Simple old-fashioned gingerbread cookies just like Granny always made for us, these are a favourite. Fill them with jam or icing to be traditional, or try a surprising updated version filled with chocolate spread. These cookies are soft and spicy, and the dough can be made ahead and baked when you have time. (Skip to recipe.)
These cookies are like a warm hug for our family. For all the years I have known her, my mother-in-law, our beloved 'Granny', baked up mounds of her signature filled gingerbread cookies every December. Each of her seven children was gifted a pail of these cookies for Christmas, and those of us who had bigger families, like us, received two pails. They'd be delivered along with a couple loaves of her Christmas fruit bread and a quart or two of her canned Christmas pudding. Receiving that package from her was like an early gift, always the sign that the Christmas season had started. Every year we all dived into those cookies over the holidays, and our kids enjoyed them in their school lunches long into the next year. I find out now that they're grown, that their friends remember those cookies with fondness, too, as they tell me how they'd beg our kids to share Granny's cookies with them, or trade bites of cookies for their own snacks. Those cookies were a hot commodity!
Granny cut her cookies in large circles (those cookies were a SNACK), but I've cut them into smaller Christmas cookie shapes.
Well, Granny's not baking any more, but thankfully she's shared her recipe with us, and I've been making these cookies the last couple years now, too. Her original recipe, that she wrote out on a scrap of paper for me is now stained and crumpled and gives the amount for four times what this recipe makes (with 9 to 10 cups of flour used!). I'm sure she made several batches of that size. I know she used to mix up the dough in a large plastic washbowl! Granny is almost 97 years old, and this recipe has been around longer than she has, so it's stood the test of time.
She included the recipe (half her original amounts) for her famous cookies in her cookbook, and I've cut the recipe down even more to make it a more manageable size. But the taste is the same, and eating one of these cookies takes me back to Christmasses past. This is an old-fashioned recipe, one where you still dissolve the baking soda into the liquid and then stir it into the syrup - it's fun to watch it foam and bubble up!
Granny's Gingerbread Cookies were always filled with her homemade raspberry jam or white icing, and the family was divided in two camps as to which they liked best. Our family always prefered the jam ones, so I've kept making those. But, I've also started filling her cookies with my Chocolate and Medjool Date Spread, and I hate to be a defector, but I think those have become our new favourite. (I know, because Raymond keeps on sneaking those ones!)
Tricks for making Granny's Gingerbread Cookies
The dough for these cookies needs to rest for at least 12 hours, but I've left it in the fridge for up to five days and the cookies were even better then - the tops were smoother. The flour gets time to hydrate properly and the flavours of the spices becomes beautifully melded and mellow.
Also, the dough is very soft - more like a cake batter - when first mixed, and you might want to add more flour. Don't. (I did, the first time I made them, and they got way too hard). The dough thickens up surprisingly when it's left to chill. It is still a soft dough to roll out, but if you use a lot of flour when rolling, it works very well.
Also, make sure to roll out the cookies quite thin (Granny's words). They puff up and get thicker when baked.
Because Granny's Gingerbread Cookies are rolled out thin and baked in a hot oven, you do need to watch them closely as they burn easily. The cookies only need to bake for 7 to 9 minutes, depending on the size you cut them.
*A tip if you choose to use the Chocolate Date Spread to fill the cookies - the chocolate-filled cookies need to sit uncovered for 3 to 4 days so the chocolate spread can dry out a bit, otherwise the cookies will get too soft. You can leave the cookies on a plate on the counter until they have dried to the consistency you like. They can definitely be eaten during their drying out time - they are mighty tasty. The raspberry or icing filled cookies can be put into an airtight container right away.
Bake up an old-fashioned batch of love. That's what these cookies are to me.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: These cookies turn out well with my gluten free flour blend (to which I now add 3 tablespoons potato flour - not potato starch).
If you choose not to fill the cookies, they will turn crisp. The jam or chocolate spread keeps them softer. Crisp, unfilled cookies are good for cutting into gingerbread man or other shapes and used for decorating.
If you want to make these cookies to decorate and hang on a tree, cut out a hole in the top using a drinking straw before they are baked, so you can run a string through it for hanging.
Granny's Old Fashioned Gingerbread Cookies
- ½ cup (115gms) salted butter
- 1 cup (220gms) brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
- ¼ cup (85gms) golden syrup or honey
- ¼ cup (70gms) fancy molasses
- ¼ cup (60ml) of strong coffee (or ¼ cup water + 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules, decaf if desired)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2½ cups (350gms) gluten-free flour blend (or regular all-purpose flour for non-gluten-free)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg
Place the butter, brown sugar, syrup, and molasses in a medium-sized sauceapan (the mixture will foam up a lot when you add the coffee mixture, so make sure your saucepan is large enough - only ¼ filled). Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted.
Stir the baking soda and vanilla into the coffee and set aside.
While the sugar mixture is heating, combine the flour, spices, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl.
Remove the sugar mixture from the stove and and stir in the coffee mixture. The mixture will foam up quite a bit, so if it looks like it will foam over the pot, quickly hold the pot over the bowl of flour to catch any overflow.
Pour the foaming mixture into the dry ingredients, scraping it all out of the saucepan with a spatula. Stir until well combined. Cool 5 minutes (so the mixture doesn't cook the egg when you add it).
Add the egg and stir the mass until the egg is incorporated and it forms a soft, sticky dough. It will be more like a thick cake batter than a heavy cookie dough, but don't worry, the dough will stiffen up considerably as it cools. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl or container. Cover the bowl with plastic food wrap or a lid, and refrigerate it overnight or up to 5 days. It's actually better after at least a couple days in the fridge.
At baking time, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease several baking sheets or line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Tip out the dough onto the work surface and cut off a chunk about the size of a your fist. Roll it out thinly (about ⅛ inch thick, as the cookies rise when baking) on a generously floured work surface. Keep the dough well-floured underneath as you roll it, as it is a very soft dough and will stick to the work surface. Cut out desired shapes with a cookie cutter (circles or hearts are the easiest shapes to fill), and arrange the cookies on the baking sheets leaving 1 inch between them. Reroll the scraps and cut them out until you've used up all the dough.
Bake for 7 - 8 minutes. Watch them closely as they burn easily.
When cooled, stick two matching shapes together with raspberry jam, icing, or Chocolate & Medjool Date Spread between them to join the cookies together. (If using the Chocolate Spread, leave the cookies uncovered for a couple days to allow the chocolate spread to dry out a bit, or it will make the cookies too soft. When they have dried to a consistency you like, then put them into a covered container. If using jam or icing, put them into a sealed container right after putting them together.)
If you wish, you can dust the filled cookies with a light coating of icing sugar/confectioner's sugar, shaken over them with a small sieve.
Makes about 60 single cookies, (3-inches in diameter) depending on the shapes you use, which produces 30 filled cookies.
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It's after Christmas but I am still in the spirit. Your gingerbread cookies sound delicious! What type of molasses do you consider to be "fancy" molasses? I look forward to learning more about German baking from you. I am 100% German descent with ancestors from Oldenburg and the Rheinland. I grew up in a very German region of Minnesota.
Hello and ein Frohes Neues Jahr to you! Yes, we're in a deep snow and cold snap here in the north, so I'm still in the festive winter spirit, too. Here in Canada we can get three types of molasses: fancy molasses, cooking molasses, and blackstrap molasses. Fancy molasses is the lightest, mildest kind (cooking molasses is medium-dark, and blackstrap molasses is really dark). If you can only get a really dark molasses, then I'd suggest using half molasses and half honey, golden syrup, or corn syrup. I've tried these cookies with blackstrap molasses, and they're good, but the molasses flavour is quite dominant. My mother-in-law always made them with light (fancy) molasses, and that's the flavour we prefer. I love to know I have another German reader - greetings to you!