For twenty years, I have baked hundreds of gingerbread cookies during the lead up to Christmas for my family, friends and catering events. I try to keep the icing decorations simple, but sometimes I get carried away and fill the whole biscuit with icing followed by more detailed designs on top. These overloaded cookies are best for children as I think adults prefer the “less is more” approach.

Decorating gingerbread cookies is a fun activity to do with children. I remember with fond (and messy) memory taking 25 pre-made icing bags and 100 gingerbread cookies to my youngest son’s pre-school class in Singapore to decorate. Needless to say, there were some very interesting designs and the children really enjoyed decorating and eating them afterwards. Some took them home to give as gifts to their parents, which really made me happy to see the “giving” gesture in some children. To this day, I am still friends with the pre-school teacher, despite the activity nearly destroying her classroom with coloured icing everywhere! Thanks Mrs Pathy!

Gingerbread originates from Europe and has different names and shapes from Lebkuchen in Germany & Austria to Pepperkakor in Sweden, but one common denominator is GINGER! As early as the 13th century, gingerbread cookies were made by Swedish nuns to ease indigestion. In England, monasteries, pharmacies and farmers’ markets sold gingerbread cookies for their medicinal properties. Eventually, it wasn’t long before European settlers took the gingerbread to the US where the gingerbread man became a famous Christmas cookie.

One interesting ingredient used in gingerbread is treacle or molasses. Treacle is a dark sweet syrup made with the uncrystallised syrup that remains after the sugar from the sugarcane is refined. Used in medicine before the 17th century, this bittersweet syrup was thought to help with snakebites and poisoning. Two centuries later, treacle was used as a meat preservative similar to salt preservation. Nowadays, we know it as a sweetener to many baked goods, desserts and even meat marinades. Treacle is the British version of America’s molasses. Either can be used for this gingerbread recipe. If you can’t find either syrup, you could use honey, but your gingerbread may appear slightly lighter in colour and may taste less intense.

A little trivia to note, 12th December is national gingerbread decorating day. Hint, hint! You know what I’ll be doing!

Gluten-Free Gingerbread Christmas Cookies
Ingredients:

For the cookie dough:

  • 500g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 2 tablespoons gingerbread spice
  • 250g butter, softened at room temperature
  • 180g dark or light brown sugar
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly mixed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tablespoon treacle or molasses
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • tapioca flour, for dusting counter & rolling pin
For the gingerbread spice:

For this recipe

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 2 tablespoons ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon clove powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

A small jar – enough for 4 cookie batches

  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • 8 tablespoons ginger powder
  • 4 teaspoons nutmeg powder
  • ½ teaspoon clove powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt

For the icing:

  • 225g icing sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water, room temperature
  • 1 ½ tablespoons meringue powder (optional)
  • Red, green and white liquid or gel-paste food colouring
  • An assortment of edible cookie decorations (check the ingredients list for gluten)
  • Several disposable piping bags

Step by Step Instructions

1. Whisk the gingerbread spice together in small bowl.

2. Sieve the flour, xanthan gum and gingerbread spice into a medium bowl and whisk together well.

3. In large bowl or stand mixer bowl, beat the butter for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides.

4. Add both sugars. Cream the butter and sugars for a further 3 minutes until it appears fluffy and the sugar granules are no longer visible.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well.

6. In a small heatproof bowl or cup, blend the bicarb. of soda with the treacle and boiling water. The mixture will become foamy and fragrant. Mix this well into the butter mixture.
7. With the mixer on, slowly add the flour mixture. After several minutes, remove the dough and place in a bowl covered with a plate or cling film. Allow to rest in the fridge for a minimum of half hour. Overnight is ideal as it develops more flavour from all the spices.
8. Remove the dough and allow to come to room temperature for 30 minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 170 C/325 F.
10. Divide the dough in several portions.
11. Sprinkle the counter surface with tapioca flour and start rolling out the dough to a thickness of ½ cm. Don’t forget to dust your rolling pin and cookie cutters with tapioca flour too to avoid sticking.

12. Cut out cookies with an assortment of Christmas cookie cutters and transfer the cookie gently to the lined baking tray using a tapioca flour-dusted spatula.

13. Keep the cookies 5cm apart on the baking tray.

14. Bake on the middle rack one at a time for the following sizes: Small cookie 10 minutes, medium cookie 12 minutes and large cookie 13 to 14 minutes. Don’t attempt to move them on the tray as they crisp up and fully bake while cooling down on the tray.
15. Allow to cool on the baking tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookie is perfectly baked when the bottom of the cookie is crisp and slightly golden.
16. While the cookies are cooling down, start preparing the icing, should you want to ice your cookies, otherwise the cookies may be stored uniced in an airtight cookie tin or glass jar container.
17. Sieve the icing sugar into a medium bowl.

18. Whisk the icing sugar with the meringue powder * (optional) while adding the water gradually until the mixture comes together into a smooth paste. * Meringue powder is a dry form of egg whites used to make Royal Icing. The powder creates a more stable icing which dries faster. If you intend to make iced cookies days in advance, I recommend using the powder. Wilton Meringue Powder can be found at specialist cake making shops or online.

19. Add another tablespoon or more to get a more fluid consistency. Test the icing by pouring a small teaspoon of icing onto a plate. If it spreads out, the icing is too runny, therefore add more icing sugar. If it is too stiff and breaks, add more water in very small quantities. This takes a little patience to achieve the perfect “drawing” consistency.

20. Divide the icing into three bowls and add a drop at a time of each food colouring so that you have red, green and white icing to decorate your cookies.

21. Cover the bowls when not in use, otherwise they will form a crust and start to harden.

21. Choose which colour you would like to start decorating with and pour the icing into the disposable bag. Snip the end off similar to the size of a pencil tip.

22. Choose which colour you would like to start decorating with and pour the icing into the disposable bag. Snip the end off similar to the size of a pencil tip.

23. Start decorating your cookies either by following my design or the many designs available on the internet-

24. Cold air is perfect for drying these iced cookies faster, so if you have enough room, chill them in the fridge, otherwise in a cool room.

25. Once the icing is set, they stack well in an airtight cookie tin or glass jar container.

30 medium cookies and 15 small cookies
Keeps for 5 days
Bake the cookies in advance and freeze them in an airtight container to be iced later on. Freezes for 3 months.