This perfect crisp gingerbread star recipe is the holiday cookie you've been waiting for

Anne Byrn
American Cake
Anne Byrn's crisp gingerbread stars.

This recipe and story comes from Nashville cookbook author Anne Byrn's "American Cake." More about Byrn here. Subscribe to her newsletter here.

This is part of Southern Kitchen's 12 Days of Cookies and Cocktails series, which runs daily through Christmas Eve. Each day, we'll pair fun festive cocktails with classic cookie recipes. These gingerbread cookies would be lovely with these festive Christmapolitans. 

The history of gingerbread

If you think gingerbread is an old-fashioned recipe, you have no idea how old it really is. People were baking gingerbread in the Middle Ages. Chaucer refers to it. And the first gingerbread mentioned in print was in Germany where it was spiced with pepper, ginger, and honey and called "lebkuchen."

The late historian Karen Hess said gingerbread came to us not from cooking, but from medicine. Its primary ingredient — ginger — has been hailed as a digestive aid. The Chinese were the first to eat it, she said, then the Arabs adopted it, and it came to Europe with the Crusaders.

As gingerbread recipes evolved in Europe from bread-like to cake-like, incorporating butter and eggs, these recipes told hold.

The first American gingerbread recipe was published in Amelia Simmons' book, American Cookery, in 1796. And at the time, there were many variations, the most popular being soft gingerbread cake, and a crispy or chewy ginger cookie.

About the recipe

This gingerbread cookie recipe came out of a food writers’ luncheon in the late 1980s. I cannot remember the venue or the rest of the meal, but I fell in love with the cookie, fragrant with orange and deep and dark with cinnamon and ginger. And we have always cut the dough into stars. 

The trick is to bash the dough — not roll — as thinly as you can first. Then roll from the center out to desired thickness. Keep the counter lightly floured, and flip the dough over to prevent it from sticking.

Years ago I picked up a set of cookie cutters in graduated sizes of stars. I like to cut stars of all sizes not only because they look like one big star family on the platter but also because people like cookies of different sizes. You have the "I'll eat only one bite" sort of people, and they choose the small stars (and then go back for a second). And you have those folks who say bigger is better and want the biggest cookie on the plate!

To decorate, whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice to make a smooth icing. Let the icing dry before storing.

Makes: 5 dozen

Prep: 45 minutes

Bake: 8 to 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 large egg

4 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 tablespoons dark corn syrup (or molasses or sorghum)

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

Icing:

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons orange juice or water, or as needed

Instructions

Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy and soft. Add the egg, and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute. Fold in the orange zest and corn syrup until combined. Remove the beaters and set aside.

Sift the flour, soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt into a medium bowl. Fold the flour mixture into the batter with a spatula until combined. Chill dough, covered, at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When ready to bake, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly flour a work surface and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Scrape about half of the dough onto the work surface.

Lightly flour a rolling pin, and firmly tap the dough with the rolling pin until it is about 1-inch thick. Roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, lightly rolling from the center out to the edges and flipping the dough over every so often so that it does not stick to the work surface. Dust the dough and surface with flour as needed.

Cut the dough with star cutters (or the cookie cutter of your choice), pressing firmly down on one stroke. With the help of a metal spatula, transfer the cut-outs to ungreased cookie sheets, placing the cookies about an inch apart. Place the pans in the oven. Keep the remaining dough chilled, press the scraps into a loose ball, and roll the scraps and rest of the dough and cut into shapes. 

Bake the cookies until they are well browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven, and let the cookies cool on the pan 1 minute. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing, whisk together the powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl until smooth. Using a knife, spread the cookies with icing, and let it set before eating. Or, pour the icing into a plastic squeeze bottle, and pipe out squiggles, lines, or designs to decorate.