Welcome to the Great Gingerbread Challenge. 1 three day weekend; 8 Gingerbread Recipes; 3 bottles of Grandma’s Molasses, to find the "best" gingerbread recipe.
Recently my neighbor texted me and asked if I had a go-to gingerbread recipe and I immediately sent her the link to this one. Several days later I was brushing my teeth and it occurred to me that I don’t bake gingerbread enough to actually have a go-to recipe. When I say “go-to” I mean a recipe that I would endorse completely. Another day goes by and then I make the ill-advised decision to make a bunch of gingerbread men with no real planning at all. And here we are: The Great Gingerbread Challenge!
Gingerbread gets a bad wrap. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m blaming some terrible store-bought gingerbread that probably tasted like cardboard. It's hard for gingerbread to compete against the MVPs of the cookie world with this reputation. Then add to the fact that you have roll the cookies out before baking and the result (at least at my house) is that gingerbread is a once a year kind of deal. But now that’s changing because now I have so many great recipes to choose from.
- Big thanks to my neighbor who asked the original question “do you have a favorite gingerbread recipe?”
- Shout out to Harris Teeter who was running a sale on Grandma’s Molasses.
- To my taste testers– y’all are the best.
- Thank you to all of the recipe writers of these gingerbread recipes.
- To my co-workers who clearly loved the Gingerbread Cookies– thanks for experimenting with me.
The Gingerbread Recipes
- BraveTart (The orange zest on this one was out this world)
- King Arthur (A classic crisp gingerbread)
- Joy of Cooking (Another classic flavoring– perfect for decorating)
- New York Times (So much potential– see notes below)
- Vallery Lomas (Spicy and Crunchy!)
- A Classic Twist (An old-school version perfect for icing)
- Displaced Housewife (This one has ALL of the spices and is super soft)
- Food & Wine (Spicy with the right amount of chewiness)
- Make the recipes as written, with one notable exception. I’m looking at you, New York Times.
- Chill all of the dough in the fridge overnight. Chilling the dough wasn’t required by all of the recipes, however since I was doing this in between my day job and doing mom-stuff, chilling the dough gave me time to organize the timing of the project.
- Molasses is required. In my internet search I found a bunch of recipes that had no molasses– and WHAT?!?! Seriously, what is the point of a Great Gingerbread Challenge if we don’t have molasses?
- Scour the internet for gingerbread recipes.
- Watch Sohla make gingerbread cookies with fresh ginger on her instagram stories.
- Research cookies with fresh ginger and realize that dry ginger is more intense than fresh. Scrap that idea.
- Go to Harris Teeter to buy a lifetime supply of molasses, a couple pounds of unsalted butter and an extra bag of all purpose flour.
- Decide to make Sohla’s ginger cookies anyway and completely mess them up.
- Mix up 3 batches of gingerbread dough one night after work and wrap the dough in saran wrap, label it and put it in the fridge.
- Wash a bunch of dishes.
- Run out of molasses. Go back to the store.
- Repeat steps 6 & 7 until 8 batches of cookies are made.
- Next day– roll out the dough and bake exactly 1 dozen of each dough.
- Rewrap the dough in saran wrap and freeze until later.
Molasses v. Gingerbread v. Gingersnap
What’s the difference between the three? As far as I can tell, the difference between the three relates to how you bake them. Gingerbread cookies are rolled out and bake up pretty flat with minimal spreading. Molasses cookies are chewy drop cookies and Gingersnaps are crunchy drop cookies that you bake just a little bit longer.
In terms of ingredients– they should ALL have molasses, but after that the key difference is how much ginger is added. Molasses cookies tend to have less ginger, whereas the other two have ALL of the ginger.
About The New York Times Recipe
Like any millennial I did all of my recipe research on my phone (while I was waiting in the carpool line). I grabbed a notebook and jotted down the ingredient lists of my top recipes so that I could make a grocery list, with the intent of referencing the internet recipe during the bake. The NYT recipe was the fourth recipe that I made, and I was in full production mode: churning out 3 batches of dough at time. When I went back to review the method for the NYT recipe, a NYT Cooking pop-up came up and asked me to log in. So I did. And THEN I hit a paywall. For $5 a month I could access a recipe that I had previously accessed.
So here’s the thing. I understand wanting to get paid for providing content. I understand that you have writers and photographers and recipe testers who are all doing a job, not giving recipes away for free. But be like America’s Test Kitchen– clear and upfront about the membership model for their content. Don’t let me access that recipe and then give me the run around. Meanwhile, Food & Wine sent me 37 prompts to save the recipe that I was using from their website.
I didn’t follow the instructions, because they were now behind a paywall. Instead just made them the way I wanted to, which I am sure was not what the recipe writer intended. And I was so disappointed, because this one seemed like it was going to be a great one.
Crisco is everywhere.
The gingerbread cookie that your grandma/nana makes PROBABLY, most likely involves Crisco. We all need to accept this fact. I don’t know how Crisco got a bad reputation, but when it comes to baking, Crisco is forgiveness because it holds its temperature. With all butter recipes, the temperature of the butter is make or break. So if you’re a little bit off on the temperature, the Crisco will pull you back to where you need to be. Embrace it.
- A Classic Twist
- New York Times
Obviously there’s ginger. Most of the time there’s cinnamon. After that it’s the wild west: Nutmeg, Cloves, All Spice, Orange Zest, Cardamom, Vanilla, Pepper.
The Spice Queens:
The most unusual ingredient:
The recipe from A Classic Twist called for Vinegar. This is 85% of the reason why I chose this recipe to test. The other 15% is because I have a baking crush on Zainab. Check out her instagram and it will be immediately clear why that’s happening.
A few of the recipes had no eggs! I double checked because what?! These cookies were less puffy.
- Joy of Cooking
The most common measurement for the molasses was ½ cup. But there were outliers:
- King Arthur (9 ounces!)
- Displaced Housewife (¾ cup)
In basic cookie making, generally speaking, the moisture to create the cookies comes from the eggs. For the Great Gingerbread Challenge there were a few recipes that included water, and one included milk. The result was that those cookies tended to have a softer, more cake-like texture.
No Mixer Required:
The only recipe in the batch that did not require a mixer, was the King Arthur recipe. The first step in that recipe is to melt the butter– so you can easily pull this dough together with a firm spatula or a wooden spoon.
Great Gingerbread Challenge Top 3:
When I’m eating a gingerbread cookie, I want ALL of the ginger and all of the other warm spices, immediately. My top three were Displaced Housewife, King Arthur & Vallery Lomas. Out of these three– two were more crunchy (King Arthur & Vallery) while the Displaced Housewife’s Cookie was on the softer side.
These are the three that I ended up taking to the office for my co-workers to try. I didn’t take an unofficial poll– but based on how quickly they disappeared the King Arthur and Displaced Housewife cookies went first.
The Other Testers:
- Jamie loved the Joy of Cooking and Vallery’s recipe the best.
- Zeynep loved every single thing about the BraveTart recipe. This made sense to me, because she’s a world-traveling foodie and that recipe definitely took the flavor up a notch.
Which Recipes are the "Winners" of the Great Gingerbread Challenge?
Have you ever eaten 8 gingerbread cookies in a row? No. Oh okay. Right. That’s not normal. After eating the heads off of 8 gingerbread men, I realized that like in the Great Chocolate Chip Cookie and Great Banana Bread Challenge that the title of “best” is so dependent on the eater.
But now I can help you choose a recipe you might like based on two key components texture and spice level. A venn diagram seemed like the only way to explain this. At the end of the day it's really a choose your own adventure kind of situation, y'all. Happy Gingerbread Baking!