These traditional Gingerbread Man Cookies are flavored with lots of molasses, holiday spices, and brown sugar. Each sweet cookie has crisp edges and slightly soft centers, for the perfect Christmas treat.
Christmas cookies come in all shapes and sizes, but probably the most famous of all are gingerbread man cookies. The spicy-sweet fragrance of real gingerbread baking in the oven always brings that Christmas magic with it – plus, gingerbread men are so cute!
These little guys are made with an old-fashioned recipe that makes a great hands-on project to do with family and friends. You can make gingerbread people, gingerbread Christmas shapes, gingerbread llamas… use your creativity, and have a blast! And if you want to make extras or get started ahead of time, that’s perfect, too, because gingerbread man cookies (or the cookie dough) will freeze beautifully for up to three months.
(Want more gingerbread treats? Take a look at these easy recipes for Gingerbread Muffins, Gingerbread Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, and Classic Gingerbread.)
Should Gingerbread Cookies Be Hard or Soft?
Both are great! Gingerbread cookies are often sturdy and crisp, especially if you’re decorating them with details like faces, buttons, and clothes. And gingerbread that has been baked for building houses is often rock-hard.)
However, you can also make softer gingerbread man cookies, like my copycat Little Debbie recipe for Soft Gingerbread Man Cookies. It’s all about a softer, moist version of the classic, lightly dipped in icing.
Basically, these cookies are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice – I’m serious! Here’s the list of ingredients:
For the Cookies
- Flour: All-purpose flour is fine.
- Spices: A blend of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves gives the gingerbread its iconic flavor.
- Baking Soda: Make sure to use baking soda, not baking powder, or the gingerbread man cookies won’t have the correct texture.
- Butter: Unsalted butter, softened.
- Brown Sugar: To give the gingerbread a warm, bold sweetness, use dark brown sugar instead of light brown. Make sure to pack it into your measuring cup for good measure.
- Molasses: Look for regular light molasses, not blackstrap molasses.
- Egg: A large, whole egg.
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract gives the best flavor, but regular vanilla flavoring will also work just fine.
For the Icing
- Powdered Sugar: This extra-finely ground sugar makes a smooth, silky icing base.
- Milk: Or water, whichever you prefer.
The process for making homemade gingerbread men is not that different from making other rolled, cut-out cookies. So if you’ve already made that kind of recipe before, you will find this pretty familiar. One key part of this recipe, though, is that you really must chill your dough before rolling it. Otherwise, the molasses will make it too sticky to work with!
- Mix the Dry Ingredients and Wet Ingredients Separately. In one mixing bowl, whisk together your flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl (I use the bowl of my stand mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar until they’re light and fluffy. Then add the egg, vanilla, and molasses, and mix until the wet ingredients are completely blended.
- Mix the Dry Ingredients with the Wet Ingredients. Now you will want to add the dry ingredients slowly to the wet ingredients, mixing after each addition until fully blended.
- Chill the Dough. Divide the gingerbread dough into two large pieces. Roll them each into a ball, and flatten them into discs. Wrap the discs tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.
- Roll the Dough and Cut the Cookies. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350°F and line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set these aside, and make sure your work surface is heavily floured. Roll out one disc of gingerbread dough – it needs to be on the thin side, somewhere between ⅛ inch and ¼ inch thick. Cut out your cookies with gingerbread man cookie cutters, and lay them on the baking sheets about one inch apart.
- Repeat with the Remaining Dough. Re-roll your scraps of dough and cut more cookies, until you have used all of your dough. Remember to place the cookies an inch or so apart on the baking sheets, since they’ll spread and rise a bit in the oven. If things get too sticky, use more flour on your work surface and rolling pin.
- Bake the Gingerbread Man Cookies. Place the baking sheets into your preheated oven, and let the cookies bake until the edges are just set. For standard-sized gingerbread men shapes, this should take 10 – 12 minutes. For smaller shapes, it might be closer to 8 minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn or dry out.
- Cool the Cookies. Once the edges of the cookies are set, take them out of the oven and let them cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet. Then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
- Make the Icing. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla, until smooth. The icing needs to be fairly thick so that it won’t run when you pipe it, but it should still be soft enough to pipe. You can thin or thicken it with more milk or powdered sugar. Spoon the icing into a piping bag with a small tip, or into a zip-top bag with a tiny bit of the corner snipped off to make a hole.
- Decorate the Gingerbread Men. Once the cookies are completely cool, decorate them with the icing. Pipe faces, buttons, and squiggly lines, or use your own designs!
To make sure your cookies turn out picture-perfect (and perfectly delicious), take a look at these helpful recipe notes and tips. Enjoy!
- Underbaking vs. Overbaking: It’s important to keep an eye on gingerbread man cookies while they bake – if you overbake these cookies, they will become very dry and extra crisp. It’s better to underbake a little bit than overbake.
- Chill Time: It’s very important to allow the dough to chill completely before rolling it out and baking your gingerbread men. Gingerbread not only contains sugar, it’s also got a lot of sticky molasses in it, which makes the warm dough almost impossible to work with. Chilling it thoroughly will make it much easier to roll and cut.
- Rotate: If your oven has hot spots, I recommend rotating the pan halfway through baking, to try to ensure even cooking.
- Cool Cookies: Like most icings, this one is designed to use on cooled cookies. If you frost your cookies while they are still warm, the icing will run, and your designs won’t stick!
Storing the Extras
Store gingerbread man cookies at room temperature for up to a week, placing them in an airtight container to keep them fresh. You may want to stack them with wax paper or parchment between the layers of cookies. This will help keep the frosting from chipping off.
Need to make these cookies ahead? That is totally doable! You can make the cookies and freeze them decorated or undecorated, for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature before serving.
If you want to get ahead of things, but still bake them fresh on the day of, you can freeze the unbaked cookie dough discs for up to 3 months, and thaw the dough overnight in the fridge before baking. Easy!
For the Gingerbread Man Cookies
- 3 ½ cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
- ⅔ cup molasses
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Icing
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk, or water
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and baking soda.
- In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in egg, vanilla and molasses and continue mixing until incorporated.
- Slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing well between additions, until fully incorporated. Divide the dough into 2 large balls. Wrap each in plastic wrap, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
- On a heavily floured surface, roll out the gingerbread dough to about 1/8” to 1/4” inch thick. Use gingerbread man cookie cutters to cut out the dough. Re-roll any extra dough and cut out more cookies.
- Place gingerbread men 1” apart on prepared baking sheets. For a standard-sized gingerbread man cookie cutter, bake for 10 to 12 minutes, just until the edges are set. (If your cookie cutter is smaller, watch closely, your bake time will likely be closer to 8 minutes.)
- Then remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a cooling rack. Let cookies cool completely before frosting.
- To make frosting, whisk together powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth. It should be thick, but still thin enough to pipe.
- Transfer icing to a piping bag with a small tip. Pipe faces, buttons and squiggly lines on gingerbread men, as desired.
- Store cookies at room temperature for up to a week.
- Freeze baked and decorated (or undecorated) cookies for up to 3 months.
- Freeze the unbaked cookie dough discs for up to 3 months, thawing the dough overnight in the fridge before baking.
- Do not overbake these cookies, as they will become very dry and extra crisp. It’s better to underbake a little than overbake.
- It’s very important to allow the dough to chill completely before rolling it out and baking your gingerbread men.
- If your oven has hot spots, I recommend rotating the pan halfway through baking to try to ensure even cooking.
- If you frost your cookies while still warm, the icing will run.
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