Making gluten-free gingerbread cookies is a favourite Christmas baking pastime for most, especially icing and decorating them.
For twenty years, I have baked hundreds of gingerbread cookies during the lead up to Christmas for my family, friends and catering events. I try to keep the icing decorations simple, but sometimes I get carried away and fill the whole biscuit with icing followed by more detailed designs on top. These overloaded cookies are best for children as I think adults prefer the “less is more” approach.
Decorating gingerbread cookies is a fun activity to do with children. I remember with fond (and messy) memory taking 25 pre-made icing bags and 100 gingerbread cookies to my youngest son’s pre-school class in Singapore to decorate. Needless to say, there were some very interesting designs and the children really enjoyed decorating and eating them afterwards. Some took them home to give as gifts to their parents, which really made me happy to see the “giving” gesture in some children. To this day, I am still friends with the pre-school teacher, despite the activity nearly destroying her classroom with coloured icing everywhere! Thanks Mrs Pathy!
Where did gingerbread originate from?
Gingerbread originates from Europe and has different names and shapes from Lebkuchen in Germany & Austria to Pepperkakor in Sweden, but one common denominator is GINGER! As early as the 13th century, gingerbread cookies were made by Swedish nuns to ease indigestion. In England, monasteries, pharmacies and farmers’ markets sold gingerbread cookies for their medicinal properties. Eventually, it wasn’t long before European settlers took the gingerbread to the US where the gingerbread man became a famous Christmas cookie.
Which syrup is best to use?
One interesting ingredient used in gingerbread is treacle or molasses. Treacle is a dark sweet syrup made with the uncrystallised syrup that remains after the sugar from the sugarcane is refined. Used in medicine before the 17th century, this bittersweet syrup was thought to help with snakebites and poisoning. Two centuries later, treacle was used as a meat preservative similar to salt preservation. Nowadays, we know it as a sweetener to many baked goods, desserts and even meat marinades. Treacle is the British version of America’s molasses. Either can be used for this gingerbread recipe. If you can’t find either syrup, you could use honey, but your gingerbread may appear slightly lighter in colour and may taste less intense.
12th December is gingerbread decorating day. Why not take it up a level and make a couple or a huge gingerbread house, then decorate it with the children. My grown-up children have never forgotten this fun activity during the lead up to Christmas.
Gluten-Free Gingerbread Christmas Cookies
For the cookie dough:
- 500g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 2 tablespoons gingerbread spice
- 250g butter, softened at room temperature
- 180g dark or light brown sugar
- 150g caster sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly mixed
- 1 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tablespoon treacle or molasses
- 2 tablespoons boiling water
- tapioca flour, for dusting counter & rolling pin
For the gingerbread spice:
For this recipe
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 2 tablespoons ginger powder
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg powder
- 1/8 teaspoon clove powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
A small jar – enough for 4 cookie batches
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon powder
- 8 tablespoons ginger powder
- 4 teaspoons nutmeg powder
- ½ teaspoon clove powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
For the icing:
- 225g icing sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons water, room temperature
- 1 ½ tablespoons meringue powder (optional)
- Red, green and white liquid or gel-paste food colouring
- An assortment of edible cookie decorations (check the ingredients list for gluten)
- Several disposable piping bags
- An assortment of your favourite cookie cutters
- Preparation time: 30 minutes
- Dough resting time: 30 minutes to overnight
- Baking time: 10 to 14 minutes (small to large cookies)
1. Whisk the gingerbread spice together in small bowl.
2. Sieve the flour, xanthan gum and gingerbread spice into a medium bowl and whisk together well.
3. In large bowl or stand mixer bowl, beat the butter for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides.
4. Add both sugars. Cream the butter and sugars for a further 3 minutes until it appears fluffy and the sugar granules are no longer visible.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well.
9. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F.
12. Cut out cookies with an assortment of Christmas cookie cutters and transfer the cookie gently to the lined baking tray using a tapioca flour-dusted spatula.
13. Keep the cookies 5cm apart on the baking tray.
18. Whisk the icing sugar with the meringue powder * (optional) and add one tablespoon of water at a time until the mixture comes together into a smooth paste. To pipe outlines and detail, do not add more than 2 tablespoons of water otherwise the icing will spread. Test the icing by pouring a small teaspoon of icing onto a plate. If it spreads out, the icing is too runny, therefore add more icing sugar. If it is too stiff and breaks, add more water in very small quantities. This takes a little patience to achieve the perfect “drawing” consistency.* Meringue powder is a dry form of egg whites used to make Royal Icing. The powder creates a more stable icing that dries faster. If you intend to make iced cookies days in advance, I recommend using the powder. Wilton Meringue Powder can be found at specialist cake making shops or online.
19. When you have finished doing all the outlines, prepare a more fluid icing by adding another tablespoon or more of water. This more spreadable icing is good to fill outlines of icing, also known as “flooding”.
20. Divide the icing into seperate bowls and add a drop at a time of each food colouring so that you have red, green and white icing to decorate your cookies.
21. Cover the bowls when not in use, otherwise they will form a crust and start to harden.
22. Choose which colour you would like to start decorating with and pour the icing into the disposable bag. Snip the end off similar to the size of a pencil tip.
23. Start decorating your cookies either by following my design or the many designs available on the internet-
24. Cold air is perfect for drying these iced cookies faster, so if you have enough room, chill them in the fridge, otherwise in a cool room.
25. Once the icing is set, they stack well in an airtight cookie tin or glass jar container.
Keeps for 5 days
Bake the cookies in advance and freeze them un-iced in an airtight container. Freezes for 3 months.