Thin and crispy or soft and pillowy? Your how-to guide for crafting your ideal gingerbread

Here are a few culinary science-backed tips for making your perfect Christmas cookie

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Deputy Food Editor

Published December 25, 2021 5:30PM (EST)

Christmas gingerbread cookies (Getty Images/Flavia Morlachetti)
Christmas gingerbread cookies (Getty Images/Flavia Morlachetti)

Fans of gingerbread tend to divide themselves into two camps. There are those who are devoted fans of crispy and crunchy cookies, and those who swear by soft and chewy gingerbread. 

And while getting your cookies to the desired consistency in your home kitchen may seem like a small Christmas miracle, there are a few science-backed tips for crafting your ideal gingerbread. Here's how to hack your holiday baking.

High-moisture versus low-moisture ingredients 

This is the biggest tip. For denser, softer gingerbread, you're going to want to find a recipe that calls primarily for high-moisture ingredients. Instead of choosing margarine or vegetable shortening, these recipes will include butter. In terms of sweeteners, moister cookies will include brown sugar, which is produced by adding molasses to refined white sugar, or even just straight molasses. 

RELATED: A brief history of the Christmas cookie

Some swear by adding a tablespoon or two of corn syrup for an extra-chewy cookie (though I personally couldn't tell the difference between test batches). 

For crisper cookies, stick to vegetable shortening — or a mix of butter and vegetable shortening — and refined white sugar. 

Drop cookies versus roll-outs 

"Drop cookies," which are placed on the baking sheet using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, tend to be more tender than roll-outs. Part of this is that they are simply thicker and bake through more slowly. However, in addition to being thinner, roll-out cookies tend to have a dough that incorporates more flour so the final cookies will hold their shape more cleanly when bakers use cookie cutters. 

Differences in cookie thickness and spread 

One of the keys to a softer-feeling cookie is giving it a little extra "lift." To achieve that effect, you're going to want to ensure that the cookie doesn't spread too thin on the baking sheet. Be sure to chill your dough for at least 30 minutes before baking it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

This keeps the fat inside the cookie from completely melting before the cookie is done, while the parchment paper itself prevents the cookies from spreading as much and thus keeps the bottoms from crisping up. 

Meanwhile, cookies that are meant to be crisper can be placed straight on a prepared baking sheet. 

Differences in baking time

Much like other foods, the longer the bake time, the crispier or crunchier the end product. Recipes for crisper gingerbread cookies tend to have an 18 to 25-minute bake time, while softer cookies can be done as quickly as 14 minutes after sticking them in the oven. Whatever direction you choose to go with your cookies, remember to allow them to fully cool on a wire baking rack for the best results. 

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By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's deputy food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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