‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of gingerbread men danced in their heads…
Okay, I know it’s really “visions of sugarplums” but I just had to throw that in because gingerbread men make me think of Christmas! (My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and his poem “The Night Before Christmas.”)
Whether lavishly decorated or left plain and simple, gingerbread men exude the charm of the season.
They bring memories of children sitting eagerly before a tree bedecked with colorful lights and bright ornaments, a crackling fire, and snow falling outside the windows. And what could be better than the rich aroma wafting from the kitchen as these ginger and molasses cookies bake?
I actually found some pretty interesting details in doing a little research on gingerbread men. Names of countries were tossed around willy-nilly: China, Greece, France, Egypt, Germany, the British Isles, and the Netherlands. Dates were tossed about as well: 2400 B.C., 992, the 11th Century, the 1500s. In other words, the origin of these little guys is hazy. But we do know that in Medieval times, they came into their own. Evidently towns in England and France even hosted “gingerbread fairs.” The bakers’ cookies could come in assorted shapes, from birds and flowers, to animals and people.
Of the various accounts I found though, my favorite bit of history was discovering that Queen Elizabeth I (who reigned 1558-1603) is said to have employed her very own royal gingerbread maker. And she apparently asked him to make gingerbread men after the likenesses of visiting foreign dignitaries and special guests of honor. Who wouldn’t be charmed by such a gesture?
Oodles of other tidbits can be learned about the background of gingerbread men. I will leave you to discover them on your own.
Suffice it to say that gingerbread men have a fascinating, fun, and sometimes frivolous history.
In The Christmas Cactus, Katie Jo teaches her little sister Hannah to make gingerbread men cookies as Christmas approaches. Laughter and the cookies’ spicy aroma filled the cabin. Katie Jo is a woman after my own heart. I can hardly wait to smell that same spicy scent as it fills my own kitchen.
As we come into the Christmas season, what better time to share a gingerbread men cookie recipe? I came across several, ranging from quite crisp to soft in texture. The one I share here makes a delicious soft and flavorful cookie. Perfect for your holiday treats.
So, pour yourself a cup of your favorite tea or coffee, grab a plate of freshly-made gingerbread men, and nestle into a comfy chair. Relax and enjoy!
- ½ cup butter softened
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- 2½ cups flour
To prepare dough:
Place softened butter in mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy.
In small bowl, mix sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and the three spices, then add to butter. Beat until combined.
Mix in molasses, egg, and vinegar until blended.
Add in flour, one cup at a time, until combined.
Divide dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
When ready to bake:
Preheat oven to 375°.
Prepare cookie sheet by greasing or covering with parchment paper.
Lightly-flour a tea towel or rolling mat, as well as enough flour on a rolling pin to keep it from sticking.
Leave half of the dough in fridge. Roll out the other half to ¼ inch thickness.
Use desired size of cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Place on cookie sheet so cookies are about one inch apart.
Bake 6-8 minutes or until edges are light brown. Cool on cookie sheet at least one minute, then transfer to cooling racks. (Be gentle so they don’t break.) The cookies puff up while baking, but flatten as they cool to a soft, tasty cookie.
Repeat with the other half of dough.
When cool, you may decorate with powdered sugar frosting, raisins, candies, sprinkles, etc.
Photography by Anja Johnson