When the weather starts to get colder and the holidays get closer, we start to seek out foods with a bit of spice. While a bit of spicy heat can be nice during the winter, many of us tend to gravitate toward warm spices like cinnamon or ginger. But one iconic Christmas treat combines these spices with a bit of sweetness for a one-of-a-kind cookie — the gingerbread man.
Gingerbread is primarily made up of two components — a warming spice mixture and a sweetener. Traditionally, this spice mixture is a combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The sweeteners are often sugar, honey, or traditionally, molasses. In fact, the best gingerbread recipes utilize a combination molasses and brown sugar, creating a crispy outside and fluffy inside.
As for the spice mixture, you’ll want to test to find the balance you prefer best, but since the spices are all so strong, you’ll want to go easy at first. You’ll want equal parts ginger and cinnamon and about half the amount of cloves and nutmeg as cinnamon and ginger. For example, if you have three teaspoons (a tablespoon) of gingerbread spice, two teaspoons should be cinnamon and ginger combined and the remaining teaspoon should be nutmeg and cloves.
You’ll want equal parts ginger and cinnamon and about half the amount of cloves and nutmeg as cinnamon and ginger.
The cookies can come in many shapes and forms. Depending on what you’ll be using the gingerbread for, you’ll bake it differently. Some make it as almost a spongy cake, baking it in a pan. Others roll it thinly and cut the dough into little men. You could even cut your dough to make walls for a gingerbread house. How you shape your gingerbread can change the cook time, with thinner cookies taking less time than a gingerbread loaf. More importantly, it’ll change some of the ingredients, with cookies calling for a drier dough and the loaf requiring more water to make a batter. It helps to decide which type you’ll be making before you start making it.
The ingredients of the dough are only a portion of what goes in to making a really good gingerbread cookie, though. How you make the dough and bake it is also critical. Some people even split the whole process into three steps over two or three days. The first step after forming the dough is to let it cool and rest in the fridge for at least two hours. Not only does this give the dough time to meld flavors of the spices and settle, but it will also help you roll the dough thinner and not stick to the rolling pin. You can even allow it to rest in the fridge overnight.
Don’t bake your gingerbread at higher than 350°F or 325°F if you’re making cookies.
Whether you’re making a bread loaf or a cookie, it’s important that you avoid baking the gingerbread at too high of a temperature. Many of the ingredients, molasses and brown sugar especially, can easily burn under high heats. For this reason, don’t bake your gingerbread at higher than 350°F or 325°F if you’re making cookies. Don’t ruin your hard work making the gingerbread dough by burning it.
Your final step is decorating your gingerbread, especially if you’re making cookies or a house. The most important thing to note is to allow your gingerbread to fully cool before you begin decorating it. If you decorate too soon, any icing you use could melt, ruining your intricate craftwork and giving your gingerbread men a droopy expression that you may not have been going for.
Now that you have the basics, are you ready to make your own gingerbread men?