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Gingerbread is one of the most classic old-fashioned desserts, and it’s been around in some form or another for centuries. This old-fashioned gingerbread cookie recipe dates from the 1860s, and it has a soft texture and a nice blend of molasses and spice flavors.
For this recipe, I adapted two 19th century gingerbread recipes. The main recipe is from the 1868 edition of Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book. Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book was a recipe pamphlet designed to advertise Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for babies – a syrup that actually contained morphine as it’s main ingredient and was sadly associated with infant deaths during this time period. The use of morphine was common in patent medications of the time, and it was also unfortunately quite common for those taking patent medications to have little or no knowledge of the ingredients that those “medicines” contained. Many mothers would have given this syrup to their babies without having any idea that it could end up being addictive or even fatal.
There are many good recipes in the Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Books and they were most likely collected from bakers who had no knowledge of the potential harms of the soothing syrup. Because of that fact, I am leaving this recipe up for those who may have viewed it previously and would like to make it again. I will be looking in the future, though, for a 19th century gingerbread cookie recipe that is equally as good but that doesn’t have the same associations with such a sad and controversial history. When I find one, I will add an update here.
Original Recipe for Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Cookies:
“One coffee-cup molasses, two eggs, one cup butter, one cup sugar, one teaspoon soda, flour to roll, ginger to taste.”
Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Recipe Book for 1868, pg. 14
Like many 19th century recipes, this one assumes that the cook would know the basics of how to make a batch of gingerbread cookies, leaving the decisions for the amount of flour, the oven temperature, and the time for baking up to the cook to decide. Cookbooks have definitely changed a lot since the 19th century!
I added the amounts of cinnamon and ginger from the 1866 edition of Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Recipe Book, and since I like the flavor of cloves with my gingerbread I added a bit of those for good measure too.
- Since I usually prefer soft gingerbread cookies, I baked mine to have a nice soft texture, but if you like crisper cookies, you can roll these out a bit thinner and bake them for a minute or two longer.
- I used an organic, unbleached all-purpose flour for this recipe, but you could also make these with einkorn or spelt flour, too. You could make them with whole-wheat flour, but the texture will be coarser (or for a softer texture you could blend whole wheat and a more refined flour.)
- Also, even though many modern rolled cookie recipes call for chilling the dough for awhile before rolling out and baking the cookies, I omitted this step. Since this is an old-fashioned gingerbread cookie recipe and since modern refrigerators hadn’t been invented yet at the time this recipe was created, I decided to go the 19th-century route and just add a bit more flour as I was rolling out the cookies when needed. This will work ok if you are making the cookies in the winter time when your kitchen is cooler and if you don’t mind adding more flour. If you are making these in the summer, though, or if you keep your house really warm, then I would recommend chilling the dough first. A warmer, stickier dough can be more difficult to roll out and to get cleanly out of the cookie cutters.
Cookie Dough Recipe
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup sugar (I used brown cane sugar but any sugar should work fine)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 Tbs ground ginger
- 1 Tbs ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp salt (can omit or reduce to 1/4 tsp. if using salted butter)
- 5 cups flour (I used unbleached all-purpose flour)
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 Tbs pure maple syrup (I like the darker kind for stronger maple flavor)
- 3 Tbs water
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together softened butter, sugar, and molasses.
- Beat eggs lightly and add to the butter and sugar mixture.
- Add spices, salt, and baking soda, and stir well to combine.
- Gradually add flour, stirring to combine, until dough reaches a good consistency for rolling.
- Sprinkle flour on counter and on rolling pin and roll out cookies to about 1/4 inch thickness. (If you prefer a crisper cookie you can roll them out to 1/8 inch instead.)
- Cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutter and bake cookies at 350 degrees for 9-10 minutes. (9 minutes will give you a softer cookie.)
- This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies, but the amount will vary depending on what size and shape cookie cutters you use and depending on how thick you roll out the dough.
- If you prefer a regular vanilla icing rather than a maple-flavored one, you can omit the maple syrup and add a bit more water instead to reach the right consistency.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.