Gingerbread cookies are a classic Christmas cookie to bake with kids but can be delicious any time of year. This simple gingerbread cookie recipe is the best because it holds the cookie cutter shapes so well.
As a beginner baker in my college years, I ambitiously attempted to bake gingerbread cookies from scratch. I don't remember where I got the recipe, but I distinctly remember getting molasses everywhere. The experience was so awful, I swore off baking homemade gingerbread cookies for the next 20 years.
My girls have fallen in love with cookie decorating at the holidays. As much as we love sugar cookies, Christmas just isn't the same without a solid gingerbread cookie recipe in the routine. I have come a long way since those apartment-living college days, so the time had come to hunt down the very best simple gingerbread cookie recipe to bake with the kids.
To help you avoid a frustrating first experience with gingerbread like I had, I cover a lot of info in this post. Simply click one of these links if you want to skip ahead to the parts you need:
- How to make gingerbread cookies ahead of time
- How to freeze gingerbread cookies
- What kind of icing to use for gingerbread
- Tips for baking cookies with kids
- The best cookie cutters to use
- The best gingerbread cookies recipe
Why is this the best gingerbread cookie recipe?
I had a very specific set of criteria when hunting down the perfect recipe to try. I looked at dozens of gingerbread cookie recipes and tried to find one that fit this list:
- All butter, no shortening: I wanted to be able to use what I already keep on hand in the fridge.
- Good spice blend: My kids love gingerbread but they don't want it to be too gingery. I wanted something with a nice mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla, too.
- Easy-to-roll dough: Gingerbread can be super sticky, I needed a dough that the kids could work with fairly well.
- Baked cookies hold their shape: There is nothing more disappointing than cutting out a gingerbread cookie with a favorite cookie cutter only to have it turn into a puddle of a mess when baking.
This simple gingerbread cookie recipe meets every requirement. It makes a huge batch of dough that freezes well and is perfect for making ahead of time.
One of my favorite parts about this cookie dough is how well it freezes and keeps in the fridge. The recipe makes an enormous batch of dough. I highly recommend making the entire recipe and then simply dividing it into two or three portions for later.
You can make the gingerbread dough and then store what you need in the fridge for 3 - 5 days. If you need more time than that, place the cookie dough in an air-tight container and stash it in your freezer for up to a year.
How to thaw and bake frozen gingerbread cookie dough:
If your dough was frozen, place the sealed container in your refrigerator and let it thaw for 24 hours before using. You may need to let the dough rest on your counter for an hour before it will be thawed and pliable enough to roll out.
If you prefer to bake the cookies in advance, you can absolutely freeze them as well. Lay the baked gingerbread cookies in single layers separated by sheets of wax paper in a freezer-safe container. A 9 x 13 storage container works really well because it protects the cookies from getting broken in a crowded freezer, but we have successfully used zip-top freezer bags as well.
Any time you bake with kids it is best to break down the tasks so that you're not spending the entire day in the kitchen. Kids can easily get tired, lose patience or interest, and you want to keep the focus on the fun.
Day 1: Make the gingerbread dough. Separate it into two or three smaller portions so you're not working with the entire batch all at once. Store the batch you plan to use now in the fridge and place the rest in the freezer for another time.
(Day 1 can happen any time from the day before baking up to a whole year before if you follow the tips on freezing the dough listed at the top of this post. Just remember to thaw out the dough you need 24 hours before you plan to do Day 2.)
Day 2: Bake the cookies. Roll out the dough, cut the cookies, and store them after cooling in an air-tight container.
Day 3: Decorate the cookies.
If you used a small enough portion of dough, you could combine baking and decorating day into one session. It all depends on the age and attention span of your kids. My girls can do a lot more all at once now at ages 9 and 12 than they could back when they were 3 and 6.
In my opinion, one of the more annoying parts of cut-out cookie baking is the cookie cutters themselves. Years ago, in a fit of frustration, I tossed out all of our bent and wonky metal cookie cutters during a kitchen purge. I hated how they got all tangled up and lost their shapes.
When my girls expressed interest in learning how to decorate sugar cookies, I knew we needed to get a few cookie cutters to do the job. I dreaded having that clutter in my cabinets again.
And then I discovered Sweet Sugarbelle cookie cutters at our local Michael's. I seriously stopped dead in my tracks and my jaw hit the floor. Y'all. These cutters are the BEST thing to happen to my kitchen in years. I've been obsessively snapping up designs for the last year and it is an addiction I just can't seem to quit.
Why do I love Sweet Sugarbelle so much?
- They are made from very durable plastic, they don't bend or lose their shape and yet they are sturdy enough to cut through very thick dough.
- She designs her shapes to be "shape shifting" cookies. Turn it right side up and it is a heart, turn it upside down and it becomes a puppy dog. Each cookie cutter set comes with decorating instructions and tips for shifting your designs.
- Her shapes look adorable as single-color cookies and are perfect for the newest of beginners to cookie baking.
Our favorite Sweet Sugarbelle cutters to use with this gingerbread recipe:
- This ABC set for spelling festive messages.
- This adorable Christmas set for the ornaments especially.
- This starter set featuring our favorite heart.
Want to see more Sweet Sugarbelle cookie cutters in action?
- These adorable hurricane cookies are perfect for a rainy day
- Sweet and simple Vampirina sugar cookies your kids will go batty over
- Follow Sweet Sugarbelle on Instagram to see even more examples of her shape-shifting awesomeness
Most serious cookie decorators prefer to use Royal Icing for all their cookie work. We are the farthest thing from "serious" here so I've got three different options for you:
1. Royal Icing: If your kids want to decorate the cookies with very specific patterns and colors, Royal Icing is definitely the way to go.
2. Cookie Glaze: If your kids just want the glossy look of Royal Icing but are content with single-color cookies, I have the best cookie glaze recipe in The Ultimate Kids' Baking Book which comes out soon. If you prep your gingerbread dough now, you'll have the cookie glaze recipe in plenty of time for Christmas when the book comes out. You can see what it looks like on the sugar cookie hearts on the cover of the book.
3. Cream Cheese Frosting: If your kids are happy to decorate the cookies with sprinkles and candies, we highly recommend making a batch of cream cheese frosting. Simply spread the frosting on the cookie and let the kids have a blast decorating them.
Can you freeze gingerbread cookies with icing?
I have always wondered whether or not you can freeze gingerbread cookies with icing. I'm still fairly new to the fancy decorated cookie world, so I asked some close friends that have an annual tradition of making elegantly frosted sugar cookies every year.
I was told that if you use Royal Icing and let the cookies completely dry, you can absolutely decorate and then freeze gingerbread cookies with the icing already on them. Line each single layer with wax paper to help them keep their designs fresh during the thawing process and store them in an air-tight container and you should be all good!
Knowing that you can successfully freeze pre-decorated cookies was the inspiration for my Christmas in July party! How fun is it to take the time to enjoy the cookie decorating process when life is slower and more relaxing and then just enjoy the fruits of your labor during the crazy hectic season that is the end of the year??
- ½ lb (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ¼ cups molasses
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp ground cloves
- 2 tsp ground nutmeg
In your large mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl to check for shells. Add the molasses, eggs and vanilla to the butter mixture and stir them in until light and fluffy.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Whisk them together. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture a little at a time, beating it on medium speed to mix them well.
Divide the dough into 3 smaller portions. Cover each with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set out 2 cookie pans and line them with parchment paper.
Sprinkle some flour onto your working surface and working 1 portion of dough at a time, roll it out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut the cookies to your desired shape, dipping the cutters in flour if they are sticking to the dough. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie pans.
Bake for 6 to 7 minutes for medium-size cookies. Adjust the time if your cutters are significantly larger or smaller. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the cookie pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.