jumping on the bed, and lathering themselves (and someone’s laptop) in lotion.
We will see what happens this year. We’ve never hosted before! There aren’t as many little kids this year, but I trust that my 3-year-old son Edison will single-handedly make up for it. Eric just texted me not 5 minutes ago to tell me that he just shattered my brand new potted plant. He never stops! A human blender. Without the top on.
I have been holding out on you. I developed this recipe a few years ago but never shared it. My family has been enjoying the most amazing soft, chewy, flavorful gingerbread men, and you have been left out in the cold, with nothing but crunchy cardboard gingerbread people to comfort you.
I was SO nervous about making these cookies “pretty” for the post that I kept putting it off! (I’m no decorating pro, guys. Look what Instagram has done to our society!) I finally got my act together and now this recipe can be yours too. It’s a huge family favorite.
See below for all the details about frosting, but I want to tell you first about the cookie itself.
I posted pictures of these cookies to Instagram, and my friend Jen said, “My son was just telling me today that I need to get your gingerbread recipe! He remembers having one at your house and feels like this is the essence of Christmas!” He’s not wrong, guys. Nothing says Christmas like soft warm gingerbread.
I’m so glad I finally buckled down and did this post. It’s a family classic for us, and one that I hope your family loves too! Don’t let the intimidating frosting situation hold you back, I’ve got options for you. Plus, I’m a charlatan with a capital C, so if I can pull it off, you can too.
Soft gingerbread cookies that actually taste good, it’s a freakin miracle
Have you ever bitten into a beautifully decorated gingerbread man cookie and heard that inevitable…CRUNCH? Ugh! No thank you. I want a SOFT gingerbread man. Our grandmother’s recipes from yesteryear are all about the same, and they are not what the modern baker is looking for (unless you are my mother-in-law, who will die on her crunchy-cookie-hill. Kris, this post is NOT for you ;)
These cookies are similar to my recipe for the The Softest Sugar Cookies of Your Life. (I also have strong feelings about crunchy frosted sugar cookies. Only soft will do for me!)
These gingerbread cookies are perfectly soft and chewy, but are still firm enough to decorate. And they DON’T taste like cardboard.
What makes gingerbread taste like gingerbread?
What is gingerbread anyway? It’s a mixture of warm spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice. (You could also throw in some nutmeg or cardamom, but we’re keeping it classic for today’s recipe.) A warm spice is exactly what it sounds like: a spice that brings a touch of warmth or heat to your palate.
We are not messing around with these cookies. They have a full tablespoon EACH of cinnamon and ginger, plus a healthy dose of allspice and cloves. Eric actually asked me if I had added black pepper to these cookies (like I do for my Pumpkin Pie), but nope: you add enough ginger, it tastes pretty spicy! But in a way that’s very unique from black or chili pepper.
The other thing that makes these cookies amazingly moist and flavorful is the molasses. Molasses is an earthy, warm sugar that is thick and syrupy, and brings our cookies to peak level chewiness. We are using a full cup of this magic.
Honestly these cookies are flavorful enough you can eat them just by themselves, no frosting. (But I mean come on, why would you do that. Decorating them is half the fun.)
Gingerbread cookies that hold their shape and don’t spread into depressing blobs
There is nothing sadder than taking the time to make homemade cut out cookies, and having the dough spread so much in the oven that you can’t tell what the design of the cookie cutter was.
This recipe does not spread AT ALL. These cookies in the photo above are baked, and they match up almost exactly with the cutters. It’s not your typical cookie dough recipe: There are no eggs (which act as a leavener in most cookie recipes) and there is NO baking soda.
In regular cookies (like Chocolate Chip Cookies for example), baking soda helps the cookie rise up in the middle (so that you get a soft and gooey center) and it also helps to crisp the edges of the cookie. (Two seemingly opposite things, kind of amazing right? Thank you science 🤓)
What makes gingerbread cookies hard or soft?
We are getting super soft centers on our gingerbread cookies by rolling them out VERY thick, so there is no baking soda necessary.
They don’t need to rise because they are already so thick. Leaving out the baking soda also means there is no distinct crisp on the edges of the cookie. A bite of the edge of the cookie is almost the same as the center of the cookie. Hallelujah!
How to frost gingerbread cookies
Not only was I nervous about making the cookies pretty enough, there was also the fact I’m not a huge royal icing fan. Decorating gingerbread men is such a classic Christmas activity that you can’t really talk about one without the other. I don’t think royal icing has the best flavor, but it’s so much fun that it’s an important part of any gingerbread cookies post! I was still dragging my feet though.
Then a while back I saw my friend Carrian’s recipe where she didn’t use royal icing; instead she dunked the cookies in a simple glaze. I fell in love with this idea and could not get it out of my head! I tried it using my own special recipe and knew I was never going back.
We may always decorate cookies as a family with royal icing because it’s so fun, but when I really want to impress people (including myself) with the BEST flavor, glazed gingerbread cookies is definitely the way I always go.
- Royal icing (best for decorating) (UPDATE! I finally did a whole tutorial post on royal icing!)
- Glaze Icing (best tasting and easiest)
- Buttercream frosting (richest!)
I also am including one other frosting option, the classic Buttercream. This is a great option if you want to do some very simple decorating but don’t want to get super intricate.
How to choose gingerbread cookie cutters
I know this is incredibly picky, but I have some rules about what gingerbread cookie cutters you use.
I feel like me and these cutters became family in the making of this post. We are basically best friends now. I even named them: Big Daddy, Fat Boy, Lil Brother, and Baby Spice. 😂
- Choose a gingerbread man with arms pointed upward, not down. They are just cuter, okay? He looks like he’s reaching up to give you a hug. And who doesn’t want that? I didn’t love any of the cookies from that red cutter.
- Large gingerbread men (4 inches tall or larger ) are fun for decorating (especially for kids) because they can go to town with all the space. But, they tend to break easier when packaging, arms and feet snapping off all over the place, so they are not ideal for gifting.
- If you are only making one size, choose a mid-size 3-inch tall gingerbread man. Simple to decorate, reasonably sturdy for gifting
- The teeny tiny gingerbread men (2 inches) are SO CUTE. People lose their minds over these, I’m not kidding. The squeals of delight you will hear! People have tiny love, okay? I’ve brought all these sizes of cookies to events, and the little guys always go first. Not everyone wants to commit to a giant cookie.
I bought all of my cookie cutters for this post years ago, but here is a link to the ones I would choose now. Arms up, and your choice of large, medium, or tiny. Perfect!
One time in college my sister was helping her roommate make Lasagna, and critiqued the way that she was sprinkling on the cheese. That’s when my sister realized, ok, maybe I’m a bit of a control freak 😂 It runs in the family I think. Take my extremely bossy gingerbread cookie cutter suggestions and throw them in the trash if you want!
Gingerbread cookie recipe ingredient list
This is just a 10 ingredient cookie recipe! Here’s a quick list of what you’ll need to round up to make these cookies. You’ll probably have most of these in your pantry! Specific measurements and full instructions are in the recipe card at the end of the post, so be sure to look there before you start.
- dark brown sugar (light brown is fine too)
- molasses (not blackstrap)
- all purpose flour
- kosher salt
For the icing:
- Meringue powder (OR egg whites)
- powdered sugar
- gel food coloring
Easy glaze frosting:
- powdered sugar
- corn syrup
- powdered sugar
- gel food coloring
How to make gingerbread cookies
Let’s make the dough! First we start with some good ol butter and sugar. The best start to any baking project!
There are not a lot of ingredients in this cookie recipe, so you have to make sure they are all high quality. One thing I will mention that I think it important: Use brand new fresh soft brown sugar. If you are chipping brown sugar off a block you bought six months ago, guess what, your cookies are not going to be as soft and moist.
The other thing that makes our cookies soft and chewy is adding a mountain of molasses. (A waterfall??) This is the good stuff. Buy light or dark molasses, but not blackstrap. Blackstrap molasses is so dark that it’s bitter and best for savory dishes. Check out this Guide to Molasses from The Kitchn if you want to learn more.
Do you have one of these adjustable measuring cups yet? Makes life so much easier.
Now it’s time for some flour, salt and spices! No baking soda here. Add in a full TABLESPOON of ginger, and another tablespoon of cinnamon. Also cloves and allspice. You could throw in some nutmeg or cardamom if you’re feeling spicy. (Get it??)
Eric’s family has a beloved gingerbread recipe from his great Grandma Prudy. They call them “Gingerbread Boys.” It’s a classic recipe that is crunchy on the edges. But I love the flavor of that recipe so I called up my mother-in-law to see what spices she used. I wanted old school flavor. It’s just the four: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves.
Fair warning: you are going to have a very, very hard time staying away from this dough. There’s not even an egg in there to scare you off. It’s just pure Christmas magic with no threat of salmonella and no adults around to stop you. Live your best life.
Lay out 2 or 3 sheets of plastic wrap and separate the dough.
Wrap up each bit of dough and shape into a disc. Stick it in the fridge to chill out. Or cheat like I do, and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, then the fridge for 30 minutes.
Time to roll out! Dust some flour on a work surface. I love my pastry cloth, have you used one? So handy.
If you’ve just pulled it from the fridge, pound it a few times with your rolling pin to help loosen it up.
Then roll it out, but DON’T GO TOO FAR!! I can’t stress this enough. THIS is the moment when you are making your cookies soft or crunchy. If you roll too thin, there is only so much the dough ingredients can do for you. Rolling thick (with zero leavening) is the big secret! This is the same technique that makes my Sugar Cookies recipe so well loved (check out the hundreds of reviews.)
Don’t let this ruler scare you off 😂 you don’t have to get yours out. I’m just trying to give you an idea of HOW thick to roll. We are aiming for 3/8 inch.
Now it’s time to cut the dough! Bust out your gingerbread man! Be sure to read the section above about which size gingerbread cutter is best for which purposes.
Even for the little tiny guys (this is a 2 inch tall cutter) you want the cookies to be super thick. When you are cutting the cookies, don’t forget to dip your cookie cutter in flour, especially if it’s a very intricate design.
Another tip if you are using a cutter with an intricate design:
Use your finger to get the excess flour/dough off the outside of the cookie cutter. You can even use a knife if you need to for very small spaces. This is the best way to get sharp edges on your baked cookie.
Now it’s time to bake the cookies! DON’T over bake!!
Take them out of the oven when they are no longer shiny on the top. Check out your boys as soon as they come out of the oven and see if they need any nudging.
Do not underestimate the power of a good nudge when your cookies are within 30-60 seconds of coming out of the oven. These cookies are yours to shape. Use a knife or spoon to give your cookie a diet if he looks fat. These cookies are no spread, but it’s still a cookie! (Flour itself is a leavener, did you know?) You can also use this moment to separate any gingerbread men who have decided to kick each other.
Let them cool and when you flip them over, they should look like this. Dark spots on the back. THIS is a soft cookie.
Once your cookies are cooled off, put them in a tupperware right away and keep them covered while you decorate, to keep them moist.
Now it’s time to dip! Or frost with royal icing or buttercream icing. It’s so fun to do with a group. I had some girlfriends over the other night and we were up until 1am decorating together!
What to serve with gingerbread man cookies
Really, the most important thing is choosing which frosting to use. Or do you not even frost them and just serve with milk? Tough choice. (Actually, as a dipper, I think the warm flavors in the cookies lend themselves to drinks like coffee, tea, or hot cocoa too!)
If you don’t like frosting but still want a topping for your gingerbread cookie, here are some ideas I love (or can’t wait to try!)
- Simple Whipped Cream or Peppermint Whipped Cream >> I’m telling you, peppermint and gingerbread are besties
- WAIT WAIT. Linking to the peppermint whipped cream recipe on my Candy Cane Trifle ↑ above just made me think of this: What if you replaced the brownies in that recipe with this soft gingerbread?? Omg. Yum. I want to try that! Ginger-peppermint forever. You could do it with these Molasses Cookies too, and skip all the cutting out.
- A really good tart fruit jelly or even a dollop of Cranberry Sauce >> the cranberry orange complements the warm spice flavor
- Easy Lemon Curd >> 100x better than store bought and so easy. Don’t be a ginger-lemon hater, it’s SO good.
- You could even try frosting these gingerbread cookies with a citrus glaze. Try the lemon glaze from my Glazed Lemon Bread Recipe.
- Dulce de Leche >> You guys. It’s so easy to make at home and would be AMAZING on these cookies
- Crumble up your cookies (sacrilege, I know) and sprinkle the pieces over some Homemade Vanilla Pudding or Butterscotch Pudding, or layer the cookies and pudding with whipped cream for a simple trifle!
- Gingerbread Cookie Truffles from Easy Cooking with Molly
- Someday, someday, I will share a recipe I’ve been dying to recreate from Gunther’s, my favorite Sacramento ice cream shop. One year they had a specialty flavor called Cinna-Man. It was cinnamon ice cream with gingerbread cookies mixed in, and had the texture of Cookies and Cream ice cream. It was SO GOOOOOOD and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since. (They have never brought the flavor back. What gives, Gunther’s??) Eventually I will get you a copycat recipe, but if you can find some high quality cinnamon ice cream, mix these cookies in and let freeze for a day.
Host a cookie decorating party
If you want to have a Christmas cookie decorating party, you could make some of The Softest Sugar Cookies of Your Life as well as some of The Softest Chocolate Sugar Cookies in addition to this gingerbread cookies recipe to have lots of options to decorate! Don’t forget The BEST Buttercream Sugar Cookie Frosting Recipe!!
How to store leftover gingerbread men
It’s as easy as adding the cookies to an airtight container, where they’ll be good on the counter for 4-5 days. They will dry out and get hard if left out uncovered, or if you put them in the cold air of the refrigerator so avoid that!
If you have already-frosted cookies leftover, you can store them sealed on the counter for a few days, or you can freeze them:
Can you freeze gingerbread cookies?
Absolutely! My favorite way is to actually freeze the unbaked dough, but I’ll explain how to freeze finished cookies also:
- Freeze the dough: You can wrap the discs of dough tightly in plastic wrap and add it to a ziplock freezer bag. Or, you can roll and cut out your pieces, lay them on a cookie sheet, and flash freeze them for 30-60 minutes. Once flash frozen, layer them in stacks with wax or parchment paper and store in a large tupperware or ziplock freezer bag. No matter how you store them, they should be good in the freezer for 1-2 months. You can bake them straight from frozen, do not thaw.
- Baked, not frosted: If you have baked but unfrosted cookies, you can freeze those too! Wait until they are completely cool, then add any cookies to a tupperware or freezer ziplock bag, getting out as much air as possible. They’ll be good in there for 2-4 weeks. Technically they will still be good past that date, but the stale freezer air will start to affect the taste after while so I wouldn’t go too long.
Freeze the decorated cookies
This is the only way I get through the holiday season! Freezing completely-done cookies is a huge time saver when I am putting together my cookie plates.
- Once royal icing is completely dry, store the cookies in a tightly sealed tupperware and freeze for 2-3 weeks. You should be able to stack them just fine. Spread them out and thaw at room temperature.
- For the glaze icing, wait until they are completely dry, then store in a tupperware, with a piece of parchment paper in between each layer. When thawing, lay out the cookies in a single layer, no cookies touching each other. The glaze will release moisture again, and they will need to re-dry; it will look like you just dipped them again. So you can’t thaw them out stacked.
- For buttercream frosting, flash freeze the cookies, then store in a tupperware, separating each stack with parchment paper. Lay out the cookies in a single layer when thawing, so they don’t melt into each other.
Gingerbread cookie frequently asked questions
It’s all the warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and more. Ginger, of course, is the star of the show in these cookies! A deep molasses (also a warm flavor) rounds out the flavor profile.
Very close, but not quite. They have a very similar yummy spiced flavor profile. Ginger cookies, sometimes called Ginger Molasses Cookies or just Molasses Cookies, are softer and lighter in texture and generally are shaped into balls and rolled in sugar before baking. Gingerbread is a denser, firmer, chewier cookie (hence why we can make houses out of it) and generally rolled out and cut into shapes like gingerbread man cookies or house pieces. Please, whatever you do, do NOT choose just one or the other. Christmas is a time of love, and I love BOTH these cookies. I think you will too, and can find a place for them in your Christmas schedule!
If we’re going for traditional gingerbread, then no, it is not supposed to be crunchy. That’s why there are Gingersnaps, for all the crunchy ginger-spiced cookie lovers! That being said, there is a range for soft-to-hard in the gingerbread world. Overall, the dough bakes into a firm, dense, and chewy cookie. I like to bake my cookies a bit on the softer side for eating. If you are cutting out pieces for decoration meant to stay out and not be eaten (whether men or a house) you’ll want to bake longer so they’ll set hard and very dry. That’s because if the pieces are soft, the icing will absorb some of the moisture, which not only discolors it, but also makes your structure or gingerbread man more likely to fall apart over time.
More ginger spiced goodness
Gingerbread is a classic and has been for ages, but there are soooo many other delicious treats with ginger and all the other warming spices. Try these!
- Soft and Chewy Molasses Cookies >> the softer, lighter Christmas-cookie-dream-come-true cousin to gingerbread
- Ginger Molasses Sandwich Cookies with Buttercream Frosting >> the best of the best: classic molasses cookies, but with a thick schmear of vanilla buttercream in the middle!
- Grandma Prudy’s Classic Gingersnaps >> straight from my husband’s Swedish great-grandmother, and the best crispy yet chewy cookie around
- Chocolate Chunk Gingerbread Cookies >> kind of like a gingerbread spiced chocolate chip cookie – amazing!
- Frosted Peppermint Gingerbread Bars (Candy Lasses Bars) >> thick and gooey gingerbread bars, topped with buttercream and crushed candy cane
- Gingerbread Pancakes with Lemon Syrup >> all the gingerbread flavor, but for BREAKFAST!
- Ginger Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake >> incredibly moist, with a buttery caramel sauce to boot
- Gingerbread Toffee Lush Dessert from The Domestic Rebel
Even more of the BEST holiday cookies
December is my favorite baking season, how about you?! And on the top of my list, for sure, is making cookies for all the parties, all the neighbor goodie plates, for teachers, and more. Check out some of the best cookies for the season!!
- Thick & SOFT Sugar Cookie Recipe >> the ultimate EASY sugar cookie recipe for Christmas cookies that hold their shape and are perfect to decorate as a family or at a party
- Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies (Chocolate Snickerdoodles) >> Super chocolatey, with the perfect hint of spice
- Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies >> if you’re a mint chip ice cream fan, you will LOVE these
- Peppermint Candy Cane Cookies >> two favorites, peppermint and sugar cookies, all in one
- Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies >> if you were like me as a kid, you always fought to get the cookie with the hersheys kiss in it from the treat plate before anyone else!
- Grandma Prudy’s Classic Spritz Cookie Recipe >> traditional cut Swedish Christmas cookies, these are a classic in Eric’s family
- Butter Pecan Cookie Recipe >> it’s just not Christmas (to me) without these buttery shortbread cookies
- Dipped Chocolate Peppermint Cookies >> fudgy and chewy, with a hint of peppermint and dipped in more chocolate for good measure
- Christmas Kitchen Sink Cookies from In Bloom Bakery
Gingerbread Man Cookies
For the Cookies:
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup molasses, I like Grandma's brand (don't use blackstrap)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1 & 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
For Royal Icing
- 1/4 cup meringue powder , or 3 egg whites, see notes
- 4 cups powdered sugar, about 1 pound
- 6 tablespoons warm water, omit if using egg whites.
- gel food coloring, optional
For Glaze Icing
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 6-7 tablespoons milk, or more as necessary
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 pinch kosher salt
For Buttercream Frosting
- 1 batch Buttercream Frosting
- gel food coloring, optional
- Make the cookie dough: In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 1 cup (two sticks) slightly softened butter. (I always soften my butter in the microwave for 1 minute on power level ONE.) Beat the butter for about 1-2 minutes, scraping the sides, until it is smooth and creamy.
- Add 1 cup dark brown sugar (light brown works fine too). Beat the butter and sugar together for another 1-2 minutes, scraping the sides down after it comes together. Beat until the mixture has become light and fluffy.
- Add 1 cup molasses. (Do you have one of those adjustable measuring cups? They are a lifesaver for measuring sticky ingredients like molasses.) Use any brand of Unsulphured Molasses (might be labeled dark or light, both are fine. Just don't get blackstrap, it's too strong and bitter.)
- Add 1 tablespoon vanilla and beat until incorporated.
- Add the dry ingredients. Spoon and level 4 cups of flour (that means use a spoon to add it to the measuring cup, then level off the top) and add to the bowl. Don't mix yet.
- Make a little well in the flour, and add the rest of the ingredients: 1 and 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon allspice. Stir the spices into the flour a bit, breaking up any clumps (the ginger will especially need this).
- Mix the dry ingredients into the dough on the lowest speed. Scrape the edges of the bowl and continue mixing until it comes together. There should be no more flour streaks and no flour on the edges of the bowl. Do not over mix. Over mixing cookie dough makes your cookies tough (instead of soft and tender.)
- Chill the dough: Lay out 3 sheets of plastic wrap on your counter. Divide the dough into 3. Wrap each portion of the dough in the plastic and chill for about 2 hours, until firm (I cheat. I put the wrapped dough in the freezer (not stacked; separate the discs) for about 30 minutes, then finish chilling for about 30 minutes in the fridge.) The goal is to have firm dough that is not too sticky to roll out.)
- Meanwhile, get your pans ready. Line 3 half baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Roll out the dough: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a work surface with a light dusting of flour. (I love to use my pastry cloth.) Place one disc of dough on the flour and coat each side. Use your rolling pin to smash the dough a couple times, loosening it. Start rolling, turning the dough over every couple times to make sure the dough doesn't start sticking to the surface, sprinkling with flour as necessary.
- Roll the dough to about 3/8 inch thickness. This is just under a half inch. See photos for an idea of what size this looks like against my thumb. Don't roll them out too thin! You will get harder cookies. This is the moment when you are achieving the texture you want, so look alive people. (It's even more important than not over-baking.)
- Cut the cookies. Dip your cookie cutter in flour. Place the cutter as close to the edge of the dough as possible. Press down firmly, then lift the cutter and loosen your gingerbread man directly onto your prepared baking sheet. If you are baking tiny gingerbread men, take the time to run your finger around the edge of the cutter, removing excess dough, to make sure you get clean lines.
- Place the gingerbread men on the pan with at least an inch or two of space in between each cookie. These cookies will hold their shape, but they still puff a bit in the oven.
- You can use any shape cutters you like, just make sure all the cookies on each pan are about the same size.
- Chill the cookies again. This step is optional, but if you want your cookies to REALLY hold their shape, stick the whole pan of cookies in the freezer for 5 minutes before baking. If you don't have space, make sure you work quickly when rolling your dough so that the cookies hit the oven as cold as possible. This makes for the best texture.
- Bake in the oven at 350. For 2-inch tall gingerbread men, bake for 6-8 minutes.For 3-inch tall gingerbread men, bake for 8-10 minutes.For 4-inch tall gingerbread men, bake for 10-12 minutes.Take the cookies out of the oven when the centers are no longer shiny. Keep an eye on them to make sure they do not over bake! Take them out AS SOON as you notice the centers are not raw (shiny). This will take some trial and error as you test things out with your oven and the size of your cookies. Stick around and keep checking on your first batch.
- Within 30 seconds of taking your cookies out of the oven, assess the shape of your little men, and decide if you want to make any nudges to help them be the exact shape you want. Use the side of a knife to press the edges of the cookies in toward the center. Separate any cookies that are trying to hold hands or kick each others heads. You can only do this easily within 30-60 seconds of taking them out of the oven. See tips for shaping just-baked cookies on my Chocolate Chip Cookie post.
- Let the cookies finish setting up on the pan for about 5 minutes. They will continue to firm up. Wait longer for big cookies. Use a spatula to remove the cookies to a cooling rack. Let cool completely, then once cool, transfer right away to a sealed tupperware, to keep them soft.
- Choose your frosting. At this point you need to decide if you are doing more intricate decorations with Royal Icing, dipping these cookies in a simple Glaze Icing (my favorite), or topping with Buttercream Frosting (to either spread on or pipe; this is the richest option).
- Update Jan 2024: I created an entire post about Royal Icing, check it out for tons of details. This is a simplified recipes. See notes for making this recipe with egg whites.In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together 1/4 cup meringue powder and 4 cups powdered sugar. Gradually add 6 tablespoons warm water and beat on low, using the whisk attachment if you have it. Once it's come together, mix on medium speed for 30-60 seconds, until the frosting is thick and white. Do not over beat; it makes the frosting unstable. Add water a little at a time until your frosting is about the consistency of toothpaste, or a bit thinner. Separate into bowls if you are adding gel food coloring; one color for each bowl. Add the frosting to piping bags set up with #1 or #2 size tips. (or add to a ziplock and snip the corner a tiny bit.) Pipe the icing on the cookies.Royal icing is finicky and takes a lot of practice to get it just right. I could write a whole post about this (and sometime soon I will. Update! I did! Royal Icing here.) Be patient and remember practice makes perfect. I had dozens of reject cookies I decorated before getting the ones I photographed for this post, which are still definitely not Instagram level, but good enough for me.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 2 cups powdered sugar. Add 6 tablespoons milk, 1 tablespoon corn syrup (this helps prevents sugar crystals forming in the glaze, making the glaze super-smooth and shiny), 1 teaspoon vanilla, a healthy pinch of salt, and beat. You can even just do this by hand with a whisk. Add more milk gradually, 1-2 teaspoons at a time, until you have a thin, dip-able glaze. The thicker your frosting is, the longer it will take to dry.
- Lay out 3 sheets of parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil on your counter, and line up 3 cooling racks on top. Dip the top side of each cookie into the glaze. Set on the cooling rack to dry. Sprinkle with sanding sugar if you want. The glaze will take 1-3 hours to set up completely.* Then you can stack them. Be sure to rotate the cookies every now and then as the glaze hardens, so they don't glue themselves to the cooling rack. See notes for an alternative glaze to use if you are shipping these cookies.
- How to store: Wait until whichever frosting you used is completely dry (unless you used buttercream), then store the cookies in an airtight container, where they'll be good on the counter for 4-5 days. (If you used buttercream, store airtight in a single layer.)
- To freeze the dough: You can wrap the discs of dough tightly in plastic wrap and add it to a ziplock freezer bag. Or, you can roll and cut out your pieces, lay them on a cookie sheet, and flash freeze them for 30-60 minutes. Once flash frozen, layer them in stacks with wax or parchment paper and store in a large tupperware or ziplock freezer bag. No matter how you store them, they should be good in the freezer for 1-2 months. You can bake them straight from frozen, do not thaw.
- To freeze baked, not frosted cookies: Wait until they are completely cool, then add any cookies to a tupperware or freezer ziplock bag, getting out as much air as possible. They'll be good in there for 2-4 weeks.
- To freeze decorated cookies:Royal Icing: Once completely dry, store the cookies in a tightly sealed tupperware and freeze for 2-3 weeks. You should be able to stack them just fine. Spread them out and thaw at room temperature. Glaze icing: Wait until they are completely dry (this could take a few hours), then store in a tupperware, with a piece of parchment paper in between each layer. When thawing, lay out the cookies in a single layer, no cookies touching each other. The glaze will release moisture again, and they will need to re-dry; it will look like you just dipped them again. So you can't thaw them out stacked. Buttercream frosting: Flash freeze the cookies, then store in a tupperware, separating each stack with parchment paper. Lay out the cookies in a single layer when thawing, so they don't melt into each other.