Of course you don't have to cut these cookies into any particular shape, but if you want to make gingerbread people this is the recipe to use. And these cookies are ideal for decorating; I usually use Royal Icing for that purpose. A bonus: this dough is so tender that you can roll and reroll the scraps without having to worry that the last batch of cookies you roll will be tough. This recipe makes a lot of dough, but it's easy to halve if you need less.

Makes about 24 large cookies, depending on the size cutter used

5 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses

2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment or foil

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Stir well to mix.
  2. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Scrape down bowl and beater.
  3. Lower speed and beat in about half the flour mixture. Beat in all the molasses then scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, and beat after each addition until it has all been absorbed.
  4. Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Scrape half the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press it to about a 1/2-inch thickness. Wrap the dough securely and repeat with the remaining dough. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or for up to 3 days.
  5. When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  6. Unwrap one of the pieces of dough and cut it in half. Rewrap one of the halves and return it to the refrigerator.
  7. On a floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Use a floured gingerbread "man" or "woman" cutter to cut the cookies. As they are cut, place the cut cookies on the prepared pans with about 1 inch between them on all sides. Repeat with remaining dough. Save, press together, and reroll scraps (they don't need to be chilled before rerolling).
  8. Bake the cookies until they become dull and dry looking and feel slightly firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 12 to 15 minutes. If you overbake the cookies, they will be very dry. Slide papers from pans onto racks to cool.
  9. Store the cooled cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.