I have been making gingerbread cookies since I was a little girl growing up in the Czech Republic. Christmas sweets (baking, eating and sharing) is a big part of the Czech culture and every year I would make at least half a dozen different cookies. And my Polish grandmother, who was a fabulous baker, would make half a dozen different ones (imagine at least two baking sheets of each kind, from each of us). There would be gingerbread cookies, of course, but also vanilla crescents, shortbreads, coconut macaroons, linzer cookies stuck together with sticky jam and drizzled with chocolate, chocolate bee hives with rum filling, rum balls – and more. All the good cookies. All up, we’d make boxes and boxes worth and plate up a beautiful looking selection for guests who’d come visit over the holiday season (and there would be many – that’s another Czech tradition). They would also be set out as dessert for pretty much every meal. We would only start running low sometime after the New Year.
For a while after moving to Australia I tried to carry on with this tradition (because as you know, most Europeans show love through their food) but it was never quite the same. For one, Christmases here in the southern hemisphere are hot. And baking while it’s hot outside is a special kind of hell, right? Plus, basically all the Czech cookies, as delicious as they are, are made with bleached flour and refined sugar. Sugar sugar and more sugar. You get the idea.
Lighter gingerbread cookies
For a while now, I have played around with the idea of making lighter Christmas cookies. I have made some here and there but have never made a concerted enough effort – the amount of sugar the kids consume has been easy to control until now, so a little extra over Christmas didn’t worry me. But now that they’re at school and they can buy snacks from the canteen and they receive snacks from family, I wanted to see if I can make festive delicious cookies and keep the tradition of Christmas baking alive, but cut the sugar content.
This is one of the recipes I have adjusted. The original was full of bleached white flour and caster sugar, but a few simple tweaks and it’s much lighter and healthier – I have used wholemeal flour, spelt flour and buckwheat flour (which are more nutritious than plain flour) and used unrefined coconut sugar and honey as white sugar alternatives. I’ve also replaced the sugar-laden icing with some melted sugar-free chocolate and they look pretty festive again, if I do say so myself.
Gingerbread cookies – traditional Christmas cookies
This recipe is based on my step-mum’s wonderful recipe, which has been in her family for many years (she’s also a fabulous baker). I have always loved it because the gingerbreads bake up beautifully soft, ready to be eaten – unlike some cookies which bake hard and you need to wait for them to soften.
These are spiced and lightly sweet, soft and fragrant, and when paired with some chocolate drizzle icing, these will look beautiful on your Christmas table, until they get devoured.. and as a parent, I know I rest easier knowing the kids can have a few of these and they won’t be riding the sugar high.
Do you have any special Christmas traditions in your family?
Lighter gingerbread cookies [refined sugar free]
- 150 g wholemeal flour
- 50 g buckwheat flour
- 50 g wholemeal spelt flour
- 60 g unrefined coconut sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground star anise
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 50 g melted butter
- 75 g honey
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- a handful of white sugar-free chocolate chips
- a handful of dark sugar-free chocolate chips
- drizzle of MCT oil
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Line two cookie baking trays with baking paper.
- Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl until combined.
- Whisk wet ingredients together in a separate small bowl or a measuring jug.
- Mix the dry and wet ingredients together until well blended. Use your hands to form a ball out of the dough.
- If the dough is a little sticky, pop it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes while you prep your working space.
- Dust your kitchen counter with some flour and roll the dough out with your rolling pin until it's evenly rolled out to about 1cm thickness. Dust the rolling pin with some flour if it keeps sticking.
- Cut out cookie shapes with cookie cutters and place them on the baking sheet, a little way from each other (these don't spread much) until you are unable to cut out any more shapes.
- Smush the remains of the dough back together into a ball, roll it out again and repeat the process until the dough is all used up.
- Place the two baking sheets into the oven at the same time, for about 9 to 10 minutes, until golden around the edges.
- Let the cookies cool.
- When the cookies are completely cool, place them onto a cooling rack. Then melt the chocolate chips. I just pop them on a small plate each (white chips on one small plate and dark chips on another small plate) and heat in the microwave in 15 second intervals. Mix with a spoon after each interval until melted.
- Once melted, drizzle a little bit of MCT oil onto each plate and mix together until gorgeous and shiny.
- I then simply gather a little of the chocolate mixture on a spoon and go to town drizzling the cool cookies until my heart's content. Drizzle one type of chocolate first, then the other for best effect.
- If you like, sprinkle a few festive sprinkles (sugar free if possible) while the chocolate drizzle is still wet.
- Let the drizzle set before devouring.
This recipe makes about two baking trays worth of gingerbread cookies.
They keep well in a closed box in a cool place – they should be fine for up to a month.