Healthy Holiday Gingerbread Cookies

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

Hey guys. Remember how I like pretending that baking is easy? Well, I’ve done it again!

I actually wanted to make a gingerbread recipe last year. I even went out and bought a cute set of cookie cutters for the occasion as soon as they appeared in the stores. Let me just preface this by saying, this was at the very end of my pregnancy and pre-baby. Bahahaaa! How I thought that I would have time, energy, or sanity after giving birth to make cookies is beyond me, but I can at least laugh at my extraordinary naiveté.

So, fast-forward to the present moment: my mental wherewithal mostly in tact after the first 12 months of motherhood, and the desire to be involved in some kind of holiday tradition tugging at my heart strings. I was actually so excited to make gingerbread, once and for all, and blog about how easy it was.

If you follow me on Instagram, you will recall a certain Michelin-man-shaped gingerbread puddle that I posted last week. Yea. Like I said, I forgot that baking is not easy when you’re silly enough to invent recipes of which you have zero experience, under crushing time pressure. Okay, well, no big deal. Roll up my sleeves and start again, right? To rectify the poofing, I decided to eliminate the baking soda, baking powder and all liquid. Genius! Instead of a puffed up puddle, the cookies were rock hard and greasy.
Gingerbread: 2, Sarah B: 0.

At this point, in a frustrated frenzy, my husband chimed in for the pep talk. “Hun, you know that this happens every time you bake. It’s science! And you’re bad at science (I’m paraphrasing). Just give it one more try and I bet you’ll nail it, because in the end you always do” (he forgot about the carrot cake debacle, bless his heart). So this morning began in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up, and ready to face this worthy opponent with a veritable village of gingerbread casualties in my wake.
Except this time, I won.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Molasses
Isn’t it ironic that the waste product of manufacturing white sugar, is a nutrient-rich, low-glycemic syrup? I’m talking about molasses. That gooey, rich, unmistakably black-brown nectar with a rather divisive flavour.

There are a few varieties of molasses, but to understand how they vary, let’s first look at how molasses is made.

Molasses is created from either sugarcane or sugar beets (but because the molasses made from beets can be quite bitter, sugarcane molasses is the most common variety available for human consumption). These plants are harvested, and then cut, crushed, and mashed so that the juice is extracted. “Fancy Molasses” is the first product to be made, but is in fact the only type of molasses that is not a by-product of sugar processing, but instead a direct product from sugar cane. This type is super sweet and is most commonly enjoyed as the syrup straight on pancakes or waffles, and as an ingredient in baked goods.

Varieties of Molasses
The real deal molasses comes from boiling the juice of sugar cane down to crystallize the sugars, producing a concentrate, the first of which is called First Molasses, First Strike Molasses, Barbados Molasses, Light Molasses, Mild Molasses, or Sweet Molasses. This comes from the first boiling of the sugar. It is light in colour and mild in flavour. Some people also enjoy this type directly on their food, like fancy molasses. It is about 65% sucrose.

Next up is Second Molasses, Second Strike Molasses, Dark Molasses, or Full Molasses. As you may have guessed, this is made from the second boiling of the extracted cane juice, a process that extracts even more sugar, producing a darker, thicker syrup typically used as a cooking ingredient in sauces, marinades and baked beans. It is about 60% sucrose.

Blackstrap molasses is likely the one all you health foodies out there know and love. This type of molasses is made by boiling the cane syrup a third time, which extracts even more sugar and concentrates the flavour. By this point, the sucrose content is so low (about 55%) that the syrup no longer tastes sweet, but slightly bitter. The colour is nearly black, and the consistency is very thick and viscous. Blackstrap molasses is used in baking, sauces, stews and even as a food supplement due to its high nutrient content.

Nutritious and Delicious
Blackstrap molasses is highly concentrated in essential minerals, such as iron, calcium, selenium, manganese, potassium, copper, and zinc. As I mentioned above, this type of molasses is sometimes used as a dietary supplement or tonic. One tablespoon stirred into warm water is a food-based way to boost mineral levels, especially iron, as this small amount contains a whopping 20% of your RDI. You can also enjoy it in foods such as smoothies, tea, warm cereal, or dressings, sauces and stews. Remember to eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C to enhance its absorption. I like to use a little lemon juice.

Blackstrap molasses is one of the few sweeteners that is low on the glycemic scale with an index classification of 55. This means that it metabolizes slowly in a controlled way, demands less insulin production and won’t cause a spike in blood glucose levels. All in all, blackstrap molasses is a fantastic, healthy sweetener to which I enthusiastically give a thumbs up!

Buying and Storing
When purchasing molasses, read the label to ensure that what you are buying is 100% pure molasses (some companies will cut blackstrap molasses with corn syrup to make it sweeter) and that it is “unsulfured”. Sulfur dioxide can be added to all grades of molasses to help preserve it, as it prevents the growth of bacteria and mould. From a health perspective, sulfur can cause reactions in sensitive people (you can read more about that here). Sulfur dioxide also has a very bitter flavour, and can drastically alter the flavour of the dish you are making. Look for organic molasses whenever possible too.

Store unopened molasses in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Opened containers must be stored in the fridge and will last for up to six months.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

So this gingerbread, this is really it. It’s deeply spiced, perfectly balanced in sweet and salt, and super addictive. I love the special flavour and richness that molasses brings to the cookies as well. It’s a must-have component of this recipe for sure, and should not be substituted with other sweeteners due to its properties in the baking itself. The cookies are totally vegan (!!!), made with whole spelt flour and natural sweeteners. But the coolest part of this recipe? If you like a chewy cookies, bake them for 7 minutes, and if you like a crispier version, bake it for 10. Science! I tried two versions with this batch of cookies, and although I prefer the chewy ones, my husband really likes the crunch of the longer-baked variety.

I am really, really proud of my gingerbread, especially after persevering through three rounds of total uncertainty and insanity. Although the first two recipes, according to some were “just fine”, I couldn’t post a recipe here on My New Roots that is just fine. Never! I want everything I put out into the world to be my best, and this, I am so pleased to say, (finally) qualifies. Whew.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots
As I was very anxiously waiting for this last trial to bake, I whipped up a Cashew-Cacao Butter Icing to decorate the little guys with (I got it on the first try too!). As I was making it however, I used honey to sweeten it, and then promptly delivered myself a swift forehead slap realizing that the rest of the cookie recipe was vegan! Argh. So, if you don’t want to use honey to sweeten this icing, I am confident that maple syrup or coconut nectar would work in its place. I haven’t tried making this recipe in a regular blender, only a Vitamix, so I know that the icing consistency may be a little grainy if you don’t use a high-powered machine.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

For those of you living in Copenhagen, I’ve only found one shop that carries molasses and it’s the Super Brugsen on Nørrebrogade. I know at least one of you is going to ask!

And finally, I want to say a HUGE Happy Holidays to everyone out there. I hope that your days are filled with wonder and delight, family and friends, and above all, delicious food. I can’t help myself – it’s what I live for!

All love and sparkling winter holidays,
Sarah B.

Show me your gingerbread on Instagram: #MNRgingerbread

117 comments

  1. Airyfairycelt

    Oh, the deep and dark gingerbread. Real old style food, just have to have this sort of thing for us oldies were given these when young. Just a tweak for vegan gf and I am away and years gone by….

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  3. Jillian

    Love love love your blog ! The only blog ive found that I truly enjoy reading and learning from, I love the vast amount of information you give in every post ! I’m going through each recipe and soaking up all the info provided :PI just wish some of the more potent content was separated into categories, so you could search and bookmark by information like ( b vitamins- antioxidants- ect ) Anyway, I’m truly enjoying each and every informative post !

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  5. Atticus

    I’ve never seen molasses used too much in recipes and I’m glad I finally got to! It seems like a slightly healthier substitute for sugar. Glad I can enjoy some healthy gingerbread for once 🙂

  6. Alicia

    2015 has started and as probably lots of other people, I have a goal this year. I think I eat a very healthy diet (mostly thanks to your recipes) but I would like to reduce the amount of carbohydrates / sugar and eat more protein and good fats without putting on weight. As I am vegetarian, I always find it difficult. Any thoughts on this? Happy New Year!

  7. Saskia

    those cookies are awesome! i made them right after i read this article and short before christmas. well, the entire process of rolling the dough and making cookies out of it turned out rather difficult due to the consistency of the dough, but apart from that… everybody loved them. such a deep, warm flavor, and so crunchy! i’m currently enjoying the very last remains. thanks so much! 🙂

  8. Natalie

    I’ve noticed that you don’t tend to cook with olive oil but use mostly coconut oil or ghee. Is there a reason why. I have not read all your posts so may have missed this information.

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  10. Phillip

    These look amazing and pretty easy to make. We’re always searching the web for inspiration and love your blog and photography. Keep up the good work and congrats on your Best Of award! That’s how we found you!

  11. Nina

    Merry Christmas! After reading this recipe I bought some molasses and used it in a festive fruitcake (in place of honey), but it still felt quite sugary to eat. When I did a bit of research on the GI rating of various sweeteners, it seems that a GI of 55 isn’t really that low – ordinary table sugar is 65, golden syrup 60, and maple syrup 54. I couldn’t find a clear answer on the fructose content, but certainly there’s a significant amount there. Obviously molasses has some minerals (and is delicious!), but I don’t think I’ll be using it as a “healthy” sweetener again.

  12. Katie

    These cookies look amazing! I would have loved to make these for guests this season. I will definitely be trying them within the week, possibly with Gluten Free options.

    Thank you!

  13. Ursula

    Made these gingerbread cookies and the vegan eggnog milkshake, both turned out great! Just cut the coconut sugar back a bit, otherwise we stuck with the recipes for once. My daughter opted to take apart raspberries and decorate hers with the little red circles.
    Thank you. Merry Christmas!

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  15. Roy Hansen

    I made these with coconut flour and alternative stevia instead of the molasses, and they still tasted just like gingerbread from days gone by… it’s so nice seeing an old tradition with a new twist!!! Thank you for the great submission, they were wonderful and lasted about 20 minutes in a house full of holiday makers!

  16. Sudheer Yadav

    Hi In India I have never had this food but now I will say to my wife for this food. Thanks for sharing please keep sharing so that me and my wife can do some good experiment in food.

  17. Amy

    This is such a great recipe! One of the easiest cookie doughs I’ve ever worked with too. I love chewy cookies, so I took them out at 7 minutes and they’re perfect.

    Thank you! These complete my “healthy” Christmas cookie plate, along with recipes from Green Kitchen Stories and Loving Earth.

    Amy

  18. Zara

    These are so so amazing! I swapped coconut sugar for brown sugar and reduced the molasses a little, altered the spices a tiny bit and there ya go! I hope my family loves them as much as I do. Thanks X

  19. s

    hi sarah! these look delish! i’m definitely going to try the recipe out esp. since it’s vegan <3 thank you 🙂

    here in turkey we have grape molasses, which is super tasty & nutritious – highly recommended!

  20. Cathy R

    These have such a lovely warm, spicy flavor, and not too sweet- what gingerbread SHOULD be! I was trying to clean out my pantry and substituted oat flour for the spelt. As a result the dough came out much wetter than described. Then I used an extra 1/3 cup flour to firm up the dough, which caused the “chewy” version to be a bit dry. So after baking, I left all the cookies in the warm oven overnight and in the morning they were quite crispy and wonderful! Thanks so much for the recipe; next time I will be sure to use the spelt flour.

  21. J

    Thank you Sarah for always caring with your BEST and not posting “just fine” recipes! I completely trust every recipe of yours, unlike so many other sites from which I have wasted time and lovely ingredients for recipes that turned out just ok or worse. Your gifts to us are special all year long!!! Love and Merry Christmas!

  22. kristie {birch and wild}

    I think I am going to try making these with sprouted spelt. I am not sure they are going to work, but I love to practice the science of baking! Your photos are absolutely stunning. I love the contrast of the white with the deep red of the berries.
    All the best to you and your family this Christmas!

  23. Violet

    I have a question about the icing, I love the idea of your cashew icing. I wanted to know can i use this icing over cupcakes or cakes? will it melt in hot weather or it will keep its shape? thanks for your wonderful posts.

  24. Howard Frankel

    I’m no longer living in Copenhagen, but several months ago when I was there, the health food store (incidentally near the Super Brugsen on Nørrebrogade) also carried molasses.

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  26. emily goldberg

    on their way to the oven right now! but one of the best things about making these is mixing the dough by hand and the opportunity to keep licking your fingers! The best raw cookie dough by far! Happy Holidays Sarah

  27. emily goldberg

    they are on their way to the oven, but just so everyone knows, the fact that you have to fold in the ingredients by hand gives you the opportunity to keep licking your fingers – best raw cookie dough so far that I’ve ever eaten! Thanks again Sarah Happy Holidays

  28. Ana Kamin

    This post came so right on time. I saw molasses as ingredient in many recipes and honestly I didn’t know if it’s good or bad, or even what it is actually. So happy about this educational post. 🙂 thank you and happy, merry Christmas. 🙂

  29. Sarah

    These cookies are incredible. The icing is like nothing I have ever tasted before! Thank you for another beautiful recipe, Sarah!

  30. Laurence

    I made them gluten-free and they are perfect!
    1 3/4 c sorgo flour, 1/2 c buckwheat, 1/4 almond meal. And I replaced the apple sauce by almond butter. No problem at all to roll the dough. Great recipe as usual Sarah B, merci!

    • Sarah B

      AWESOME! Thanks so much Laurence. It’s great hearing how people can make gluten-free versions, so I appreciate you letting us all know (and it saves me yet another meltdown in the kitchen….haha!!!)
      xo, Sarah B

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  33. Jessie Snyder

    holy goodness do I feel you on this one! I had to make ten test batches of my molasses cookie before I approved as well. Now I cant even look at molasses! These, however, are so cute and perfect I just might reconsider. Great job lady!!

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  35. Marieke

    I made these yesterday and my whole family loves them!
    I think your husband is right: you always get your recipes perfectly right in the end! 🙂

  36. sara

    these look amazing – will try them! however, where i live, i cannot find cacao butter – and am vegan. any thoughts on substitutes? could i just use coconut oil?

    • Sarah Britton

      You could try Denise, but I am always wary of substituting flours without gluten, as it serves a real purpose here! Maybe try the GF suggestion above, as we know it works!

      xo, Sarah B

  37. Shannon

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m looking forward to baking these up today! To what thickness would you recommend rolling out the dough?

    Thanks!

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  39. Kassia

    Ok, got the molasses, spelt flour and the rest but….. No coconut sugar.
    Can I make it without sugar at all?
    Thank you!
    Your pictures are beautiful 😉

  40. Your Father

    Dad can’t wait to try these golden goodies….looks like tummys will be full this Christmas. Can’t wait to see you…XO

  41. The Vegan Cookie Fairy

    Lovely recipe 🙂 Did you find the coconut oil made the dough quite ‘crumbly’? I tend to stick with vegan butter when making cookies because the results are predictable, but I really want to bake with coconut oil more.

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  43. Vera@growntocook

    Wow! That’s amazing! I have a very traditional recipe for gingerbread in my repertoir and would not even know where to start if I wanted to make it healthy and vegan. Thanks for doing the work and not giving up!

  44. Esther

    Where did you find blackstrap molasses? Did you order it? It’s only the past year that our health food shops in Aarhus have had any molasses at all and I don’t think it’s blackstrap. Please let me know!

  45. karuna

    “veritable village of gingerbread casualties” , hahahahaha, your hub may claim you are bad at science, but you sure are a whizz with words!!

  46. Lauren @thesoakedbean

    Christmas wish come true! Have been dreaming of a healthier version of my favorite cookie for what feels like eons. & I love the spotlight on BS Molasses — I use it in a PMS tincture & I swear it’s made of magic. <3

  47. Aleksandra

    Love these! Just a thought: Here in Austria they say keeping gingerbread stored in a cookie tin or jar helps to develop the flavour and they also become softer. But who can wait so long to devour these! Much love and a very Merry Christmas!

  48. David

    I, too, would like to know if you have a suggestion for turning this into a gluten free recipe. Think it would work well with a mixed gluten-free flour?

  49. Samantha

    These look so delicious! I’m sure they will taste so much better than the fake gingerbread lattes we sell at work…I’m definitely going to give them a try this year! Thanks for sharing!
    ~ Samantha

  50. Lynn

    Any gluten-free flour recommendations? Or would this change the composition of the whole recipe? After all, baking is science :).

  51. Iris

    Wow, I looove these! I’ve been baking a kind of gingerbread cookies as well, but they are in the shapes of stars to hang in the tree! I’ve been wanting to decorate them with frosting but haven’t been able to figure out a good recipe yet, so this couldn’t have come at a better time for me:) I must give these cookies a try as well!

  52. Steph

    These look great Sarah! I’ve been experimenting with making gingerbread healthy and gluten free for the past week and I know how hard it is to just try it all from scratch! I’ve just tried two batches myself so hopefully my third time works out as well 🙂

  53. Emma

    These sound amazing! Thank you for posting! Do you think I could sub whole wheat or oat flour, as I am out of spelt flour?

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