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A Quest for the Perfect Gingerbread Bake To Serve This Holigay Season

A swirly background in blues, oranges, and golds. The words HOLIDAYS 2022 are on torn gold paper, along with the Autostraddle logo.

Holigays 2022 // Header by Viv Le

The winter holidays are the best time for baking sweet treats, aren’t they? I’ve been getting in the holiday spirit since mid-November with this gingerbread treat experiment. I chose four new to me recipes — a gingerbread cake, gingerbread rolled cookies, gingerbread drop cookies, and gingerbread bars — and am here to report back. Which treat was the most gingery? Which one was the easiest? Which one looks the most festive? Read on to find out and learn what mistakes I made so you can avoid them!


Sparkling Gingerbread Cake

A gingerbread cake on a cake stand

If you read about my experiments looking for the best pumpkin spice treat in Halloween season, you might remember me raving about Yossy Arefi’s amazing cookbook Snacking Cakes. It’s truly one of my favorites. *Wink wink* friends and family reading: Snacking Cakes is on my Christmas wish list. Once again I am trying a new cake from this book, checked out from the library for the umpteenth time. Sparkling gingerbread is another winner of a modest, unfussy, yet delicious one layer cake.

What’s the flavor like?

This cake is spicy, with three hits of ginger: powdered ginger, fresh grated ginger, and crystallized ginger. Ginger lovers, this one’s for you! Unlike other holiday gingerbread recipes that taste as much or more like molasses than ginger, ginger is the star here (although molasses is also an ingredient). I really liked the little bits of chopped up crystallized ginger throughout the cake. A suggested addition in the print cookbook (not included in the online version I linked to) is a cup of fresh or frozen cranberries scattered on top before baking. I highly recommend! The tangy berries are a great contrast to the sweet but not too sweet batter and spicy ginger.

How easy is it to make?

Super easy, like all of Yossy Arefi’s cakes. It’s a mix-all-the-ingredients-in-one-bowl-and-pop-it-into-a-pan kind of cake. The only slightly fussy part is that, instead of a glaze, the recipe calls for turbinado sugar sprinkled on top of either the plain cake or after adding cranberries. I couldn’t be bothered to track this kind of sugar down, so I just used some organic granulated sugar I had which is slightly darker in color and has larger granules than conventional white sugar. Tbh this was not really a great substitute!

What type of holiday party is it suited for?

With cranberries and sparkly sugar on top this cake looks very festive but not super fancy. It would be great as a dessert for a small, intimate holiday dinner. If you’re having a dinner with a big group and need a less sweet dessert to contrast your super sweet pumpkin pie or the like, sparkling gingerbread would be excellent. If you’re attending a holiday potluck at work or with friends this would be a great choice too, as it’d be easy to transport and people can eat it with their fingers and a napkin (no forks or plates necessary).

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

If you really want this cake to live up to its name and sparkle, I suppose you should actually hunt down some turbinado sugar, unlike me. My organic white sugar added a nice little sweet taste on top but there was no glitter effect! Since I can’t imagine myself bothering with turbinado sugar, I think I’ll add a glaze to this cake next time, especially if I don’t have frozen cranberries on hand. (The cookbook suggests a citrus or a chocolate glaze).

If you or your guests aren’t huge fans of ginger, you could leave out the fresh ginger, which I suspect is the culprit for the real ginger bite that this cake has. However, my partner, who is not super keen on ginger, says he would omit the crystallized ginger. So maybe cut both if you really want to dial it back. Conversely, I loved the crystallized ginger and next time would probably add even more than the recipe calls for!

A slice of gingerbread cake on a plate with a cat mug next to it


Gingerbread Cookies with Orange Zest, Fresh Ginger, and Black Pepper

Gingerbread cookies in Christmas shapes

I was VERY intrigued by the promise of these gingerbread cookies to have a really spicy punch of ginger and by the interesting additions of orange zest and black pepper. I love a basic cut-out gingerbread cookie as much as anyone, but it’s fun to shake things up a little right? These cookies look pretty traditional but they have a more grownup and unique flavor than most of their fellow gingerbread people.

What’s the flavor like?

Delicious!! These cookies are a step up from your standard gingerbread for sure. They feel a bit more sophisticated in flavor and a lot less molasses forward than some gingerbread I’ve had. The orange is especially noticeable and there is definitely a nice little ginger bite, although not as much as I would have thought given the amount of fresh ginger and ground ginger. (The sparkling ginger cake above is more gingery, for comparison). Maybe I don’t have a sophisticated palette, but I couldn’t taste the black pepper much. There is also cinnamon, cloves, and molasses in these, which are subtle and a nice traditional touch with the unusual flavors. It doesn’t feel like too much.

How easy is it to make?

ingredients for Gingerbread cookies

As anyone who’s made gingerbread cookies knows, they are pretty time intensive and there’s no way around that. Get ready with your stand or hand mixer, 2-3 hours to chill the dough, precision to use your cookies cutters and keep re-rolling the dough, and then the decorating process. I made these cookies over three days: one day to make and chill the dough; one day to roll it out and cut and bake the cookies; one day to decorate. None of the steps are hard, really, they just take time!

What type of holiday party is it suited for?

These cookies are so yummy and look so nice decorated, I can’t think of a holiday party they wouldn’t be welcome at. Do delicate white icing decorations and they would totally fit at a fancy dinner party. Have kids decorate them with googly eyes and food coloring as a Christmas Eve activity (my 15 month old loved these, so they are kid-approved, not too spicy). These would make great gifts too!

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

If you want really spicy gingery gingerbread cookies, this recipe might be a let down. I’d add more fresh ginger than the recipe calls for if that’s what you’d like.

I had leftover candied ginger from the sparkling gingerbread cake recipe above, and I chopped some of it and put it on top of the icing while it was drying on the cookies, like little lights on my gingerbread Christmas trees. I recommend!


Iced Gingerbread Oatmeal Cookies

Iced gingerbread oatmeal cookies

A treat recipe comparison wouldn’t be right without trying a new cookie from one of my go-to baking websites, Sally’s Baking Addiction. I wanted an easy yet festive drop cookie recipe, plus I love oatmeal cookies, so I knew I had to give this one a try. Too often oatmeal cookies are made by a terrible human who adds raisins, so this recipe is a welcome variation. (If you like raisins in your oatmeal cookies you can keep your controversial opinions to yourself). I loved these cookies!

What’s the flavor like?

These cookies are almost as heavy on the cinnamon as ground ginger, with a small dose of molasses. But honestly the part that I liked the best about these cookies was actually the oatmeal flavor! I think this is especially strong because the recipe calls for pushing the oats in a food processor. If you like oatmeal cookies a lot like I do, but you want to add a festive touch that is subtle but yummy, gingerbread oatmeal cookies are for you!

How easy is it to make?

Ingredients for gingerbread oatmeal cookies

As far as drop cookies go, these are a little more effort than some. The recipe calls for pulsing the oats in a food processor, using a stand or hand mixer, and you have to chill the dough. If you don’t have a food processor or blender, that would definitely up the time – I guess you’d have to roughly chop 2 cups of oats and I’m not sure it would have the same effect. You also have to ice the cookies, so that’s one more step than usual.

What type of holiday party is it suited for?

With icing and a dusting of cinnamon on too, these cookies are homey but pretty looking. They’re the kind of cookies I’d have around for the holidays for guests to snack on between meals or to bring for a snowy hike. The recipe says to ice thinly and wait to make sure you can stack them, but after following the recipe to a t my icing was thick and hardy enough it ended up being fine to stack them right away. So they’d be good as gifts in a pretty cookie tin or similar as well!

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

These cookies are honestly great even without the icing, so if you’re short on time or don’t have icing sugar in your cupboard, go for it anyway! Tbh, the icing is a bit weird, since it’s really thick. I kind of just smooshed it onto the cookies with my fingers. (The instructions suggest drizzling it, which was a strange note because it’s like a paste!). Anyway, it’s not that the icing isn’t tasty, it just doesn’t feel totally necessary.

Gingerbread oatmeal cookies on a cooling rack


Gingerbread Molasses Chocolate Chip Bars

Gingerbread bars on a plate

I was unfamiliar with the baking website this recipe comes from when I found it, but I was intrigued by the idea of fudgy, dense gingerbread cookie bars as an alternative to rolled or drop gingerbread cookies. I am in the camp of loving underbaked gooey cookies, which these bars are explicitly supposed to emulate. They also have chocolate chips, a bit of an unusual addition to gingerbread treats. I wanted to test out how those flavors went together.

What’s the flavor like?

The overwhelming note in these is molasses, which was a nice change from the drop cookie and cake recipes I made first, both of which really emphasize the ginger. There’s a full half cup of molasses in this recipe, about twice as much as in some of the others I’ve tried. But there are also ample amounts of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves in these bars, so they are very, shall we say, bold. My family who tried them all said the big flavor is good, and I agree! Consistency wise the bars are a bit similar to fudge. The edges even got a bit crunchy like candy after baking. I thought the chocolate chips might be a bit much with all the spices and molasses but I guess in this case more is more! A+ on the chocolate chips.

How easy is it to make?

Dead easy, these are! I love a recipe that calls for melted butter so I can just mix it by hand with the sugar and then slowly add all the other ingredients into the same bowl. Also, this recipe doesn’t call for any leaveners, so if you’re out of baking powder and baking soda, you can still make these! As I wrote below though, the cooking time for this recipe is a bit, well, up to you, so it does require some assessment in the last 10 minutes or so of the baking time so that you can get the bars to your desired consistency. Be prepared to take the cookie bars out of the oven to test them and put them back in for a few minutes, maybe more than once.

What type of holiday party is it suited for?

While these are delicious, they’re not particularly attractive so they’re not the best dessert at a fancy party. Maybe if you made a separate icing or glaze you could dress them up and make them pretty. But as a holiday gift for your best friends or to serve to your niblings at a family get-together, these gingerbread cookie bars would be awesome. They’re festive but a little different. I bet you’d be the only one gifting or sharing treats like these!

Tips and tricks (ie, mistakes I made that you can avoid!):

If you or the friends you’re sharing with aren’t as keen on a lot of spices, it would be easy to dial the amounts back, probably even by half depending on your preferences. If you look at this recipe and think, whoa, that’s a lot of cinnamon/ginger for a batter that fits in an 8 x 8 inch pan, I’d trust your instincts and adjust. If you’re like me and you often add a little more spices than a recipe calls for, I’d hold off on doing that for these ones!

The cooking time for these cookie bars is weird. The website lists 32 minutes for very gooey fudgy bars, but my batter was still wiggling in the middle at that time, so I baked them for another eight minutes, checking them at two minute intervals. I was worried they might not be as soft as I was hoping, but they were! Watch these closely when the baking time is coming to an end.

I am for some reason hesitant to buy ground cloves even though I keep making treats that call for that ingredient. I used allspice instead of cloves for these cookie bars and it turned out really nice, FYI.

This is a good make-ahead recipe since they are easiest to cut after they’ve totally cooled. Don’t make them right before you want to serve them. I let them sit overnight and then tried them in the morning with my tea!


Do you have any favorite gingerbread recipes? Have you made any of these treats? Please share in the comments!


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Casey

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer, librarian, and new parent. She writes for Book Riot and Autostraddle about queer and/or bookish stuff. Ask her about cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer books, drinking tea, and her baby. Her website is Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter, Litsy, Storygraph Goodreads and Instagram.

Casey has written 111 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. If you’re looking for a stronger ginger flavour in your gingerbread I’d go with more powdered ginger rather than fresh – you need to add way more fresh ginger to get the same amount of punch as ground.

    I’ve seen anything from 4x to 16x fresh is needed to get the same effect as ground, and you risk adding too much moisture to your dough at that point.

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