[vegan; gluten-free option available]
Christmas smells like gingerbread cookies and Christmas tastes like gingerbread cookies. At our house, we go through hundreds of homemade gingerbread cookies in December. I prefer them still slightly soft. My husband likes them thin and crispy. The kids love them with over-the-top frosting and decorations. But to each of us, they bring Christmas in. The veganized traditional gingerbread cookies update the classic recipe to suit even the plant-based eater.
The Always-So-Enticing Smell Gingerbread Cookies
I love the smell of Christmas,
along with all the lights.
Log fires in the fire place,
on those cold winter nights.
The smell of Christmas goodies,Bernard Howe
that are baked with tender care.
The smell is just the greatest,
there’s nothing to compare.
Veganized traditional gingerbread cookies look like stars and smell like Christmas. The divine smell of the spices fills the air. It’s just as enticing each year. After I’m done baking the cookies, I don’t want to leave the kitchen, because I’m so mesmerized by lovely aromas of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and orange peel.
At our house, gingerbread cookies have become one of the most important Christmas traditions. Actually, I feel as though they keep becoming more and more important each year, at least if we’re judging by the number of them baked. This year, we’ve already gone through several batches, and there’s no end in sight. The fact that the girls are eagerly participating only makes it so much more fun, not to mention slightly chaotic and cramped. Fun is meant to be shared!
Respecting the Gingerbread Traditions
The veganized traditional gingerbread cookies come with a colorful and extensive piece of baking history. In her detailed historical account from 2001, Finnish historian Anna-Liisa Mattila identifies the Egyptian honey cake as the prototype for what we today know as gingerbread cookies. Honey cakes were sacrificed to the gods and they were baked into different shapes in order for the gods to understand the message of each. The earliest archeological findings of honey cake molds date as far back as 3 000 BCE.
From Egypt, honey cakes traveled to Europe, where for a long time, they could only be baked in monasteries. The restrictions stemmed from the thought of honey cakes as sacred treats that couldn’t be made by just anyone.
Over time, the original cake recipe has gone through several transformations. Wheat flour substituted for the dark rye flour, syrup and sugar for the honey, and butter was added to add to taste and storage qualities. Spices, including ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom, were added as they were becoming more affordable to the masses.
In Finland, gingerbread cookies are known as piparkakku, the pepper cookie. Perhaps peppermint was once a spice used in them. The cookies were initially precious goods, sold only at market places. For a long time, manors, vicarages, and other upper-class people tried to keep the recipe secret. Gingerbread cookies were a festive delicacy, and they were believed to have illness-curing properties. They kept their religious meaning for long; churchgoers would put gingerbread cookies in their pockets to be sheltered from illnesses.
The same sort of mysticism continues to be linked to gingerbread cookies and the best recipes to make them. Commercial manufacturers like to describe their particular cookies as “traditional” or “original”. The packaging typically carries with it a sense of past times and dignity. In the Nordic countries, commercial gingerbread cookies are almost without exception shaped like round flowers, perhaps to keep them from breaking apart. They are usually also quite thin and crispy.
This time around, we made star-shaped veganized traditional gingerbread cookies. The dough is thick but very easy to work with after a few minutes at room temperature. My daughters love to bake it into bunnies, unicorns, and their favorite Moomin characters.
Veganized Traditional Gingerbread Cookies with a Traditional Recipe
I’ve made gingerbread cookies with the same recipe since 1993, so it’s become more than familiar. I swear by it; I have so much experience from its flawlessness.
It comes from the same home ed book that I used to make the veganized apple pie that I wrote about here a couple of months ago. When I first began using the recipe, I baked the cookies with butter and egg, but the veganized traditional gingerbread cookies are equally effortlessly made from vegan butter and aquafaba. Aquafaba is chickpea or white butter bean brine that has a lot of the same qualities as eggs. It binds the dough, becomes fluffy when beaten, and can even be used to make meringue.
I have tried alternative vegan substitutes, as well. I have replaced the butter with coconut oil, but it makes the dough slightly less effortless to handle. On on hand, it’s very hard straight out of the fridge, and on the other, it quickly softens at room temperature, making the dough sticky and greasy.
A flax or chia seed egg can be substituted for the egg (or aquafaba). To make one flax or chia egg, combine one tablespoon of ground flax or chia seeds with three tablespoons of warm water. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and then simply mix in the dough. These egg replacements make the dough slightly more crumbly or coarse, but the taste is equally delicious.
Following the veganized recipe below does not affect the taste or texture of the gingerbread cookies. You’ll end up with a batch of 50 crispy cookies that smell like the amazingly rich history of the gingerbread cookie. You won’t be able to tell that they are vegan; you can use your meat-eating friend or neighbor to confirm that.
Whatever your chosen replacements are, I’m wishing you a wonderful Christmas with delicious, lovingly baked goodies that bring the seasons enticing smells from my house to yours!
Veganized Gingerbread Cookies
- ⅓ cup molasses
- ⅓ cup + 1 tbsp coconut sugar or other granulated sugar
- 125 g vegan butter ½ cup + 1 tbsp
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp orange peel
- 3 tbsp aquafaba chickpea brine
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour or light gluten-free flour blend
- In a medium saucepan, add the molasses, sugar, vegan butter, and spices. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir using a wooden spoon or fork and let boil for a minute or two.
- Remove from the heat and whisk until slightly cooled. Add the aquafaba and whisk some more.
- Combine the flour and the baking soda, then stir in the dough.
- Spread out a piece of plastic wrap. Pour the dough onto the wrap, then tighly wrap the plastic around the dough. Transfer the dough to the refrigerator and keep it there overnight.
- The following day, bake cookies out of the dough.
- Bake on the top rack in 200°C/395°F for 5 minutes or until beautifully brown. Keep a careful eye on the time, as the cookies scorch quickly. Let cool and enjoy!