There’s nothing more festive than the smell of a fresh batch of gingerbread, but it needn’t always be a tray of biscuits. From sticky treacle cake to Scandi-inspired buns, these gingerbread recipes are guaranteed to make you smile.
’Tis the season for eating all the tastiest sweet treats we can get our hands on. Autumnal fruit crumbles, chocolate orange brownies, salted caramel everything…you name it, we’re baking it. But now that Christmas is on our minds, there’s only one thing that really captures the holiday spirit: gingerbread.
From the perfect mixture of warming spices to the seasonal shapes (stars! Snowmen! Icing-frosted cottages!), there’s something infinitely festive about gingerbread at this time of year. There’s also the not-so-insignificant fact that a batch of gingerbread baking in the oven is guaranteed to make your home smell amazing – and that’s without savouring the soft-in-the-centre, crisp-on-the-edges goodness when it’s still slightly warm.
There is, however, a lot more to gingerbread than the popular spiced biscuit people we devoured as kids. While there’ll always be a place in our heart for their charming smiley characters, there’s a whole world of sugar-sweetened treats out there that put a playful spin on the traditional recipe.
So, if you’re in the mood for some festive lockdown baking, or fancy the idea of experimenting with your Christmas dessert recipes this year, we’ve four delicious recipes to share.
Inspired by the classic Victorian dishes in Charles Dickens’ famous novel David Copperfield, Pen Vogler’s recipe is a traditional British gingerbread made sumptuously sticky with golden syrup and black treacle.
Mad about cinnamon buns? Bronte Aurell’s Swedish gingerbread buns are a delightful twist on the Scandi favourite, made festive with a mixture of warming spices.
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For the chocolate lovers among you, Silke Martin’s bite-sized gingerbread brownies stars use rich dark chocolate to add an extra layer of intensity to the spice mix.
No gingerbread roundup would be complete without biscuits, of course, and Jeffrey Larsen’s gluten-free ginger snap cutout cookies are a great excuse to go to town icing smiling happy people.
If you’re thinking about making foodie presents for Christmas this year, we’d say a batch of gingerbread makes a lovely homemade gift. The gingerbread people also make great edible decorations for your Christmas tree – that’s if you can resist devouring them straight away…
Pen Vogler’s Mr Dick’s gingerbread
Pen says: “In David Copperfield, Betsey Trotwood directs David to open an account at a cake shop so that the childlike Mr Dick might be treated to his favourite gingerbread on credit — but only up to one shilling per day. Both cake and biscuit gingerbreads were traditionally decorated as Christmas treats.”
- 4 eggs
- 4 tbsp milk
- 450g self-raising flour
- 1 heaped tbsp ground ginger (ground ginger loses its flavour rapidly, so buy in small quantities and use up quickly)
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 280g black treacle
- 280g golden syrup
- 175g soft brown or muscovado sugar
- 170g butter, plus extra for greasing
- zest of 2 lemons or oranges
- 2-3 tbsp chopped stem ginger (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas 3. Grease and line a 23cm square cake tin.
Whisk the eggs thoroughly with the milk, until they start to froth. Sift the flour and spices into a large bowl. Measure the black treacle and syrup into a saucepan (this is easiest to do using a metal spoon heated in hot water). Add the sugar, butter, and zest. Heat very gently until the butter is just melted. Pour this into a well in the flour, beating vigorously. When it is well blended, add the egg and milk mixture and the stem ginger, if using, beating well until you can see bubbles forming on the surface.
Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake in the preheated oven for about 1 1⁄2 hours until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn out and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container or wrapped in foil for a day or two before eating to let the flavours develop.
From Christmas with Dickens: Seasonal Recipes Inspired by the Life and Work of Charles Dickens by Pen Vogler (£9.99, Cico Books), out now
Bronte Aurell’s gingerbread buns (pepparkaksbullar)
Bronte says: “When Christmas comes around, I like to flavour my cinnamon buns with a more festive filling – so I add pepparkakskryddor – gingerbread spices – to my bun filling. I think these are super festive.”
Makes 14-15 small buns
- plain flour, for dusting
- 1 x quantity basic bun dough (recipe below)
- beaten egg, for brushing
- 100ml golden syrup
- pearl sugar, to decorate (optional)
- icing, to dust
For the filling:
- 120g soft butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 50g light brown sugar
- 1-2 tbsp gingerbread spice mix; depending on how spiced you like it, ready mixed or make your own (see below)
For the gingerbread spice mix (yields about 2 tablespoons):
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
For the basic bun dough (makes about 16):
- 13g dried yeast or 25g fresh yeast
- 250ml whole milk, heated to 36–37 ̊C (97–99 ̊F)
- 80g butter, melted and left to cool slightly
- 40g caster sugar
- 400–500g strong white flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- flaked almonds, to decorate
- a baking sheet, greased and lined with baking parchment
To make the basic bun dough, pour the warm milk into a bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and whisk together. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes to become bubbly. Pour into the bowl of a food mixer fitted with a dough hook. (If using fresh yeast, add the warm milk to a small bowl and crumble in the yeast; stir until dissolved, then pour into the bowl of the mixer.) Start the machine and add the cooled, melted butter. Allow to combine with the yeast for 1 minute or so, then add the sugar. Allow to combine for 1 minute.
In a separate bowl, weigh out 400g of the flour, add the cardamom and salt and mix together. Start adding the flour and spices into the milk mixture, bit by bit. Add half the beaten egg. Keep kneading for 5 minutes. You may need to add more flour – you want the mixture to end up a bit sticky, but not so much that it sticks to your finger if you poke it. It is better not to add too much flour as this will result in dry buns. You can add more later. Once mixed, leave the dough in a bowl and cover with a dish towel or clingfilm. Leave to rise for around 30 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
Dust the work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Knead the dough with your hands and work in more flour if needed. Using a rolling pin, Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 40 x 50cm rectangle.
For the filling, cream all the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Spread the filling across the dough in an even, thin layer.
To make traditional swirls, simply roll up the dough lengthways into a long roll and cut into 15 slices, place on the prepared baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise for a further 20 minutes.
To make the knots, fold the prepared dough in half and cut into strips. Take a strip and hold down one edge with your finger and use your hand to roll the strip in on itself, as tight as it will go, then arrange into a neat circle, taking care that both ends are tucked away underneath otherwise they will unfold when baking.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.
Brush the buns lightly with the beaten egg, then bake in the preheated oven for 9-10 minutes or until golden and done. Watch them carefully, they can burn easily.
Meanwhile, melt the syrup in a saucepan. When the buns come out of the oven, immediately brush lightly with the syrup, then add pearl sugar (if using) on top of the buns and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Just before serving, sprinkle with icing sugar.
From Bronte at Home: Baking from the Scandi Kitchen by Bronte Aurell (£16.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Silke Martin’s gingerbread brownies
- 250g dark chocolate
- 250g soft butter + a little extra
- 250g walnuts
- 7 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- a pinch of salt
- 450g caster sugar
- 325g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3 tbsp gingerbread spice mix
- 75ml milk
- icing sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 175°C (340°F/gas 3). Coarsely chop the chocolate. Then, over a low heat, slowly melt the chocolate with the butter in a small saucepan, whilst stirring continuously. Once it has fully melted, remove the saucepan from the hob. Dry fry the nuts in a pan, then remove and coarsely chop them.
Whisk the eggs, vanilla extract, salt and sugar using a hand mixer with a whisk attachment. Blend the chocolate buttercream into the egg mixture. Mix in the flour, baking powder and gingerbread spice mix, gradually blending in the milk. Then fold in the nuts.
Line the baking tray with baking parchment. Evenly distribute the dough over it and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a cooling rack.
Cut a star-shaped stencil from a piece of paper (about 3cm in diameter). Cut the cake into 45-50 brownies. Then, using the stencil, sprinkle an icing-sugar star onto each piece.
From Joy to the World: 24 Festive Treats from Around the World by Silke Martin, (£7.99, Hardie Grant), out now
Jeffrey Larsen’s gingersnap cutout cookies
Jeffrey says: “During the holidays it is essential for me to have a gingerbread recipe. I use the cut-outs for decorations on the tree as well as for dessert. You can also use this recipe for building a gingerbread house. I bake the pieces for the house according to the timings in this cookie recipe. You will need to keep your eye on them, as larger pieces will take longer to bake. My secret is to bake all the shapes again at 200°F for an additional 10-15 minutes. You want to crisp them until they are really firm and then build your gingerbread house.”
Makes 37 three-inch cookies
- 150g sorghum flour, plus more as needed
- 95g firmly packed brown sugar
- 72g potato starch
- 52g tapioca starch
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp fine salt
- 1/4 cup (80g) molasses
- 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature
- 1 tbsp melted and slightly cooled clarified butter or coconut oil, plus more as needed
- teff or sorghum flour, for dusting and rolling (it will disappear as the cookies bake)
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, brown sugar, potato starch, tapioca starch, ginger, xanthan gum, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the molasses, egg, egg yolk, and clarified butter.
Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula. You will have a crumbly dough at first, but it will come together. Keep stirring until the dough begins to form a ball. If it seems dry, add 1 teaspoon melted clarified butter. If the dough is too wet, add 1 tablespoon sorghum flour. Add one or the other of these ingredients incrementally until you achieve the desired consistency. The dough should be the consistency of play-doh. Knead the dough until it is smooth, pliable, and even in colour.
Divide the dough into 3 even portions, shape into disks, wrap each disk separately with plastic wrap, and place all three disks in a resealable bag. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 175C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of a silicone baking mat (this keeps the parchment from moving around when you are rolling the dough out). Lightly flour the parchment paper with teff flour and place one of the portions of dough on the parchment paper. Keeping both sides of the dough floured, roll the dough to a 1⁄4-inch thickness.
Cut the dough with your favourite 3-inch cookie cutters. With a small offset spatula, gently peel up each cookie and place on the prepared baking sheet. If you are going to use the cookies as ornaments, use a small drinking straw to cut a small hole in the top of each cookie. I also like to freeze the full baking sheet of cookies for about 10 minutes before baking.
Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 8-10 minutes. If the cookies are larger than 3 inches, bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, then transfer them with a metal spatula to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Once the cookies are cool, you can decorate them with icing and sprinkle with decorative sugars or sweets.
Note: If you like crunchier gingerbread cookies, place them side by side on a baking sheet in a 90°C/200°F oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes to dry them out.
This dough lends itself well to making gingerbread houses. You can also use a clean rubber stamp to decorate the dough. Press the stamp lightly into the top of the dough. If you place the tray of cookies in the freezer for about 10 minutes before baking, the impressions will remain through baking.
From Gluten-Free Baking at Home: 102 Foolproof Recipes For Delicious Breads, Cakes, Cookies, and More by Jeffrey Larsen (£22.50, Ten Speed Press), out now. Ten Speed Press is an imprint of Penguin Random House
Photography: Ria Osborne; Peter Cassidy; Frauke Antholz; Kelly Puleio
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.