Gingerbread man cookies: How did this tragic folklore hero ever become a happy Christmas tradition?

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Gingerbread men The classic Christmas cookies

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Those cute Christmas gingerbread man cookies have such a dark backstory…

If you’re building a gingerbread house as part of your Christmas celebration, it probably makes sense to bake a family of gingerbread folk to live there, right?

That’s one explanation our research yielded for why this particular treat became associated with this particular holiday. (Though speculation abounds!)

You’re probably familiar with The Gingerbread Man folktale — a fable usually told as a warning to children not to stray too far from home, lest they be eaten (or otherwise harmed).

The Gingerbread Man is one of the most well-known and popular stories in American folklore, and while the ending doesn’t exactly inspire the warm fuzzies, you do have to admire the guy’s chutzpah, regardless.

[Plot twist: And at least one author has rewritten the tale to have a happy ending — which might be nice if you’re reading it during a cuddly story time with your kids by the crackling Yule log.]

Run, run as fast as you can!
You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Gingerbread woman and man cookies
Photo by monkeybusiness/Envato

The story in its earliest written form dates back to 1875, though it almost certainly existed in oral lore back to some point earlier in the 19th century.

Making gingerbread cookies (and other gingerbread desserts) for Christmas itself is a medieval tradition, and we assume it just so happened that people shapes were among the varieties of cookies cut out by the bakers of the day — and this may have been long before our beloved tale of woe was first ever told.

Here we have a four different recipes for gingerbread man cookies, as well as some vintage inspiration for incorporating them into your holiday gift-giving and Christmas decorations.

Three of these recipes are fairly traditional takes (two of them circa 1970s), but we also found an easy semi-homemade version from 1990 that uses boxed spice cake mix as the foundation ingredient.

Gingerbread man cookies give festive touch (1970)

From The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) November 20, 1970

Christmas comes but once a year — a time to make special friends. Help trim the tree with crisp, perky gingerbread man cookies wrapped in transparent plastic film.

Gingerbread cookies are part of the holiday scene. Watch eyes sparkle when parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors find the gaily frosted cookies, attached to their gifts.

ALSO SEE: What are cute ways to decorate gingerbread houses? See 25 candy holiday homes

Gingerbread man cookies give festive touch
Photo by RuthBlack/Envato

The cookies, backed with cardboard and wrapped, will also make attractive Christmas cards and mantel and table ornaments. Best of all, these cookies are area favorites to serve at “open house” when friends come to call.

FOR KIDS: Gingerbread men and gingerbread houses for kids to color

People under 30 sometimes don’t know that the thing that makes gingerbread so luscious and old-fashioned in flavor and texture is old-fashioned molasses.

With a jar of this natural sweetener in hand, you can make marvelous gingerbread boy cookies in the true tradition of Christmas. You can also make and frost delightful decorative shapes such as bells, stars, trees, and even gingerbread houses. (You might like this article: How to make a gingerbread house)

Gingerbread cookie shapes with white icing
Photo by simonida/Envato

A charming idea for a “gift tag” for a present is to take a round cookie with the person’s first name “written” on it in frosting, wrap the cookie in plastic film, and tie it right in with the ribbon when wrapping the package. Such touches of originality are the very spirit of Christmas, and so easy to do!

ALSO SEE: A collection of classic Christmas cookies from the ’50s

Count on having superb gingerbread cookies when you make them with old-fashioned molasses, for it is not a byproduct of sugar-making, but is made solely for its own sweet self.

It is pure, sweeter than other molasses, and completely free of preservatives or chemicals. The flavor is rich and mellow, and molasses helps cookies to keep fresh.


Old-style gingerbread man cookies (1970)

From The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) November 20th, 1970

ALSO TRY: 8 great classic gingersnap recipes

Gingerbread woman and man cookies

Gingerbread man cookies

Yield: 36 cookies
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Here's a classic gingerbread man cookie recipe from the 1970s!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2-1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  1. Heat molasses to boiling in a saucepan deep enough for mixing dough.
  2. Remove from heat: stir in shortening and baking soda.
  3. Sift in flour, baking powder, and spices.
  4. Mix well; chill.
  5. Roll out dough 1/8-inch inch thick on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth.
  6. Cut into desired Christmas shapes such as stars, bells, gingerbread boys, trees, etc.
  7. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
  8. Bake in 350 F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
  9. Allow cookies to cool slightly before removing: from the baking sheet.
  10. While the cookies are completely cool, make the ornamental frosting.
  11. Sift together confectioners’ Sugar and cream of tartar; add egg whites and vanilla.
  12. Beat with an electric mixer until frosting holds its shape.
  13. Tint mixture with a few drops of food coloring. Cover with a damp cloth when not in use.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 36 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 154Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 112mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 2g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.


Gingerbread men cookies made with spice cake mix (1990)

Gingerbread men cookies made with spice cake mix (1990)

ALSO TRY: 6 dessert recipes made with Duncan Hines cake mix (1978)

Gingerbread men made with spice cake mix

Gingerbread men made with spice cake mix

Yield: 14
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Skip some ingredients used in typical gingerbread men recipes by taking a shortcut with a box of spice cake mix!

Ingredients

  • 1 package Duncan Hines moist deluxe spice cake mix
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup Crisco oil or Puritan oil
  • 1/3 cup dark molasses
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • Assorted candies, nonpareils, decors or raisins for decorations

Instructions

  1. Combine cake mix, flour, eggs, oil, molasses and ginger (mixture will be soft).
  2. Refrigerate 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 (F).
  4. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness on lightly floured surface.
  5. Cut with gingerbread man cookie cutter.
  6. Place on ungreased baking sheet 3 inches apart.
  7. Decorate with assorted candies, nonpareils, decors or raisins.
  8. Bake at 375 (F) for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges start to brown.
  9. Remove immediately to cooling rack.

Notes

Recipe makes 12 to 14 six-inch gingerbread men.

To make holes for hanging cookie ornament, push straw or meat skewer in head section of cookie before baking.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, qualifying purchases made via our links earns us a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 225Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 23mgSodium: 250mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 1gSugar: 21gProtein: 3g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.


C&H sugar gingerbread man recipe: “The Perfect Man” (1990s)

No trouble at all. And sweet as can be. Shape any way you want. No problem. Never talks back. Smiles constantly. He’ll even help decorate the tree.

Be sure to use only C&H pure cane brown sugar. Why? There’s a difference.

Its brown color comes from molasses that’s a part of sugar cane. Some brown sugars are made by spraying coloring and molasses onto granulated sugar. If you rub some in your hands, the coloring will come off.

With C&H pure cane brown sugar, you see and smell the difference.

ALSO FROM C&H: Viennese sugar twists recipe: Pretzel-shaped cookies from 1981

The Perfect Gingerbread Man - CH sugar(1990s)

Gingerbread Cookies

C&H Gingerbread Men

Yield: 36 cookies
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Additional Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 47 minutes

Here's a classic C&H sugar recipe from 1990

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup packed C&H dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-1/4 cups C&H powdered sugar
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • Food coloring

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients; gradually mix in until blended.
  3. Halve dough; flatten into 1-inch thick rounds.
  4. Chill in plastic wrap till firm. (2 hours in the refrigerator or 3O minutes in the freezer)
  5. On a lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness.
  6. Cut with a floured cookie cutter.
  7. Place 1-inch apart ungreased cookie sheets.
  8. Chill and re-roll scraps.
  9. Bake at 350 F for 10 to 12 minutes until edges are lightly browned.
  10. Cool for 2 minutes; then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  11. To make the cookie icing, beat powdered sugar, oil, water, vanilla, and salt until smooth (add water to thin).
  12. Separate small portions into small bowls to make different colors.
  13. Spread with a toothpick, knife, small brush, or use a writing tip on a decoration bag. 

Notes

Makes about 3 dozen (5-inch) cookies.

To make ornaments, punch a hole into the top oF each cookie with a drinking straw before paring. Hang with a thin ribbon or string licorice.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 36 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 183Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 95mgCarbohydrates: 31gFiber: 0gSugar: 20gProtein: 2g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.


Domino Sugar’s gingerbread man cookies (1990)

Some men are made of all the right stuff.

Vintage Domino gingerbread men cookies recipe

Gingerbread man cookie

Domino Sugar's Gingerbread Man cookies

Yield: 24 5-inch cookies
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Here's a retro gingerbread man recipe from 1990

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup firmly packed Domino dark or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 3-1/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt
  • 3/4 cup Domino Confectioner's 10-X or 4X sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Food coloring

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until well-blended.
  2. Add in eggs and molasses. Stir in molasses, flour, ginger, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
  4. Roll dough on a well-floured board until 1/8-inch thick.
  5. Cut into shapes. Place on a greased baking sheet,
  6. Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  7. Cool on rack.
  8. Create sugar icing by combining confectioners' sugar, milk, and food coloring if desired.
  9. Decorate with sugar icing as desired.

Notes

Makes 24 (5-inch) cookies.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, qualifying purchases made via our links earns us a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 157Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 26mgSodium: 170mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 1gSugar: 10gProtein: 3g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.

NOW SEE THIS: 28 classic gingerbread house ideas: Get inspired & find out how to make your own

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