I must confess up front that I’m not the biggest gingerbread fan. It’s not a cookie I ever crave or gravitate towards because I’m not a huge spice cookie fan. But I was curious to see if I could find a recipe I actually liked, and amazingly, we succeeded! Note: all of these are soft and chewy-style gingerbread.
Happily, I found at least four gingerbread recipes that I would absolutely make again for myself. Let’s get onto the results!
METHODOLOGY // RESULTS // FACTORS // ANALYSIS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- 44 total tasters
- All doughs that could be rested up to overnight were made the day before; all other doughs were made the day of
- Cookies were baked on baking sheets lined with Reynolds Kitchens parchment paper
- All tasting cookies were cut out using a 2.5″ biscuit cutter (like this one)
- All cookies were frosted with a thin circle of Alton Brown’s royal icing
- Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour
- Unsalted and salted Land O Lakes butter
- Nielsen Massey vanilla extract
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Diamond kosher salt
- Grandma’s molasses
- Lyle’s golden syrup
- Imperial granulated sugar and dark brown sugar
- Kroger spices
Best Gingerbread Cookie Results
As always, I must disclaim that I am an enthusiastic home baker (not a professional) and these results reflect my best efforts to make each recipe accurately. The “winner” represents the most crowd-pleasing, but I encourage you to read through the full results as everyone’s “best” is subjective.
Here are the numbers, as decided by my 44 tasters:
First place: Tartine had a clear advantage as it was the only glazed cookie while all others used royal icing. So while I think it is a great cookie and deserves high ratings, I think it’s very much worth checking out other cookies. You can easily glaze any cookie base and achieve the same beautiful look and texture contrast!
Last place: I’m almost positive Donna Hay did poorly due to its relatively tough texture (the recipe I followed looked like it was meant for edible decorations–baked for a long time at a low temp). If it was baked at a regular temp/time, I’m guessing it would have done much better.
A theme: Generally, milder-flavored cookies did better (like Bake at 350, Baker by Nature) while spicier cookies like Moosewood and Smitten Kitchen to some extent proved slightly more divisive. (Though I do think Tartine and CI are towards the slightly spicier end.)
Best Gingerbread Cookie Factors
Fat: Though some recipes use alternative fats like shortening and coconut oil, I chose to focus only on butter recipes for this bake off. Butter content ranged anywhere from 13% (SK and Sally’s) to 21% (Baker by Nature). Tartine (19%) and CI (17%) show a slight preference for higher fat cookies (likely because butter provides such great flavor and a tender texture). Note that higher fat will generally lead to more spread in the baked cookies.
Molasses vs. egg: CI and Sally’s recipes were very similar except for egg content–CI compensates for lack of egg with a slightly higher molasses content. To me, this was an interesting illustration that you don’t need egg to make a tender cookie. While egg helps add structure, molasses adds sweetness and moisture, leading to a more delicate but potentially more moist cookie. CI’s texture was noticeably softer and moister than Sally’s.
Flour: Flour content ranged from 40% (Baker by Nature, CI) to 48% (Borderlands) and 46% (Smitten Kitchen). Higher flour content of course led to slightly more dense and drier cookie textures, but there also seemed to be a slight correlation with cookies that better held their shape. As you can see from the top picture, Borderlands held the most crisp cut out shape. Meanwhile, higher fat/lower flour cookies like Tartine, Baker by Nature, and even CI tended to spread a bit more. Of course, spread is a combination of many factors, but the butter:flour ratio is a key thing to watch if you’re looking for neatly baked cookies vs. ones that spread a little.
Sugar: I was curious if recipes with brown sugar only would do better than white sugar only or vice versa. In the end, I didn’t see much of a pattern. The inclusion of molasses in the majority of the recipe probably overwhelms any nuances that a higher proportion of brown sugar vs. white sugar provides in most recipes.
Donna Hay: a lightly spiced, golden syrup-infused cookie with strong ginger notes
This recipe caught my eye for its use of golden syrup (no molasses) and overall very simple, eggless recipe (just 7 ingredients). Although I found the recipe in an article about about edible decorations which seemed less than promising, I was very curious to try a golden syrup recipe.
I loved the way the toasty golden syrup flavor came through beautifully and perfectly complemented the clear ginger flavor. As someone who doesn’t love a lot of deep spices, this was one of my favorites flavor-wise–the only problem was texture. I followed the instructions of baking for 30 minutes at 275 degrees F, which makes them relatively tough (and slightly chewy). This is probably as they’re meant to be used as decorations. Next time, I’d bake them for 8-12 minutes at 350 degrees for a softer, chewy texture.
- I’m into a chewy cookie for once, who knew?
- Spice level was spot on but cookie was hard to chew
- Tasted more like a sugar cookie with caramel notes
- Had the most snap out of any of the others. Wish it was saltier, but would be the best for house-building!
- We like it, but it doesn’t really taste like a gingerbread cookie. Very buttery and thin, but still soft. Reminiscent of the butter almond thins from Trader Joe’s. Enjoyed this cookie, but not what we think of when we think of gingerbread
Moosewood: a spicy cookie heavy on nutmeg and cloves with a cakey but slightly drier texture
Moosewood’s recipe came recommended to me on Instagram, and I was intrigued by the long list of spices (cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and cayenne). This recipe had by far the most spice coupled with cocoa powder for a hint of earthiness. To me, this had a rather dark flavor profile that I didn’t prefer (again, no deep spices for me), and many tasters commented on the spiciness. Some liked the “pronounced ginger finish” and “strong nutmeg flavor” but others found it too spiced for their palate. Texturally, this cookie is quite soft but verges on the sliiightly drier side (excellent paired with a hot beverage!).
- Heavier nutmeg note, very ginger forward
- I love how soft it is, but it feels a little chalky
- Nice spice but heavy on the clove; would be hard to eat multiple but good enough that I’d try
- Very strong nutmeg flavor. Has a kick, although not quite as spicy as number 6. Kind of dry and coats your mouth. The icing helps cut the spiciness
- The spice level is nice at first, but then it lingers a bit too long
Borderlands Bakery: a cardamom-spiked cookie with a smooth, dense texture
Borderlands was also recommended to me via Instagram, and I was charmed by the detailed instructions the came with the recipe. Unusual ingredients include cornstarch (to help make the dough smoother), cream of tarter (to prevent sugar from crystallizing for soft, chewy cookies), baking powder (for rise) and cardamom.
Although I liked the idea of cardamom and I enjoyed the slightly lemony zing, this wasn’t a flavor profile I’d crave all the time. The flavor is slightly untraditional as gingerbread goes, but the dough makes for the cleanest, most precise cut outs! This had a slightly dry, denser, richer bite than other cookies.
- Lemon? I think that’s something citrusy
- Really good flavor but doesnt taste like gingerbread
- Flavor reminds me more of a pumpkin spice cookie than gingerbread. I love it honestly but its not as “ginger-bready” as a ginger bread cookie
- Very tasty but a little dry, would dunk in milk for perfection
- Firm cookie with light ginger again. Better texture than some others but lacking flavor
Smitten Kitchen: a puffy, slightly spicy cookie that verges on the drier side
Deb’s recipe, which is tweaked from Martha Stewart, promises to be very spicy with plenty of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper (it’s actually a very similar spice mix to Tartine). As a non-spicy gingerbread lover, I didn’t expect to love this flavor profile, but it was actually milder than I expected! I generally gravitated away from recipes that use black pepper like this one but I enjoyed the addictingly puffy, cakey texture. It definitely edges on the slightly drier side and puffs up after being baked (another great candidate to enjoy with a hot beverage).
- This seems like the right balance. Not so so spicy, not so so dense, but just everything seems right
- It’s breadier than I would like but I like the milder ginger flavor
- I don’t like gingerbread and I would eat this again
- It’s a good choice for making a gingerbread house. It’s pretty strong and I wouldn’t be too upset if it got stale on the counter.
- The flavor of the cookie is good, not too potent, and the texture is ideal
- Cookie was dry. Would be perfect with hot chocolate or coffee.
- Dry!!! But good flavor
- Great cookie texture that’s a bit firm on outside but nicely soft center
- My second favorite of the bunch. Ginger flavor is up front but not too strong
Sally’s Baking Addiction: a soft and tender cookie with a well-balanced spice mixture
Sally’s recipe is very similar to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe except that it uses egg, has slightly less butter and molasses. It’s “loved by millions” according to her post, and for good reason–it has a well-balanced flavor profile (not too spicy), is sweet but not overly so, and is well-structured. If I had to nit pick for critiques, when I compared it side by side with CI and Bake at 350, I preferred the moister texture of CI and the flavor of Bake at 350–but that’s a personal preference. Tasters were very split between liking the flavor and thinking that it could use more spice. The widest complaints were around the slightly drier texture and bland flavor.
- Texture is very cakey. Not as bold in flavor as some others
- One of the drier cookies
- Heavy ginger flavor. Classic gingerbread!
- Cookie needed more flavor; sweet, mild spice
- Surprisingly chewy with enough structure to make it interesting
- I taste nutmeg more than any other spice and that’s fine by me
- Texture wasn’t bad but the cookie needed more flavor
Baker by Nature: a decadent, untraditional brown butter cookie that tastes like speculoos or Biscoff
Ashley’s recipe stood out for its use of an egg yolk, mixture of hot water, baking soda and molasses, but principally brown butter! With a 21% butter ratio, I had great expectations for this recipe. Compared to most recipes that use 1/2 cup of molasses, this recipe was also unique in using just 1 tablespoon of molasses. The verdict? I LOVED this cookie. To me, it tastes almost exactly like a Biscoff cookie. The predominant flavor is toasty brown butter highlighted by cinnamon–definitely not a traditional cookie, but as a non-gingerbread-superfan, this was a darn good cookie. My only change would be to roll it slightly thicker next time for more chew (the texture is a little soft) and possibly refrigerate or freeze for 10 minutes prior to baking as it tends to spread thanks to the high butter content.
- Doesn’t seem like a traditional gingerbread! A solid gingerbread cookie for someone who doesn’t love them
- Texture was excellent despite being super thin. Not too hard or soft
- Nice and soft cookie! Almost too thin though.
- Very sweet, no spice. Why is this sugar cookie wearing a ginger bread cookie costume?
- Tastes like a sugar cookie. The cookie itself is not super sweet, this is one of the few cookies where it felt like the icing really made a difference. Thin, soft, perfectly enjoyable, but not super gingerbready
- Cookie could have been thicker with more spices
Bake at 350: a beautifully tender and chewy cookie that has a mild but flavorful spice mix
Bake at 350 is the queen of picture perfect sugar cookies, so I was fairly confident she would have an excellent gingerbread cut out cookie. This recipe uses salted butter and a combination of both brown and white sugar. In my mind, this is an excellent choice for mild gingerbread lovers–there’s a lovely balance of cinnamon and ginger with just a touch of allspice and cloves. Texturally, it’s a dream to roll out and bakes up into a neat cookie with a soft texture and good chew.
- Favorite in terms of flavor, spices are perfect! Would prefer it a tad more moist
- Not too sharp, had the perfect level of spices! The only thing stopping this from being a 10: wished it was just a tad bit chewier
- The flavor is milder than I’d expect from a gingerbread cookie.
- I wish it was chewier, but I think this cookie had the best spices and amount of salt!
- Lighter ginger than I prefer with a fluffy cookie that holds its shape. Needs more umph in flavor but this would be a good decorating cookie base
- This one knew gingerbread cookies were polarizing so like tried to also be a spicy sugar cookie. I’m not mad at it, but it’s lacking in spice.
Cook’s Illustrated: an uber-moist, chewy, sweet cookie with a good depth of spices
Cook’s Illustrated promises a thick and chewy gingerbread recipe with added butter for moisture, molasses and sugar for sweetness, and milk for softness and lift. It’s also unique for its lack of egg (Donna Hay and CI are the only eggless recipes).
Sure enough, CI was satisfyingly chewy and moist (though I would roll the cookies maybe up to 1/2″ for my ideal thickness). There’s a deep molasses flavor and well-balanced mix of spices that aren’t too spicy. Tasters loved the soft, “easy to break” chewy and almost doughy texture, though a few wanted more of a bite. Some thought it had excellent ginger flavor without being overpowering where others thought it was a bit light on ginger. One noted it was way too sweet for their tastes. This one was a clear crowd-pleaser!
- This cookie made me realize that I like gingerbread quite a bit
- More molasses, fragrant and GREAT spice combination.
- Love the heavier molasses flavor. Very soft and chewy, which I prefer. Wish it was a little thicker but the flavor makes up for it
- This one is pretty rich and dense; it reminds me of those little debbie oatmeal cookie sandwiches. Doesn’t exactly scream gingerbread, but I respect all the butter in this
Tartine: an untraditional glazed gingerbread with a spicy clove and pepper-forward flavor
Though it may have been unfair to include a glazed cookie alongside royal icing-frosted cookies, I couldn’t not include this very popular recipe! Based on my research, I believe Ottolenghi’s rum-glazed gingerbread were inspired by Tartine’s version (Yossi also posted her version.)
Tartine’s base cookie recipe stands out for its use of corn syrup in addition to molasses (I used regular unsulphered, not blackstrap) as well as the generous amount of butter, spices, and inclusion of cocoa powder. This cookie had quite a bit of spread which I think could be due to the high proportion of butter and corn syrup.* Overall, the base cookie was a bit spicy for my palate (I would likely omit the pepper and reduce the cloves next time) but the texture is extremely moist, rich and soft! Combined with the glaze, some might find this too sweet, but I think the glaze helps mellow the spice and provides a nice crackly textural contrast to the soft cookie. Overall, a delightful cookie.
*But also! Likely because this cookie calls for a cookie stamp and we tried to achieve texture by rolling a pineapple patterned measuring spoon over the dough for texture instead (with obviously sub-par results).
- Texture was perfect and I love the ginger afterbite
- Liked the ginger and spice level. Good crunch. Glazed icing was a pleasant surprise
- I LOVED the spices in this one. This is the only one I feel was improved by the icing and I don’t know why. It was slightly drier than my preference but overall was very good.
- Whew okay the spice hits haaard. Good texture and I love the frosting being spread so you get an even amount on each bite but not enough to soothe the spicy punch to the face
- This one was weird. I didn’t like it at first but I kept wanting to eat it. I tasted cardboard and nutmeg. Maybe slight burn and artificial flavors? The spiciness from the ginger lingers a while, which is pleasant so maybe that’s why I want to keep eating it even though I’d not think I like it
- Decent texture but spice mix overwhelms the flavor of both the cookie and the frosting.
- The glaze made this very enjoyable. It seems unfair to compare this to the others as they are crippled by the lackluster frosting
How to make the Best Gingerbread Cookies
Here are a few tips I picked up from making 9 gingerbread cookie recipes in one day:
- For darker color: Look for blackstrap molasses. Grandma’s Molasses (the most widely available brand that I’ve seen) will give you a lighter shade as seen in all the pictures above.
- Chill cut cookies before baking: Just 10-15 minutes in the fridge or freezer usually helps if you want more crisp, precise shapes. If you don’t care, bake them straight away!
- For more chewy cookies: Cool cookies on the baking sheet (this keeps the bottom moist)
- For more crispy cookies: roll them thinner and cool them on the rack (the air flow helps dry out the bottoms). This tip comes from Borderlands Bakery!
- Tweak the spices as needed! I love more cinnamon/ginger and don’t love nutmeg or cloves so typically will adjust down as needed when baking for myself. Tweaking spices will not affect texture.
My top picks:
- Cook’s Illustrated: for a moist, soft, more traditional gingerbread cookie
- Bake at 350: for a milder flavored but still excellent gingerbread
- Baker by Nature: for general eating. Just so good!
Best traditional/spicy gingerbread: Moosewood, Tartine, Cook’s Illustrated
Best soft and chewy gingerbread: Cook’s Illustrated, Sally’s Baking Addiction
Best puffy gingerbread: Smitten Kitchen
Best non-traditional gingerbread: Baker by Nature, Borderlands, Donna Hay
Best mild-flavored gingerbread: Bake at 350, Baker by Nature, Donna Hay
Best sturdy pick (for building houses): Borderlands, Donna Hay (especially if baked for longer at a low temp)
Best for decorating (least spread): Borderlands, Bake at 350
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Love your bake off posts!! I did the cooks illustrated with a glaze and it was SO good! I think next time I want to try the biscoff one!
I would love to see you do cut out cookies for xmas, it is always so hard to decide which one will give me a good cookie that will hold its shape when baking. My current favorite is a butter cookie recipe from land o lakes
I’ve included the Tartine recipe in my cookie trays the past two years and it was a huge hit this year! I also make the CI recipe for decorating and it’s solid too.
Woooo so glad to hear this!! Thanks for reporting back Margot!
Love the detail in your bake offs!! I will try the Cooks Illustrated recipe.
I would love to see an oatmeal cookie bake off.
I love your bake-off posts! So informative and fun. If you ever do a ginger molasses cookie bake-off, could I steer you toward Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookie recipe? It has such unusual ingredient proportions, and I’d love to read your analysis of the recipe.
This is my favorite Christmas cookie!