High on spice yet relatively delicate in texture, this dough is perfect for 2-D cookies and small-scale 3-D construction projects, like my sandwiched baskets and Fabergé egg cookies shown in the gallery below (photos 1 and 2). It also spreads less than my Signature Sugar Cookie Dough (recipe in my books), making it more suitable for tight-fitting angular constructions, such as boxes, cornets, blocks . . . basically any cookie creation with corners! And how does it do with contouring or shaping?! Yep, it’s great for that too – minimal, if any, cracking, even when flexed into highly curvy shapes as shown below.

This Gingerbread Recipe Contours Well, Too!

About 3 pounds 4 ounces (1.4 kg) dough or 6 1/2 to 7 dozen (2 1/2-in/6.4-cm) round cookies

Prep Talk
  • Because this dough has no butter in it, it won’t firm up very much when refrigerated. However, I like to chill the dough about 3 hours before rolling and cutting to allow the spice flavor to fully develop. The chilled dough will be slightly easier to handle as well.
  • The dough can be frozen for up to 3 months with minimal to no change in flavor if wrapped tightly in plastic and then foil. (I also place the wrapped dough in a resealable plastic bag.) When ready to use, thaw the dough, while still wrapped, in the refrigerator.
  • For best eating, store baked cookies in airtight containers at room temperature, and enjoy within 1 to 1 1/2 weeks. 
  • 5 cups (about 22.7 oz/643 g) unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (0.2 oz/6 g) ground ginger
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons (0.1 oz/3 g) ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon (0.1 oz/2 g) ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.3 oz/7 g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (0.1 oz/2 g) salt
  • 1 cup (6.7 oz/190 g) vegetable shortening (such as Crisco brand)
  • 1 cup (6.9 oz/196 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg (2.0 oz/57 g)
  • 1 cup (11.5 oz/326 g) mild molasses (such as Grandma’s Original Molasses)
  • 2 tablespoons (0.9 oz/27 g) distilled white vinegar
Ingredient Notes and Adjustments for Contouring Dough
  • It’s best to weigh all ingredients for most accuracy. For instance, one-cup measuring cups vary in size from country to country. Using one that is larger than the US standard will lead to dough that is too dry. Conversely, using a smaller one will result in dough that’s too soft. Differences in how you measure the flour into a measuring cup can also lead to wide variations in the ultimate weight of flour added to a recipe. If you do not have a scale, measure the flour in this recipe by the scoop-and-scrape method, i.e., scoop it into the measuring cup, lightly tap it once or twice, and then level with a straight edge. One cup of unsifted all-purpose flour measured this way weighs about 4.5 ounces or 128 grams, though results can vary as, again, not all one-cup measures are exactly the same size.
  • The gluten content of the flour can also dramatically impact the performance of the dough, especially when making contoured cookies. If the flour has less gluten in it than what I typically use, it will be more delicate and may not contour well. I typically use Gold Medal all-purpose flour in my cookie recipes (sometimes Pillsbury). These brands have the following gluten content: Gold Medal = 3g/30g (protein per serving) = 10%; Pillsbury = 3g/31g (protein per serving) = 9.7%.
  • For contoured 3-D cookies, I roll the dough thinner than the norm – close to 1/8 in/3 mm thick – and usually cut the baking soda in half (to 3/4 teaspoon) to reduce spreading and cracking.
  • If you cannot easily find molasses (particularly the Grandma’s brand that I prefer) or vegetable shortening, you can substitute coconut oil or honey, respectively, in the same quantities by weight. Just recognize that the dough will be sweeter and a lot lighter in color.

1 | Stir (or gently whisk) the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside for use in Step 4.

2 | Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening and sugar until well combined. Add the egg and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute or less. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed, to ensure even mixing. Note: Do not overbeat at this stage, as you will only incorporate more air into the mixture, which can lead to doming or cresting of the dough when it bakes. If you plan to ice your cookies, keeping the cookies as flat as possible is best.

3 | Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the molasses and vinegar. Mix well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, as needed.

4 | Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add the dry ingredients. Mix just to combine; however, make sure there are no dry spots.

5 | Flatten the dough into a disk (or two to three disks for easier handling). Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate about 3 hours to allow the spice flavors to develop and meld. Again, the dough will not get much firmer once chilled, as it is shortening-based. (For freezing, wrap the dough again with foil and/or contain it in a resealable plastic bag as described in “Prep Talk”.)

6 | Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C). Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking mats) and set aside.

7 | Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/8- to 3/16-inch (3- to 5-mm) thickness. Again, it’s best to roll to a 1/8-inch (3-mm) thickness if making 3-D contoured shapes. Cut out assorted shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets with an offset spatula, leaving about 1/2 inch (13 mm) between each cutout.

8 | Baking time will vary considerably with cookie size and thickness. Bake until the cookies are firm to the touch and lightly browned around the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes for 2 1/2-inch (6.4-cm) round cookies. Let particularly long or delicately shaped cookies cool 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to wire racks. Otherwise, immediately transfer the cookies. Cool completely before frosting and/or assembling with my Royal Icing or storing.

Coriander Seed Variation

Since I’ve forever been infatuated with my mom’s anise seed variation of my Signature Sugar Cookie Dough (again, in my books), a similar whole-seed spin on this gingerbread seemed like the next most logical twist!

Follow the steps above, except sprinkle each cookie sheet with 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed or coarsely ground coriander seeds before placing and baking the cookies in Step 7.

And, last but not least, if you’re more of a visual learner, check out my YouTube video for this recipe:

In addition to taking you through the dough-making process in this video, I get a little geeky by sharing some food science to help you tweak your own recipes for 3-D contoured cookie work. You’ll learn about four recipe- and process-related variables that, in my opinion, most contribute to the spreading of dough, and how to control these variables to minimize spreading (naturally!), cracking, and misshaping. Last but not least, I compare the recipe above to dough made with coconut oil and honey (instead of shortening and molasses). These comparisons are depicted in photo 5 and explained in great detail in the video.