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Soft Gingerbread Cookies + A Healthier Christmas Cookie

Soft Gingerbread Cookies (Healthy) | A Couple CooksGingerbread Men - 003Soft Gingerbread Cookies (Healthy) | A Couple CooksSoft Gingerbread Cookies (Healthy) | A Couple Cooks

Here it is: a recipe that’s been years in the making. Each holiday season, Alex and I try to create “healthier” takes on our favorite cookies, and gingerbread men have been on our list for at least 4 years, mainly because of nostalgia.

Growing up outside of Minneapolis, my family used to take my sister and me to a Dayton’s holiday display at Christmas, a life-sized department store window display filled with animated characters from stories like Pinocchio or the Velveteen Rabbit. We would wait for hours to walk through, my sister and I waiting in expectation for the end so we could have a huge, soft gingerbread cookie.

Ever since then I’ve been on a quest for the perfect soft gingerbread cookie: spicy, soft, and gooey. And I think (*hope*) we’ve finally got it! Since our recipes focus on healthy eating, we’ve also tried to keep these cookies a bit healthier than the standard: we’ve used almond butter to replace most of the butter, and thrown in some wheat flour a few extra nutrients. A bit of apple sauce helps keep them soft, and they’re finished with turbinado sugar instead of icing, which is a more “natural” sugar (plus it’s much easier than icing!).

We’ve found throughout the years that healthy cookies are – well, just not that good. Healthy cookies taste weird and leave you wanting someting more. But “healthier” cookies – while they’re not quite as healthy, they’re completely delicious and satisfying.

Some of our tips for “healthier” Christmas cookies:

  • Cookies do need fat, typically butter, to create that cookie-like texture. Omitting or replacing all the fat (with a substitute like apple sauce) usually lends for a cake-like texture, which is not altogether satisfying for a cookie. A good alternative is almond butter, which we’ve used in these gingerbread men: it’s a natural fat with plenty of nutrients and protein. We combined it with a small amount of butter, as well as a bit of applesauce to keep the cookies soft and moist, but not too much to become cake-y.
  • Cookies do need sugar, either refined or natural. We love cooking with natural sugars like honey or maple syrup, but have found they change the taste of a cookie more than sugar. For this cookie, we used a combination of brown sugar and molasses, with turbinado sugar (a less processed sugar) as the garnish. Medjool dates can also be used to add natural sweetness (like in our healthy buckeyes), but we find dates work best in no-bake cookies, not baked goods.
  • Baked cookies generally need a flour-like substance. Fat, sugar, and flour are generally frowned upon in the health food world, but if you want to make cookies, you’ve generally got to incorporate these ingredients. Alternatives include flourless cookies and using substitutes like oat flour. For these gingerbread cookies, we’ve used all-purpose flour with a bit of wheat flour for flavor and a small amount of health benefits. We’ve found that replacing white flour with up to 1/4 wheat flour in baked goods works well, but adding more than 1/4 wheat flour results in a dense, tough texture.
  • Make smaller portion sizes. We love to make mini-desserts; they’re not only cute, but give you less of everything while still feeling satisfied.

Now, for some healthy cookie ideas! We’ve also teamed up with our friend Ashley over at Edible Perspective, who is a healthier cookie aficionado like ourselves. Here are a few of our combined ideas from our blogs:

Healthier Cookies

We’d love to hear your ideas! **Bloggers out there: do you have healthier cookie recipes you love? Let us know in the comments and we will add them to our list.

We’ve also started a healthy Christmas cookies board on Pinterest.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Soft Gingerbread Cookies
Turbinado sugar has large, golden grains, which make for a festive topping.
Serves: 25 to 35
What You Need
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup wheat flour
  • Turbinado sugar (for garnish)
What To Do
  1. In a medium bowl, add 1 egg, ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup molasses, ¼ cup almond butter, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 2 tablespoons applesauce; vigorously whisk to thoroughly combine.
  2. To the wet ingredients, stir in 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons allspice, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 1 ¼ cup all purpose four, and ½ cup wheat flour until well combined. Turn out onto plastic wrap and form into a rough ball; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  4. Flour a flat surface and a rolling pin, then roll out the dough ¼-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out gingerbread men, about 25-35 total. Place gingerbread men on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  5. Bake about 8 minutes, until puffed and slightly firmed. Let rest on the pan for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Store covered at room temperature for several days or freeze for several months.


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  • Reply
    Baby June
    December 9, 2014 at 5:53 am

    Those look wonderful! Love the use of almond butter, great idea for making a healthier cookie :)

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    December 9, 2014 at 6:00 am

    I love when you guys make healthier versions of cookies and am so pleased you managed to nail this gingerbread recipe! They’re so pretty too!

  • Reply
    Erica { EricaDHouse.com }
    December 9, 2014 at 7:34 am

    These look divine!

  • Reply
    Ksenia @ At the Immigrant's Table
    December 9, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I have been playing around with gingerbread cookies for a few days now, and this recipe provides great inspiration (I love the upping of the moist game with almond butter, regular butter AND applesauce!). Great work!

  • Reply
    Abby @ The Frosted Vegan
    December 9, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I love these little men! After trying so hard to make cookies sans fat, I found out that it just isn’t good, at all!

  • Reply
    December 9, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Oh my word, love the photos, especially the last one! Too cute! Great tips for making “healthier” cookies! Thanks for asking me to collaborate on this with you. :) I’ve got to try making these gluten-free sometime.

  • Reply
    Rebecca @ it's a nourishing thing
    December 9, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Almond butter instead of actual butter?! Brilliant! I can’t wait to give these cookies a try!

  • Reply
    Liz @ Floating Kitchen
    December 9, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I absolutely love this! And the distinction between “healthy” and “healthier” is just spot on.

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Show Me the Yummy
    December 9, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Those are soo cute! Obviously, I love that they’re healthier, too! Who doesn’t love a less guilt ridden cookie that still tastes amazing?! :)

  • Reply
    December 9, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    These look perfect you guys. Thanks for all your work in perfecting the recipe!

  • Reply
    December 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    This is just what I’ve been looking for today – a healthier Christmas cookie recipe. I will try this over the weekend with my little boy. They look scrumptious. Thank you!

  • Reply
    January 1, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    I have been looking for the perfect soft gingerbread cookie for years . This is it. They have the perfect taste and texture; it is an incredible bonus that they are relatively low in fat and sugar. This is one for the family Christmas recipe box. Next time I make them will up the spice a bit. Thank you.

  • Reply
    November 10, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    These turned out amazingly delicious! Definitely going to make them yearly. The only thing that threw me off at first was their stickiness.. Had to flour countertops and rolling pin constantly and well, but once I figured that out, it went smoothly. Thank you for an amazing recipe!

    • Reply
      November 12, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      Glad you enjoyed them!

  • Reply
    November 29, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    These cookies look so delicious! I will have to bake them soon. I love using coconut palm sugar. It tastes a little like brown sugar, but it’s completely unrefined and natural. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Reply
    December 6, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Do you think it would be ok to still icing & decorate a soft gingerbread man? I thought it would be fun for the children at school and thought they would prefer them over the Hard break your teeth cookie. : )

    • Reply
      December 6, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      Lisa, I think this would be fantastic! Let us know if they work out — we’d love to see a photo of them decorated!

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    I made these cookies tonight for a work party (and put them a little more in the “ish” category with some royal icing…), and they are delicious! You guys always come through with great recipes :) Thanks!

    • Reply
      December 18, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      Hooray, so glad to hear it! And love the “ish” category too, haha! :)

  • Reply
    December 18, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Could I possibily use maple syrup instead of molasses?

    • Reply
      December 18, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Rachel! I would not substitute for molasses here since molasses is an integral flavor in gingerbread! Thanks for asking!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Do you think it would be possible to substitute the 1 egg for a flax egg?

    • Reply
      January 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Jess! We have not tried with a flax egg so can’t comment, but if you try it out and it works (or doesn’t!), let us know!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    hello, just wondering about substituting white flour with spelt flour. Also curious about the texture of the dough before refrigerating. Mine came out a bit runny. I used spelt flour with the same quantities you recommended. Thanks for the advice :)

    • Reply
      January 11, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Maria — apologies for missing your comment here! We’ve never used spelt flour so unfortunately can’t speak to that. Our dough was pretty firm before refrigerating – did you make any substitutions (like spelt flour)?

  • Reply
    December 7, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    OH MY GOODNESS!!!! Sonja, I grew up and currently still live outside of Minneapolis and hold the tradition of visiting Dayton’s, now Macy’s, 8th floor and ate the same gingerbread cookies! Unfortunately this is it’s last year as I believe the store is closing. in 2017 :( But I’m so glad y’all created this recipe!

    • Reply
      December 8, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      No way!!! So glad to hear from a fellow Minnesotan! I think I will try to go this year when we’re home because I heard that too! :) Did you find this based on our latest podcast? I just talked about it, so I was thinking you were commenting on that but you may have found this online too. Either way, glad to connect!

  • Reply
    December 18, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    sonja these are divine, my darling. xoxo

  • Reply
    David Norton
    December 23, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Hi, do you have a less-healthy version? My wife, a native Minnesotan, is trying in vain to recreate the Dayton’s/Macy’s recipe and nothing is as chewy.

    • Reply
      December 23, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Haha! Good question; no we just have this version! Have you tried it? It’s not quite the same but still delicious :)

      • Reply
        David Norton
        December 23, 2016 at 3:32 pm

        We did Sonja, thank you, it was very good! Just a little different than she remembered.

        • Reply
          December 28, 2016 at 4:32 pm

          Haha yes, it’s not too close! We’ll have to try to do a copycat recipe sometime!

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    Happy Cooking! ~ Sonja & Alex