Alex Guarnaschelli: The Best Gingerbread Cookies for the Holidays

Alex Guarnaschelli Gingerbread Cookies

Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.

I always recommend a butter cookie for the holidays because it belongs at any party and goes with any holiday drink, but I’m also a gingerbread cookie fan. They are so tasty, and they pair well with eggnog or sparkling wine.

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In fact, I made a batch yesterday and was genuinely feeling like gingerbread is my cookie for 2014. I sampled a few straight without frosting and imagined them, unfrosted, with some rich hot chocolate. Or frosted and served with hot tea. I like when they are a little spicy, with almost a peppery bite.

The bottom line is that I am coming to terms with my sweet tooth and the fact that I routinely use holidays like Christmas as an opportunity to do some “much needed baking” for the sake of other people’s happiness. I am a sap who loves cookie swaps. I also love seeing how other people creatively interpret cookie batters and decorations this time of year.

This gingerbread has a tingle of heat that’s fun but can easily be dialed back by omitting the black pepper. I use the classic cutters — gingerbread people, bells, candy canes, trees — but these can also be rolled and cut into simple rounds.

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Gingerbread Cookies

Makes about 5–6 dozen cookies

1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups sugar
The zest from 1/2 orange
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. dried ginger
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground black pepper (optional)
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
½ cup dark Molasses
the juice from 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter, sugar and orange zest until smooth, about 5-8 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, dry ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper and salt. Whisk to blend. Set aside.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, Molasses and lemon juice.
5. When the butter and sugar are mixed, lower the speed of the mixer and add the dry ingredients. Then add the egg mixture. When blended, remove the bowl from the machine. Do not over mix or it will toughen the texture of the cookies.
6. Allow the batter to “rest” in the fridge for 15 minutes. Use a rolling pin to roll it about ½ inch thick on a flat, floured surface. Cut with desired cutters and arrange on a baking sheet.
7. Bake until brown around the edges, 8-10 minutes.

We have all used those tubes of ready-made frostings but homemade frosting is pretty easy and tastes a lot better, in my opinion. Try two of my favorites:

Easy Orange Frosting

¾ cup powdered sugar
The juice and zest from 1 orange
1 tbsp. honey

1. Whisk all of the ingredients together. If too thick in consistency, add a splash of water to thin out.

My other fun frosting is more like a glaze or filling. This came about because I always buy one bar of Peppermint bark around Christmas and nibble on it throughout the holidays. I love the texture of the candy canes in the chocolate and also appreciate when it’s not too sweet. Use a semi sweet or even darker chocolate to contrast the sugar in the candy canes and the cookies. Try this with a butter cookie too.

Chocolate Candy Cane Ganache

½ heavy cream
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 medium candy canes, crushed into pieces

1. In a small pot, bring the cream to a gentle simmer. Place the chocolate in a bowl that fits over the pot and place it over the cream like a makeshift double boiler. Stir the chocolate from time to time as it melts.
2. When the cream is warm and the chocolate somewhat melted, simply pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until blended. Stir in the candy cane pieces.
3. Serve on the side for dunking with the cookies or coat the cookies with the chocolate and place on a rack to cool for a few minutes before serving. You can also use this as a filling for cookie sandwiches.

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