Welcome back to Cookbook Showdown, where we test four recipes for the same dish from different popular cookbooks to find out which recipe comes out on top. Today we’re talking about ginger cookies, including gingersnaps and gingerbread recipes from cookbooks by Claire Saffitz, Vallery Lomas, Jerrelle Guy, and Miisa Mink. Which cookie most deserves a spot in your holiday cookie jar? Read on to find out!
The History of Gingerbread Cookies
From frosted gingerbread houses to crispy gingersnaps to soft and chewy ginger cookies, delightfully ginger spiced treats are an iconic part of any winter holiday dessert spread. But did you know they have a history going back as far as 2400 BCE, when the first known gingerbread recipe was recorded in ancient Greece?
Ginger, first cultivated in China, has long been used for medicinal purposes and is still used today to calm upset stomachs. Early gingerbread recipes combined ginger root with breadcrumbs, ground almonds, rose water, and sugar. Decorated ginger cookies became popular under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, who served gingerbread designed to look like visiting dignitaries. Soon, countries throughout Europe celebrated gingerbread at dedicated festivals, where gingerbread was shaped into figures and decorated with gold leaf to tell stories. It even comes up in Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost: “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.”
Gingerbread houses became popular in 16th century Germany around the same time the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, who found a house made entirely of sweets. It’s unclear if the fairytale inspired the baked good or the other way around, but in any case, gingerbread houses have become a beloved tradition.
Cookbook Showdown: Best Ginger Cookie Recipes
I set out to find four gingerbread cookie recipes, but it turns out that the definition of “gingerbread” is somewhat broad. It can mean the cookies iced and decorated to look like people and houses, or it can be a broader term for chewy ginger cookies, crispy gingersnaps, and even a gingery bread-like loaf. For this showdown, I made a variety of ginger cookies from popular cookbooks, including two soft cookies rolled in coarse sugar, one gingersnap recipe, and one gingerbread recipe decorated with powdered sugar. Let’s get started.
Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz
Claire Saffitz, formerly of Bon Appétit and star of the YouTube series Gourmet Makes, has a talent for making complex dishes approachable for the home chef. In Dessert Person, she shares versatile techniques and twists on classic recipes for bakers of every skill level. If you’ve read past Cookbook Showdowns on Book Riot, you may remember Saffitz’s Dessert Person winning best pumpkin pie recipe and making a great showing in the buttermilk biscuits showdown. Her “Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies” recipe may not have ginger in the name, but if it looks like a ginger cookie and quacks like a ginger cookie (and includes 2 ½ teaspoons of ground ginger), I’m calling it a ginger cookie. Let’s see how it stood up to the competition.
This was a really approachable and easy to follow cookie recipe. The dough itself was sticky and moist, which made it a bit messy to shape and roll in sugar. For flavor, Saffitz’s recipe calls for ground ginger, allspice, cloves, kosher salt, and black pepper, plus a hearty helping of molasses. The recipe directs bakers to refrigerate the dough after mixing and again after shaping, and includes an option to refrigerate or freeze the dough for baking at a later date. The baked cookies are wonderful, soft, spicy perfection. I absolutely love the chewy texture, crunchy demerara sugar, and complex flavor of these cookies. I tasted the dough ahead of time and was a bit concerned that it was so savory, but when covered in coarse sugar, they’re just the right level of sweet, salty, and spicy.
Claire Saffitz Cookie Scores
- Taste: 5/5 — These are richly flavored and strike the perfect salty/sweet note.
- Texture: 5/5 — They are perfectly soft and chewy, and they kept their great texture days after baking.
- Appearance: 4/5 — It may not be the most decorative cookie you’ve ever seen, but I don’t think I’ve ever made anything that looked so close to the photo in the cookbook.
- Difficulty: Easy — Definitely a great recipe for all skill levels, although the moist, sticky dough makes them a bit messy.
Life is What You Bake It: Recipes, Stories & Inspiration to Bake Your Way to the Top by Vallery Lomas
Vallery Lomas is the winner of Season 3 of the Great American Baking Show and the first Black winner in the Great British Baking Show franchise, with roots in Louisiana cuisine and a passion for French pastry. But after one of the judges of her season was accused of sexual harassment just after the premiere, the whole season was pulled off the air and viewers never got to see the full extent of Lomas’s baking talent. Despite this setback, Lomas has shown her versatility and perseverance by creating a name for herself through television appearances and recipe contributions to the New York Times. This cookbook includes unique family recipes, dishes inspired by Lomas’s time in France, and surprising flavor combinations. For this Cookbook Showdown, I made her “Gingerbread Cookies,” which she says are cake-like cookies with “all the delicious gingerbread flavor and none of the drama that comes with gingerbread house collapses.” Here’s how they turned out.
These cookies are very similar in process and dry ingredients to the cookies I made from Claire Saffitz’s cookbook. However, they pack a punch of ginger flavor with dried ground ginger, fresh grated ginger, and crystallized ginger. Other flavorful ingredients include allspice, cloves, cinnamon, kosher salt, and black pepper. When reading the recipe, I’ll be honest: I was totally convinced that mixing the dough and putting them straight in the oven would make for flat, ugly cookies that spread out too much. My heart told me to refrigerate the dough before baking for a cake-like cookie. But in the end, these turned out perfectly without refrigeration. They’re light, soft, and full of ginger flavor, particularly thanks to the chunks of crystallized ginger. I took one bite and thought, “This is exactly what I want gingerbread to taste like.”
Vallery Lomas Cookie Scores
- Taste: 5/5 — With ground ginger, fresh ginger, and crystallized ginger, the flavor really shines.
- Texture: 5/5 — They’re pillowy soft cake-like cookies with chewy pieces of crystallized ginger mixed throughout.
- Appearance: 5/5 — These also turned out just like the picture, and the thicker shape would look lovely on a holiday cookie tray.
- Difficulty: Easy — This is a great recipe for bakers of all skill levels.
Jerrelle Guy is a food scholar, food photographer, and founder of the food blog Chocolate for Basil. Black Girl Baking, which was nominated for a James Beard Award, includes a wide variety of baked goods organized by how they’re experienced through the senses — the sight of colorful “Unicorn Ice Cream Sandwiches,” the snapping sound of “Little Caramel Crunch Bark,” the soft touch of “Lemon Ricotta Pistachio Pillow Buns,” and much more. Each recipe is paired with one of Guy’s memories, and many of the recipes are vegan or gluten-free, or include options to make them so. It’s a whole-hearted cookbook with a ton of recipes I can’t wait to try. For this article, I tested her “Cocoa Gingersnap Cookies,” which are categorized under sound for the crack they make when broken. Here’s how they went.
This is the only recipe I tried that aspires to have that audible “snap” that gives gingersnaps their name. It also includes cocoa for a chocolatey flavor, orange zest, fresh and ground ginger, and cinnamon. It’s an egg-free recipe, calling for flax egg (a combination of water and ground flaxseed) instead. The cookies did achieve a crunchy, snappy texture after fully cooling. The orange zest gives it a nice balance, and the large amount of ground ginger (2 tablespoons, compared to around 2 teaspoons in other recipes) gave it an extra spicy flavor, one that can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences.
Jerrelle Guy Cookie Scores
- Taste: 4/5 — This may be just me, but I don’t think ginger cookies need cocoa, and the large amount of ground ginger overwhelmed some of the more delicate flavors. But still good cookies!
- Texture: 5/5 — If you’re looking for a gingersnap that really snaps, this crunchy cookie is perfect.
- Appearance: 4/5 — They’re a little rough around the edges, but still a perfectly lovely cookie.
- Difficulty: Medium — These are still pretty simple to make, but the flax egg is a technique that may not be familiar to all home bakers.
Nordic Bakery Cookbook by Miisa Mink
The Nordic Bakery is a Scandinavian-style café in London that permanently closed during the pandemic. Luckily, fans can still enjoy some of the bakery’s most beloved dishes with this cookbook by chef Miisa Mink. It includes recipes for several rye-based breads, fish-forward recipes like smoked fish quiche, and plenty of sweet treats like spiced cakes and pastries. With three delicious looking ginger cookie recipes, I struggled to pick one for this Cookbook Showdown. I ultimately decided to pass up the “Gingerbread People” and “Frosted German-styled Gingerbread” cookies in favor of the “Gingerbread Cookies with Dates” recipe. Here’s how they turned out.
This is the only recipe I tried that was rolled out and cut into shapes instead of baked as balls covered in coarse sugar. The recipe called for a star-shaped cookie cutter, but I used the closest shape I had on hand, a puppy paw cookie cutter. (Sometimes you’ve got to work with what you’ve got, right?) As for ingredients, it calls for ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and dried dates. This recipe is even more notable for what’s missing compared to the other cookies I tried. They don’t include any molasses, instead calling for honey, and also don’t include any salt. The dough rolled out nicely and kept its shape well while baking. They have a nice, smooth texture similar to a sugar cookie, and the dates add a nice chew. Overall, they’re a bit bland compared to the other cookies, but they’re very pleasant to eat, especially with coffee or tea.
Miisa Mink Cookie Scores
- Taste: 3.5/5 — I like the dates, but overall, these are a bit bland. They could definitely use more ginger and salt.
- Texture: 5/5 — They’re right in the middle of soft and firm, and would probably hold up well to being frosted and decorated.
- Appearance: 5/5 — They held their shape well while baking, and while the recipe simply calls for dusting with powdered sugar, I think they would be a great base for frosting and sprinkles.
- Difficulty: Easy — This is a great recipe for beginners interested in making shaped cookies.
In all honesty, every one of these cookies turned out great. I had a small taste testing audience made up of neighbors and friends, and each recipe ended up being someone’s favorite. All four were easy to make and are perfect for bakers of all skill levels. It’s very challenging to pick an actual winner, as it’s really a matter of taste. If you like chewy, salty/sweet cookies, Clarie Saffitz’s “Chewy Molasses Cookies” are for you. If you prefer cake-like cookies with a strong ginger flavor, you’ll love Vallery Lomas’s “Gingerbread Cookies.” If you prefer a ginger cookie with a firm snap and love chocolate, Jerrelle Guy’s “Cocoa Gingersnap Cookies” are definitely your winner. And if you want smooth gingerbread perfect for decorating, Miisa Mink’s “Gingerbread Cookies with Dates” can’t be beat.
So how to choose a winner? I took my taste testers’ comments into consideration. I also tried the cookies fresh and after a couple of days to see how they withstood the test of time. And ultimately, I went with my gut, which absolutely adored these winning ginger cookies.
The Winner: Vallery Lomas’s “Gingerbread Cookies”
It was a very close race, but when it comes to delicious ginger flavor, Vallery Lomas’s “Gingerbread Cookies” from Life is What You Bake It came out on top. With a perfectly soft cake-like texture and bright flavors from ground, fresh, and crystallized ginger, these cookies are sure to delight a wide audience of gingerbread lovers.
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