These classic gingerbread cookies with lemon icing are my absolute favourite cookies of all time. The aroma and flavour conjure up so many memories and feelings of nostalgia. The baking process is a labour of love, a gentle kindness to gift yourself. And there’s something inherently special about sharing these cookies with others. There’s an unmistakable twinkle in the eye when someone spies a gingerbread cookie, that seems to surpass one’s age, race, religion, ethnicity or propensity for sweet treats. And the joy that lights up their face as they take their first bite, is surely one of life’s simplest and loveliest gifts.
This recipe is a culmination of some decades worth of dabbling with various recipes, making multiple tweaks and canvassing opinions from numerous family members, friends and colleagues before arriving at this recipe, one that I am proud to call the perfect gingerbread cookie recipe. Of course, feel free to make it your own and cater to your taste – a little less or more spice perhaps, or substitute the lemon zest for orange zest to enhance those delicately bitter notes. I love the deep caramel undertones of treacle and dark muscovado sugar, but you may wish to substitute with the same quantities of golden syrup and light muscovado sugar for a lighter, sweeter cookie. I prefer baking the cookies on the thicker side, so they stay crisp on the outside but slightly soft and chewy on the inside, but feel free to roll them a little thinner if you like crispier gingerbread. Just don’t skimp on the quality of the spices; using the freshest ground spices will ensure the most aromatic and flavourful gingerbread cookies around.
And don’t feel you need to reserve these cookies for the holiday season. They are one of life’s little pleasures to be enjoyed, shared and celebrated all year around.
1) If this is your first time making cookies or you encounter any problems while baking, I would recommend referring to my post on Cookie Basics.
2) The number of cookies will vary greatly depending on how thick you roll out the dough and the size of your cookie cutter. A 7mm thick dough and medium-sized (4cm) star cutter will generate 60-70 cookies. For a standard gingerbread man or woman cutter, you may only yield 25-30 cookies. The amount of icing required also varies depending on how you decorate your cookies, with the quantity of this recipe usually enough to completely fill about two-thirds, while outlining or decorating the remaining cookies with a simple design.
I feel like gingerbread’s soulmate is lemon icing, and I’m sure when you’re enjoying the fruits of your labour, you’ll feel the same way. I also know, however, that when you’re new to royal icing it can feel challenging, even for a seasoned baker. So if you don’t feel like decorating – dust them in icing sugar and they’ll still be divine. But if you literally want the icing on the cookie (like I always do), follow these tips and just remember to be kind to yourself as you decorate these delicious cookies.
1) You want to get the right consistency, which I think is the trickiest part. Traditionally, many cookie experts use two separate bags of icing with two separate consistencies, one thicker royal icing to sharply outline the cookie, and the other more fluid icing to fill or ‘flood’ the cookie with icing. I find it much easier to use one bag with a consistency somewhere in between. To check your icing consistency, run a knife through the icing, and count how many seconds it takes to disappear. If it takes about 15-20 seconds before the line disappears, then you’ve got the right consistency. These blog posts here, here and here provide a lot more detail, and are worth reading if you need further advice on royal icing consistency.
2) Use a very fine pinpoint nozzle fitted in your piping bag to pipe the icing (I use a metal 1mm tip). I find the nozzle provides greater control in directing the flow of the icing, rather than simply snipping off the end of the piping bag.
3) I like to keep a toothpick or thin cocktail pick handy while piping. I use it to gently coax the icing if needed (especially if the icing is a little thicker than anticipated), and I also usually pop it in the nozzle if I’m interrupted while icing. The toothpick blocks the flow and prevents the icing from hardening and clogging the nozzle.
4) If using additional decorations, remember to place them on your cookies before dry, otherwise they won’t stick.
Gingerbread Cookies with Lemon Icing
These perfect gingerbread cookies with lemon icing will delight your tastebuds and fill your home with the most delicious aroma, and so much love.
- 450g (3 cups) plain flour, sifted
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 150g unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
- 100g dark muscovado sugar
- 125ml (1/2 cup) treacle
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2–3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled, finely grated
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
Lemon Royal Icing
- 240g (1 ½ cups) pure icing sugar, sifted
- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp good quality lemon essence
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Sift flour, baking powder, ground spices and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.
- Melt butter, sugar and treacle together in a large saucepan, then bring to the boil. Remove saucepan from heat and add bicarbonate of soda with a gentle stir, ensuring all is dissolved. The mixture will foam and become paler in colour.
- Add fresh ginger, lemon zest and vanilla paste to butter and sugar mixture with another gentle stir.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then mix sifted dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture in small batches, then egg, until smooth.
- Bring the dough together into a ball, it will be warm and very soft, but do not add any flour. Flatten the dough into a disc, cover in cling film and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced), place oven rack in the middle of the oven, and line 2-3 baking trays with baking paper.
- Unwrap the dough and allow it to soften for 10-20 minutes to a workable consistency. Roll the dough out to approximately 7mm thickness, cut out cookie shapes using medium-sized star or other chosen cookie cutter, and place on on baking tray, approximately 5mm apart (refer to Baking Notes regarding cookie thickness and size).
- Refrigerate cookies on baking tray for 5-10 minutes while preparing the remainder of the cookies. This will encourage the cookies to hold their shape when baked.
- Roll the remaining dough together, and repeat the process of rolling, cutting and refrigeration until all the cookie dough is used up.
- Bake cookies one tray at a time in preheated oven for 7 minutes, or until very lightly golden and fragrant, and a small indent is left when pressed gently with a finger. Transfer cookies to cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Lemon Royal Icing
- Whisk egg white on low speed in stand mixer with whisk attachment, while adding sugar tablespoon by tablespoon until you are left with a thick white royal icing.
- Add lemon essence, then add lemon juice drop by drop while continuing to whisk on low speed until you achieve the ideal piping consistency (refer to Icing notes).
- Place lemon royal icing in a piping bag fitted with a very fine pinpoint nozzle (refer to Icing Notes).
- Place cookie on a non-slip surface or baking mat. Pipe the outline of the cookie shape, then fill or ‘flood’ the cookie surface with icing, coaxing it a little with a toothpick or cocktail pick if needed. Give the cookie a gentle tap on the bench to also help the icing settle into shape. If your icing is at the right consistency, you should notice a smooth surface of your cookie after approximately 15-20 seconds.
- Allow cookies to dry completely, and package in an airtight container to maintain freshness for up to 2-3 weeks in cool, dry conditions.
Makes 60-70 medium-size star cookies
I posted the original recipe in my blog’s first year of 2016. Since then, I’ve made a couple of tiny tweaks to the recipe and have updated the images with a freshly styled shoot to better reflect my style and the joy of this recipe, but you can find some of the older images below.