Have you ever wondered why your gingerbread cookies did not come out as you wanted? But you were not sure where the trouble was. Sweat no more, this Gingerbread Cookie Guide is here to help you bake perfect gingerbread cookies.
Gingerbread cookies are irresistible and I’m pretty flexible when it comes to snacking them – basically I eat whatever Christmas cookie is on the table (if it’s not burned).
But when I bake with my heirloom gingerbread cookie recipe, I want the cookies not only to be perfectly tasty but also feel and look amazing. In this post, I will break down how to read a gingerbread cookie and troubleshoot your baking.
Below you’ll find common fails and the corrective action for the next tray of gingerbread cookies. My failed gingerbread piggies & deers will demonstrate the issues and you will learn how to fix them. Let’s get baking those perfect gingerbread cookies!
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How to bake perfect Gingerbread Cookies with 8 simple tips
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- The gingerbread cookie spreads in the oven
- The cookie has tiny spots on it
- The cookies are lumpy and bumpy
- The dough shapes and cut-outs are a mess
- The dough sticks to the rolling pin and the baking desk
- The baked gingerbread cookies are a tad too pale
- The edges of the cookie are burned
- I have Christmas cookie stress
1. The gingerbread cookie spreads in the oven
When the baked gingerbread cookie is significantly larger than the original cutter, it means the cookie has spread in the oven. See the difference in the size of the gingerbread piggies? When the cookie spreads, the simple fix is to add more flour. This is an issue you must fix at the very start before you rest the dough overnight in the fridge. Just add more flour to the fresh dough and bake another test cookie.
Repeat if necessary but do not overwork the dough too dry especially if you have a larger batch. The dough will also get firmer during the process of baking each time the cookie mass is rolled, re-chilled and rolled again. The dough mass will gradually get more flour during the baking process but in the beginning you want to achieve good dough base.
2. The cookie has tiny spots on it
Spreading of the dough is the fist warning sign that something is wrong and spots come second. The root cause is the same mentioned as above. Tiny pores and spots in the cookie reveal that the dough still has too little flour.
If this happens with the cold dough on the day of baking, do not worry. Divide the big piece of cold dough and work each piece separately by gently adding more flour. Let the dough mass rest again and postpone your baking for a few hours later.
To illustrate the point, have a look at the photo below where I have collected piggies from several different bakes. Can you see how the pores and spots disappear when there’s more flour in the dough? To best avoid this, you need to bake test cookies before you rest the dough overnight. But again, don’t work the dough all the way at once.
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3. The gingerbread cookies are lumpy and bumpy
The question of how to bake perfect gingerbread cookies is not all in the dough but also about the baking trays. Who would have known?
A random bump here and there on the surface of the cookie tells us that the baking tray was not cooled enough before you placed the raw cookies on the tray. If you bake with only one tray, chances are that the tray is warm when you add the new dough cut-outs. This leftover heat from the previous bake will activate the baking soda before the new raw cookie goes into the oven.
Please check the photo above. Can you see that the fifth piggy has a random lump in the leg? That’s because of using a warm baking tray. I recommend having 2-3 trays in rotation. This way you can make sure the baking trays are cold when new gingerbread cut-outs are transferred on it. This is an easy issue to fix!
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4. The dough shapes & cut-outs are a mess
This means that the dough is too warm. Divide the cookie dough into pieces, the size of a handful or two. This way you have some of the dough in the cold for re-chill and some in action on the desk. If in haste with the last piece dough, let it rest in the freezer to finish up faster.
And then we can ponder on the subject if there is such a thing as “wrong cookie cutter”. For sure in my opinion, but if all of your cookie edges are messy, this is not your issue. It’s always a good habit to lightly dip the cutters in flour before pushing through the dough to achieve sharp edges.
I have a decent collection of Christmas cookie cutters some of which are gifts and vintage finds that have come my way over the years. I bake with my heirloom gingerbread dough recipe every year so it’s nice to have variation with the cookies’ appearance.
So far I’m missing out a Christmas tree cookie cutter and a snowman. The ones included in this set of 8 cookie cutter on Amazon look quite nice*. And the Moomin cookie cutter are fun especially with the kids. I have the Snufkin and the Little My cutters, I’m not sure if they are available now but you can find the current selection of cookie cutters at the Moomin Shop online.
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5. The dough sticks to the rolling pin and desk
Sticky dough only needs re-chilling. The dough can get warm when rolling it many times in a row and it simply needs to rest in the fridge or the the freezer. Check the tip above plus remember to lightly flour desk and rolling pin every time when working with a new piece of dough.
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6. The baked gingerbread cookies are a tad too pale
This could be due to a few things. Did you use baking powder instead of baking soda? Gingerbread cookies with baking soda will brown more.
The color of syrup and amount of spices will also affect the finished baked color of the cookie. My classic gingerbread recipe uses dark syrup. Some of the granulated sugar can also be substituted with unrefined coconut sugar or cane sugar. I have not used molasses with this recipe but you can if you wish.
Lastly, uneven baked color can be a challenge with some ovens. Check the bottom of the cookie. If it’s lighter than the cookie’s top surface, it might be better to re-adjust the position of the tray.
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7. The Edges of the gingerbread cookie are dark/burned
Please have a look at the second gingerbread cookie in the first photo above. The edges of the cookie have burned and this unfortunately will affect the taste negatively. Don’t burn your gingerbread cookies, I’m serious. The kitchen will smell bad and nobody wants to eat those burned cookies.
When gingerbread cookies of different sizes are baked together, the smaller ones get ready earlier. Makes sense? To achieve a steady bake and color, group cookies of the same size on one tray together. So do not do as I have done in the tray above for the purpose of demonstrating failed bakes. :)
Additionally, sharp and narrow-edged cookie-cutters can cause burning issues. This is because these very detailed cookie cutter designs burn more easily.
Yes, some star-shaped cutters are a nightmare. I have collected five different star-shaped cookie cutters and the quest to finding the best one is still on. The star cutter included in this set of 8 cookie cutters* looks interesting in this sense, because the narrow end points have been gradually softened. If you have a star-shaped cookie cutter which has never failed you, please comment below so we can all test it, too.
Gingerbread cookies bake fast so it’s also important not to leave the oven unattended. When I was a kid, watching the oven was my least favorite task. I would have wanted to have my hands in the dough all the time and play with the different cutter shapes.
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8. The terrible Christmas cookie stress
Baking gingerbread cookies should be relaxed and fun, don’t stress. Tune into listening your favorite Christmas carrols and enjoy a snack or two while waiting for the dough to re-chill.
I luckily have avoided the famous Christmas stress and still feel child-like excitement whenever working with gingerbread cookie dough. Baking the cookies early December not only gives me the Christmas feel but also leaves me great deal of flexibility for other baking and activities closer to the Christmas festivities.
By making this guide, I hope to help you can also enjoy baking stress-free Christmas cookies. And some cookies always fail. Fear not, as the frosting will hide any beauty flaws in the cookies. ;)
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Summary – How to bake perfect gingerbread cookies
The world is full of gingerbread cookie recipes. These photos display traditional Finnish gingerbread cookies which I’ve baked with my heirloom recipe. You can find from the recipe link below.
The Finnish gingerbread cookies are crispy yet tender, perfect to enjoy as is or by dipping into a hot cup of coffee. To me they are the most perfect gingerbread cookies ever.
The ultimate secret on how to bake perfect gingerbread cookies with any recipe is this: always have a test bake when you make the dough and before chilling it overnight/freezing it.
Quickly chill a small piece of wrapped dough in the freezer for 20 minutes and make a test bake. Analyse the results and adjust the amount flour. And as always, use fresh flour.
With the 80/20 rule in mind with the total flour of the recipe, you can make sure gingerbread dough has the ideal texture from the very start before you cool it completely to rest overnight. Of course, you can re-work the rested dough as well but it requires a bit more muscle work and effort. So save time and make a test bake.
On the day of baking, have multiple trays available so you can rotate them. Work the dough in batches and re-chill whenever necessary, nobody wants roll a sticky gingerbread cookie dough. Don’t leave the oven unattended because the cookies bake fast! Don’t burn gingerbread cookies!
Try this vintage gingerbread cookie recipe which I've inherited from my mother.