Take a step back in time with a classic holiday treat! Soft, thick and warmly-spiced, these simple and delicious Old-Fashioned Williamsburg Gingerbread Cookies have been loved for generations.
How to Make Gingerbread Cookies | 1-Minute Video
One bite from these gingerbread cookies brings back so many memories from my childhood! As a life-long Virginian, I've spent quite a bit of time in Williamsburg, and it's still one of my absolute favorite parts of our state. If you want a real treat, visit Colonial Williamsburg during the holidays -- it's a truly magical place!
The Best Gingerbread Cookies
An annual holiday visit to Williamsburg was a family tradition in our home, since it was one of my grandmother's favorite seasonal activities. In addition to the beautiful Christmas decorations, the music, and the festive spirit, I still remember looking forward to the delicious Peanut Soup at the King's Arms Tavern, the Queen's Cake, and the old-fashioned gingerbread from the Raleigh Tavern Bakery. Oh, that gingerbread is such a treat!
Even as adults, if my brother and I are ever in Colonial Williamsburg, we make a point to stop in the Raleigh Tavern to buy a bag of soft gingerbread cookies to go. There's nothing better than the aroma of the freshly-baked treats wafting through the kitchen -- with a mug of warm cider on the side!
How to Make Soft Gingerbread Cookies
This recipe will show you how to make homemade gingerbread cookies -- just like you'd find in Colonial Williamsburg. I did some research online and ultimately adapted the Raleigh Tavern Bakery's original recipe, so you know these authentic cookies are the "real deal." The end result instantly sends me back to my childhood!
Taste and Texture
The taste and texture of the classic cookies are truly unique. They're warmly spiced with a strong molasses flavor, but they're not overly sweet and the texture is a perfect cross between a cookie and a cake. They're soft (not crispy like some gingerbread cookies), and they're thick, chewy, and "cakey." In my opinion, they're holiday dessert perfection.
While there is plenty of molasses flavor in this cookie recipe, the spices are mild. These are not "spicy" cookies. Instead, they contain just very subtle notes of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. If you prefer a stronger flavor, you can increase the ginger to 1 tablespoon, add ½ teaspoon of cloves, and ¼ teaspoon of allspice -- the cookies just won't taste like the authentic Williamsburg gingerbread.
Ingredients for Gingerbread Cookies
- White sugar
- Ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
- Baking soda
- Evaporated milk
- All-purpose flour
Step-by-Step Instructions for Super Easy Gingerbread Cookies
- Combine sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Mix on low speed until well combined.
- Add softened butter, evaporated milk, and molasses. Cream together.
- Gradually mix in the flour until a stiff dough forms.
- Roll out the dough.
- Cut into shapes.
- Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes.
How to Decorate Gingerbread Cookies
The classic Williamsburg cookies are large, round cookies without any icing or other decorations. That said, the thick, chewy cookies do make a great base for traditional Christmas decorations! If you (or your kids) prefer soft gingerbread cookies with icing, then I suggest preparing a batch of royal icing and getting creative! There’s no wrong way to do it — so throw on some red and green sprinkles and have fun. If you cut the cookies into gingerbread man shapes, then a simple white piping around the edges, a smiling face, and some buttons down the front are a perfect touch.
Soft Gingerbread Man Cookies
If you'd like to cut-out traditional gingerbread man shapes using this recipe, I recommend a couple of tweaks to really help the cookies hold their shape in the oven. You can find the full recipe, instructions, and tips for the gingerbread men here.
Storage And Other Tips
- Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
- Wrapped tightly, the cookies will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Always allow the cookies to cool completely before packaging.
- Do not overbake the cookies or they will become hard and crisp. To maintain the soft, cake-like texture, remove them from the oven while they're still soft.
- Feel free to decorate these cookies with royal icing and sprinkles.
- Cut these cookies into different shapes, including gingerbread men, hearts, stars or other festive designs.
- I use a round biscuit cutter that measures 3 inches in diameter to make large cookies -- just like you find at the Raleigh Tavern Bakery in Williamsburg!
More Classic Christmas Cookies to Try
- Peanut Butter Blossoms
- 3-Ingredient Scottish Shortbread Cookies
- Grandmother's Bourbon Balls
- Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Christmas Cookies
Old-Fashioned Williamsburg Gingerbread Cookies
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup molasses
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted (plus additional 1 -1 ½ cups of flour, as needed, to form a workable dough)
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment. Set aside.
- Add sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Mix on low speed until well combined.
- Add softened butter, evaporated milk, and molasses. Mix again until completely combined, starting on the lowest speed so that the liquid doesn’t splash out of the bowl. Gradually increase the speed until the butter and sugar are creamed together and completely smooth.
- Put the mixer back on low speed and add 4 cups of flour (one cup at a time), stirring constantly until the flour is completely incorporated.
- The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to your fingers, so if it’s still too soft and sticky, add additional flour (½ cup at a time), just until a fairly stiff dough comes together.
- When the dough is smooth, roll it out to ¼-inch thickness on a very well-floured surface. Use a cookie cutter or a round biscuit cutter* to cut the gingerbread into desired shapes. I used a round biscuit cutter with a 3-inch diameter.
- Place shapes onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly golden brown but still soft. Make sure that you don't bake them for too long or they will become hard and crispy. To maintain the soft, cake-like texture, pull them out of the often while they're still soft and let them firm up slightly while they cool.
- Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Storage And Other Tips
- While there is plenty of molasses flavor in this cookie recipe, the spices are mild. These are not "spicy" cookies. Instead, they contain just very subtle notes of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. If you prefer a stronger flavor, you can increase the ginger to 1 tablespoon, add ½ teaspoon of cloves, and ¼ teaspoon of allspice -- the cookies just won't taste like the authentic Williamsburg gingerbread.
- These cookies will keep for 1 week in an airtight container
- You can also freeze these cookies, make a big batch and freeze some for later
- Always allow the cookies to cool completely before storing
- Wrap the cookies tightly in cling film and foil before freezing
- Feel free to decorate these cookies with royal icing and sprinkles, enjoy some festive baking
- Cut these cookies into different shapes, gingerbread man, hearts, stars or other festive shapes