Gingerbread cookies are a funny thing. There are many different ways to make them, and likely almost as many differing opinions on what sort of gingerbread is truly THE best. Sweet. Spicy. Chewy. Snappy. Glazed. Iced. Plain. It goes on. For me, it’s a lot like pizza (hear me out) — in the sense that even gingerbread that isn’t that great is still totally edible. If it’s made of spices and sugar and butter, I will eat it.
So this is why, for a few years, I followed a somewhat ho-hum gingerbread recipe. It was fine and tasty and all, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. Then, nearly two years ago, Deb posted this recipe. At the time, I didn’t know that what I wanted from gingerbread was more spice, less sweet. But when I saw the title “Spicy Gingerbread Cookies” and gazed at those dark cookies, laden with spices and molasses and dark brown sugar, I was pretty sure I’d found a new go-to recipe. One that wouldn’t be take-it-or-leave-it.
I was so excited about this that I made it no more than a few days after baking several dozen cookies from the ol’ boring recipe (which I’d intended to distribute in some holiday treat care packages). The result was everything I’d hoped for. This is probably the unwimpiest gingerbread I’ve ever eaten. It’s slightly sweet, but mostly spicy, and just barely chewy (more on that in a minute). I loved it so much that I decided I couldn’t possibly send all of my friends and family those inferior cookies, now that I had the power to make something so much better. I remade everything with the new recipe, and kept the ho-hum cookies for myself. (I ate just enough to fall somewhere in the realm of a shameful amount to eat but leaving a shameful amount to waste. And I did it begrudgingly, dreaming of the new spicy cookies.)
Because these cookies are a bit in-your-face when it comes to flavor, icing or glaze is a welcome addition, bringing in a little sweetness. I love the combination of citrus and ginger, and I think a thin, citrus glaze complements these cookies perfectly. The sweetness of the confectionery sugar and the bright, tangy flavor of the lemons and grapefruits do an amazing job of balancing everything out. I highly recommend using lemon, without substitute. I really liked what the grapefruit brought to the mix, but I also think they’d be wonderful with orange instead.
Now, I’ll admit that I don’t have much experience with icing or glazes. And when I do work with them, I find it a bit difficult (if I’m going for something not messy, anyway). For these, I decided to dip them in icing twice, letting the first coat set in the fridge before adding the next. But, being an impatient person, I didn’t wait long enough for the first coat to harden entirely. You can’t tell from these pictures (because I also didn’t wait until they’d completely set to photograph them), but the glaze did a bit of a strange thing, drying unevenly — with some parts turning whiter than others. I actually kind of like how they look, as it reminds me of frost on a window. But if that isn’t what you’re going for, definitely let the first coat set completely (till it is no longer tacky or soft to the touch) before dipping them again. (Alternatively, if you know more about this stuff than I do, please share! I could use the help.)
And now, one final thing. This may sound crazy, because it involves waiting. And no one wants to wait to eat cookies. However, something magical happens to these cookies after they’ve been glazed and allowed to sit overnight. The glaze kind of becomes one with the cookie, softening it up just slightly and turning it into this wonderful blend of spicy-sweet-tangy. They’re still great when just-glazed, but I enjoy them even more after a day or two.
yield: approximately 30 medium-sized (4″-tall) gingerbread men
- 6 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp finely ground pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup of packed dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup of unsulfured molasses
- 4 cups of confectionery sugar
- 3/4 cup of citrus juice (at least half lemon)
Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy with an electric hand mixer or the paddle attachment of your stand mixer. Mix in eggs and molasses. Slowly add flour mixture, mixing on low until just combined. Divide dough into thirds and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold and firm, around one hour or up to two days.
Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4-inch thickness. (Don’t go thinner than 1/4 inch, as the dough can become delicate and tear easily when thin.) Cut into gingerbread men (or other shapes). Place cookies two inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, and refrigerate until the cookies firm up again, around 15 minutes.
Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.
Once cookies are completely cooled, whisk together confectionery sugar and citrus juice until smooth. Pour half of the glaze out onto a large plate. Dip cookies to lightly coat, letting excess drip off before placing on a sheet to let glaze set. (I recommend then placing the cookie sheet in the fridge, to get the glaze to set quicker and avoid excess drips.) Once the first coat has set, dip again, then let the second coat set.
Store cookies in a tin or other airtight container, separated by parchment paper sheets, for up to one week.