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Gingerbread Cookies and Christmas are Tradition

Gingerbread first appeared in Western Europe at the end of the eleventh century. Crusaders returning from the Eastern Mediterranean brought home unknown foods, such as spices, sugars, almonds and citrus fruits that would become the essential ingredients for gingerbread. Catholic monks began to bake gingerbread for saints’ days and festivals, constructing specially designed cakes depicting celebrated saints and religious motifs


From its very beginning, gingerbread was a fairground delicacy. Fairs in England became known as gingerbread fairs and gingerbread items took on the name of fairings which meant a gift given at, or brought from, a fair. The Gingerbread Woman would sell molded cookies of men, women, the sun, the moon, flowers, birds or animals that were decorated with gaudy colors and gilt.

 There were other European gingerbread variations. The French made a spice bread, with ginger, allspice, cloves, aniseed, and honey. Italian Panforte, a dense rich gingerbread, was almost candy-like, and enriched with nuts and dried fruits.

Nowhere in the world is there a greater variety of gingerbread recipes than here in America. Settlers from all parts of Europe brought with them family recipes and customs.  American recipes often use ingredients that are only available regionally. Maple syrup gingerbreads are made in New England, and in the South sorghum molasses is used.

Gingerbread has been baked for centuries. In some places, it is a soft, delicately spiced cake while in other places gingerbread is a crisp, flat cookie or a warm, thick steamy-dark square of bread served with a pitcher of lemon sauce or whipped cream. It might be light, or dark, or sweet, or spicy. It might be cut into shapes and colorfully decorated or stamped with a mold and dusted with white sugar.

You too can successfully bake and decorate gingerbread. Begin by chilling the dough for at least one hour. Once chilled, roll out on a surface lightly dusted with a mixture of flour and confectioners’ sugar or between pieces of parchment paper.

Avoid cookie cutters from sticking to the dough by dusting them with flour. If cutting out large shapes, save them from falling apart by rolling out the dough on parchment paper, removing the scraps, and sliding the paper directly onto a baking sheet.

Once baked, let gingerbread cool completely before decorating. A simple glaze of confectioners’ sugar and milk works well. For added flavor add fruit zests or extracts.   

Decorations such as shredded coconut, colored sugar, toasted sliced almonds, button candies, mini chocolate chips, and dried fruits should be added before the icing dries. Allow decorated cookies to stand for 2 hours before eating to let icing set. Cookies can be prepared up to two weeks ahead and stored in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers.

 For more baking tips call the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in the Miller County Courthouse, call 870-779-3609, or email Like me on facebook at Miller County FCS, and twitter @MillerCountyFCS.

This Gingerbread Cookie recipe is over 45 years old and has been passed down from generation to generation. Enjoy the smells of Christmas as they bake.

Gingerbread Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup molasses

2 teaspoons vanilla

 Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. In a large bowl beat butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until well blended. Add molasses, and vanilla, continue to mix until well blended. Gradually stir in dry ingredients until blended and smooth. Divide dough in half, wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. Allow to warm slightly. Place one portion of dough on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle flour over dough and rolling pin. Roll dough to one fourth inch thick. Use additional flour to avoid sticking. Cut out cookies with desired cutter. Space cookies one and one half inches apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes for softer cookies, add minute or two for crunchier cookies. Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow the cookies to stand until the cookies are firm enough to move to a wire rack. After cool decorate as desired. 

By Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley Hadley M.S.
County Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service