It was the summer of 1956; I was a young girl. My family and I were touring Colonial Williamsburg for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the old Virginia town, a place I have returned to many times. I adored the guides’ colonial costumes and hats. I wanted to take a carriage ride and sleep under a canopy bed. I wanted to live there!
We were finishing a tour in the Raleigh Tavern when the clouds burst above, dropping torrents of rain. We scurried behind the tavern into the outside kitchen, pressing against others as close as bees in a hive.
No worries, we were surrounded by a wonderful aroma, the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven of the open hearth. The scent was irresistibly enticing. Like everyone else in the cramped huddled space, my parents bought each of us a cookie in a brown paper sack.
I clearly remember my warm treat; it was round and soft, coated in a dusting of flour that I brushed off with my fingers. One bite and I tasted a blend of spices with a hint of sugar. The cookie was oh so very yummy. They say smell etches memories deep in your brain, and this one sure did.
Ever since, I acquired a fondness for gingerbread, gingerbread in any shape or form. I’ve made hundreds of gingerbread men and women over the years, baking with my children and grandchildren. I’ve made gingerbread cakes (see my upside-down gingerbread recipe here), gingerbread waffles, and gingerbread houses. One year I attended the national gingerbread competition in Asheville, NC. I saw the most fantastic buildings, villages, and characters made from gingerbread dough – absolutely no artificial supports or ingredients were used.
But, at holiday time, I always make a batch of gingerbread cookies using the recipe from Colonial Williamsburg. It is easy to make, and the dough rolls well, without much sticking. You do not need an electric mixer to make this recipe.
These cookies are excellent with coffee, tea, or hot cider — at breakfast, snack time, or dessert. They are not very sweet.
They also freeze very well. (I’ve even eaten one cold directly from the freezer.) I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I do.
Colonial Gingerbread Cookie Recipe
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
- 2/3 cup sugar (white)
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream or evaporated milk
- ½ cup molasses
- Confectioner’s Sugar, if desired.
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside.
- Whisk together flour, sugar, spices, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.
- Mix the softened butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or your fingers.
- In a small saucepan, warm the molasses and cream over low heat, so they blend together, stirring often. Add to the butter and flour mixture to form a dough.
- Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a ¼ inch thickness. (The dough does not need to be chilled.) Cut with a 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter and place on the baking sheets. Continue to add as much flour as necessary to the dough, the rolling pin, and the cookie cutters to prevent sticking.
- 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, chewy, cake-like texture, pull them out of the oven while they’re still soft. They will firm up slightly while they cool.
- Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.