Love and Olive Oil

Bettie Landis’ Gingerbread Cookies

Bettie Landis's Holiday Gingerbread Cookies

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas season begins. I’m talking about the second you put down your fork after that second slice of pumpkin pie. Not (as many retailers would like you to believe) sooner, not later. And for many (most?) of us, the best part about the holidays are the cookies. I’d give up a hundred candy canes for a single holiday cookie.

For years we’ve received boxes of gingerbread cookies from my aunt Sally. She slaves over a hot piping bag for what must be days, decorating gingerbread boys and girls for every member of the extended family. They are beautiful, her cookies, each one personalized with her artistic touch. Since Sally has mentioned to me on multiple occasions that I would one day take over this tradition, I figured I better get practicing. Lucky for me I had enthusiastic help, and my sister and I spent the majority of two days rolling, cutting, baking, and frosting dozens of cookies. (And what’ya know, Taylor actually picked up a piping bag and decorated a few, with surprisingly precise, and increasingly sarcastic typography. Just guess which one of the above morsels was his handiwork… that’s Taylor for you.)

Gingerbread Cookies Decorated with Royal Icing

This is the first time I’ve ever decorated anything with royal icing. It’s a bit tricky, and will definitely take a few more attempts before I feel like we’re really getting the hang of it. In my research, I did find a few very good resources and tutorials for making and using royal icing. If you’ve ever wanted to give it a go, I’d suggest reading these first:
How to Make Royal Icing (with recipe and pictures)
How to Flood Cookies with Royal Icing (the decorating technique used to get nice smooth frosted cookies)

Gingerbread Cookies

The gingerbread recipe itself is my grandmother’s. Bettie Landis was the queen of precision (much like I am the princess of sarcasm… if you get my drift). Her recipes are anything but precise, consistent, or complete. But that just might be the thing that makes these cookies so special. In fact, when I went to roll out and bake the cookies, I soon realized that the copy of the recipe I was using had no baking directions. No temperature, to bake time, no nothing. One quick call to auntie Sal later and I had instructions to bake at “about 350” for “about 10-15 minutes, or you know, whatever”. Because that’s how we roll. I’ve elaborated a bit on the instructions for your sake, since not all of you have an auntie Sal you can call in a pinch.

Bettie Landis's Gingerbread Cookies

Makes about 40 large gingerbread men and then some (in other words, lots. Halve the recipe to keep your sanity).

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1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 1/4 cups dark molasses (orange label)
7-10 cups flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 + 1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon baking soda

*We’ve seen versions of this recipe with as little as 6 cups and as many as 10. I used 8 and the dough was quite sticky. Use more flour for a stiffer cookie (say, for gingerbread houses), and less flour for softer cookies. It’s very forgiving.


Cream shortening and brown sugar. Add molasses and mix well.

Mix spices with 1 cup of the flour and add. Add the rest of flour about 1/2 cup at a time, alternating adding water and flour. Combine baking soda and final 1/4 cup water and add last.

Cover and chill dough for at least an hour before rolling out. (At this point you can also freeze the dough for up to a month. Thaw completely before rolling out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to desired thickness (I found about 1/4 inch thick makes nice soft yet sturdy cookies) and cut out shapes. Arrange cookies on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet.

Bake cookies for approximately 10-14 minutes or more (longer cooking times will yield stiffer cookies). Allow to cool a few minutes on cookie sheets, then transfer to cooling racks and cool completely before frosting.

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  1. Laura,
    They last for years! I had a friend I gave one to for Christmas and she saved it for 10 years before her son (who wasn’t even born when I gave it to her) found it and ate it one day. He survived.
    auntie Sal


  3. I made these this morning while rocking out to Christmas music. YUM! Thank you for sharing your gran’s recipe. I split it in half as you suggested and it made something like 4 or 5 dozen cookies. They were mostly smaller cookies. I’m using them to make a tree out of gingerbread cookies that I saw on another blog (

    Oh…a fun tip…I didn’t have quite enough molasses, so I used an even ratio of molasses to pancake syrup to karo syrup, and used dark brown sugar to compensate for the color. These came out great. The flavor is definitely gingerbread, but it doesn’t sock you in the face.

    Again…thank you :) May your Christmas be blessed!

  4. They look really wonderful! You did a beautiful job. I wish I had the patience.

  5. You know, for years the recipe also left out the ginger!! I have one of her handwritten ones and it isnt in there. I dont know if her cookies ever looked as good as yours! Pretty good for just starting! Now you need to come out here and do it with me and my kids! Imagine Betty trying to do it with 4 kids!! That is why her directions leave things out, she was constantly interrupted…

    I know it is tempting the fates, but I have been tweaking the recipe to make it taste better. These were always great to decorate and leave out for 3 weeks… but I want one that I want to eat as well as look at. Have been researching Swedish Pepparkakor recipes which are really spicy and thin and crisp. I’ll let you know when I find a good one! (at least the Palmgren side of my fam is Swedish…there is some tradition)

  6. Laura – We’ve still got a couple left and it’s been over a week. Stored just out on the counter. And they are still fairly soft. I think gingerbread is one of those cookies that really keeps quite well!

  7. Lovely! Wait, where’s the “stick” cookie?! I liked that one!

  8. These look great. I was wondering, though – how long do they store for? I was thinking of making them this Christmas. Thanks!

  9. Such beautiful pictures. And I love the colors you frosted with. Purple is so under used in frosting these days.

    This looks like a good staple recipe. Gonna bookmark for when I don’t have little kids around and I can concentrate on cutting out and decorating.

    BTW, here is a great website for all sorts of cookie cutters.

  10. I love that you are carrying on the Landis gingerbread cookie tradition and tweaking it a bit to make it your own, uh that would be the addition of Lindsay’s turquoise and Robin’s purple icing! YEP, I know which one Taylor made!!!!
    Are you also carrying out the tradition of mailing them to all of your family and friends spread all across the country? Hope so!

  11. Love your blog~ I posted it as my fav blog of the week~ check it out
    Please become a fan!

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