Over the past few weeks, I have made hundreds of Christmas cookies, and often share the recipes on my blog and social media pages. These darling Gingerbread Boys and Girls have been my most popular recipe this month.

They are adorably festive and fun to make with children, but — and this is most important — they taste even better than they look.

Royal icing has a thin consistency that is ideal for delicate designs and dries to a hard finish. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Royal icing has a thin consistency that is ideal for delicate designs and dries to a hard finish. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I have tried several gingerbread recipes in my decades as a home baker, and this is my favorite, by far. This recipe combines the usual suspects when it comes to baking — flour, butter, sugar and eggs — with a blend of ground spices and a generous amount of molasses.

In my quest to find the perfect gingerbread cookie recipe, I have learned that all things are not equal when it comes to molasses. For years I used only full-flavored molasses from the Brer Rabbit brand, unaware that a more mellow version even existed.

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The result was a cookie I didn’t really care for, as the molasses flavor was so strong that it overpowered the spices. While the cookies looked cute, they did not showcase that fabulous spicy flavor that defines a good gingerbread cookie, and for many years I just stopped making them.

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At least that was until a few years ago, when a friend advised me to use mild molasses, which you can find in our local grocery stores under both the Brer Rabbit and Grandma’s brands. This was a life-changing event in my baker’s world, as the milder molasses has a rich and fruity profile that lifts up the spices, rather than overpowering them.

Since this is a dough used for cookie cutouts, it is important to make sure that it has been chilled for at least two hours, or even overnight, before rolling it out. Unlike the Chocolate Sugar Cookies from earlier this month, gingerbread dough is too soft to roll out before chilling, and it requires a bit of flour both on the work surface and rolling pin to prevent it from sticking.

Roll the gingerbread dough out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick, and press with cookie cutters to create the signature gingerbread cookie shape. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Roll the gingerbread dough out on a lightly floured surface until 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick, and press with cookie cutters to create the signature gingerbread cookie shape. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The dough should be rolled out until approximately 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. This is a firm gingerbread cookie recipe, and I like to roll my dough until it is just over 1/8-inch thick, which creates a cookie with a good, firm snap. Gingerbread holds its shape well in the oven, so unless the dough is unusually soft, there is no need to refrigerate the cookies before they go in the oven.

I use royal icing to decorate my cookies, which you can make on your own using egg whites or meringue powder, or you can even buy it pre-made in the cake decorating aisles of craft stores. I use meringue powder to make my icing, which doesn’t require the use of raw eggs, and simply follow the recipe on the package.

Piping bags and tips are helpful for creating outlines and other decorative touches with icing on the cookies. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Piping bags and tips are helpful for creating outlines and other decorative touches with icing on the cookies. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

These cookies are one of my most popular items at SarahBakes this season, and you can get them either decorated or plain and ready to decorate yourself. But today's recipe for Gingerbread Boys and Girls is simple and easy to make at home, and the warmth and fragrance coming from your oven will fill your home with the scent of Christmas.

Happy baking!

When using royal icing, be sure to keep it sealed from any air as it will crust over quickly and plug the piping tips. You can use a tip cover, as seen here, or a damp paper towel to keep the tip free from air. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
When using royal icing, be sure to keep it sealed from any air as it will crust over quickly and plug the piping tips. You can use a tip cover, as seen here, or a damp paper towel to keep the tip free from air. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Get inspired

Sarah, Tony and Gio have made it easy to find new inspiration in the kitchen this holiday season. Here are some of their favorite holiday recipes previously published in "Home with the Lost Italian."

Dinner:

Breakfast:

Gingerbread Boys and Girls

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe

Servings: about 36 cookies, depending on cookie cutter size

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 large or extra-large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup unsulphured molasses (I prefer the mellow variety versus full-flavored)

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda and salt until combined; set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and molasses and beat hard (medium-high speed) until fully combined, about 1 minute.

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and press each half into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or even overnight, until the dough is firm enough to roll out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position the rack in the center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll the dough out to an even thickness between 1/8 to 1/4-inch, turning the dough as you roll to prevent it from sticking and to ensure that each cookie is the same thickness. Continue to flour the surface and rolling pin as needed.

Dip your cookie cutters into flour, shake off any excess and press the cutter straight down into the dough. If the dough is soft, use an offset spatula to transfer the cut cookies onto the lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each cookie.

Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies, your oven and how soft or crispy you'd like the cookies to be (less time for softer cookies, more for crispy). The cookies are ready when they are firm to the touch and the edges are just beginning to turn golden brown.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To store: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for several months.

Sarah's tips:

  • Molasses is thick and sticky, but if you spray the measuring cup with cooking spray, it will slide right out when adding to the dough.
  • To create a cookie ornament, use a straw or wooden skewer to make a hole at the top of the cookie.
  • To decorate, use a small tip and pipe royal icing or vanilla buttercream to create various designs.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.