Like most families, building gingerbread houses and making cutout cookies were always a Christmas tradition growing up. As I grew older and became a mother, I began the same tradition in our home, but I have to be honest— eating not-so-good, rock hard gingerbread that nearly breaks your teeth in order to create shapes firm enough to hold up takes away some of the magic for me. I love the flavor of gingerbread, but I wanted something that resembles a classic, soft cookie that doesn't fall apart if you're making a house and keeps its shape while baking. While I appreciate a good wafer-thin ginger snap , these cookies are a little thicker and work much better for cutting out shapes and building gingerbread houses.
See the recipe below for my soft gingerbread cookies for what I think is the perfect compromise between firm enough to still build with, but soft enough to actually enjoy eating! I also include a classic royal icing strong enough for construction or decorative piping. *Warning* baking with a 3 year old might result in faulty recipes.
Soft Gingerbread Cookies
- Prep: 15 minutes
- Cook: 8-10 minutes
- Chill time: 45+ minutes
- Total time start to finish: ~70 minutes
- Yield: 40 cookies or 1 gingerbread house
- 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (280 g) molasses
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 ¼ teaspoons ground ginger
- 5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 3 ¾ cups confectioner's sugar
- 3 large egg whites
- ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
- pinch of kosher salt
- food colorings of choice
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the molasses and mix until combined. Next add the egg, vinegar, spices, baking soda, and salt and beat on high until well combined. Scrape down the sides.
Measure and sift the flour into a separate small bowl. Once sifted, pour approximately a third of the flour into the butter mixture. Mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the next two batches of flour, mixing and scraping between each batch until all of the flour has been incorporated. Try not to overmix.
Lay out two large pieces of parchment paper and sift some flour over each one so the dough doesn't stick when rolled out. Take the dough out with your hands and divide it into two halves. Lay them on the floured parchment papers and form a rough rectangle with each piece. It may feel a little tacky, but it'll improve as it's rolled out.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with some more flour and roll out each piece using a rolling pin until the dough is a 1/4 inch thick.
Move the rolled dough to a cookie sheet using the parchment to lift. The two dough sheets can be stacked to save space as long as you use an additional sheet of parchment to separate them.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Take the dough out of the fridge and use cookie cutters or a knife to create cut out shapes and place on a parchment (or silicone baking mat) lined cookie sheet(s). If you have left over dough scraps, these can be recombined and rolled out again.
Refrigerate for 15 more minutes while the oven preheats. Set oven to 350° F on convection setting (or 375° F for conventional ovens). This additional chill time ensures the dough keeps it shape in the oven.
Take cookie sheet(s) out of the fridge and place directly in the oven. Bake for approximately 8-10 minutes. I take them out when the cookies are firm around the edges but look slightly under-done in the center. As they cool they will set. If your cookies seem hard or brittle once cooled, reduce the bake time with the next batch.
Any left over dough can be refrigerated for up to three days. I recommend storing any leftovers using the rolled out technique instead of storing a dough ball. It makes it much easier to use when you are ready.
Now for the Royal Icing. This is the best for gingerbread since it acts as a glue when dried and holds very well. I like to outline my cookies with piping and then thin a little out with water to fill in the center.
Using an electric mixer (stand up or hand mixer), combine all ingredients in a large bowl using a whisk attachment. Mix on low until ingredients are combined and then switch to high until the mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form. Keep covered until ready to use or the icing will dry out.
When you're ready to frost the cookies, divide the frosting into small bowls and stir in your food colorings or choice. As mentioned above, you can thin some of the frosting with a little water for a runnier consistency for filling in outlines.
Transfer frosting to piping bags with your choice of piping tips and decorate your cooled cookies! You can also try thinning the frosting and using paint brushes to decorate. I find painting them is a bit easier for younger kids.