Holiday magic with gingerbread cookies: the inside-out cut

Hi. It’s me again. The laziest holiday cookie baker ever.

Well, not really lazy. I prefer to think of myself as LEAN. Not in physique, surely; I fight the daily battle, like so many of you out there. Eat, exercise, eat, exercise, a fulcrum in the center of a see-saw that seems always to be tipping, ever so slightly, towards “eat” and away from “exercise.” Especially during the holidays.

LEAN is actually a business/manufacturing concept that King Arthur Flour adopted a couple of years ago. It gently guides us towards making every step count: whether it’s packing a box with mixes and bags of flour, placing a purchase order, or baking muffins.

Think time-and–motion studies, efficiency experts, “Cheaper by the Dozen” (ring a bell?). But not in a crack-the-whip, assembly-line sort of way. More like organize your workspace so you can find what you want without plowing through piles of paper…


This qualifies as a “clean” desk, for me.

Label your file cabinet drawers so you don’t waste time searching for what you want…


Important stuff on top, right? I happen to like Christmas very much.

Or, in the case of us test bakers, organize your containers of chocolate chips and flour and sugar and nuts and…


This may not LOOK organized, but I know exactly what’s in each of these jars and canisters. That’s King Arthur Flour with the green lid, next to the bread machine.

Now, LEAN works better with some of us here at King Arthur than others. It’s perfect for fulfillment, the folks who pack and ship your orders; you saw that in Susan’s post last week. They’re cranking on all cylinders, everything happening like clockwork. I admire them.

Me? I’m not so successful at LEAN. It seems every path I follow in the kitchen is a meandering one. I mean, I start out saying “I’m going to bake sugar cookies using this recipe,” but my well-laid plan quickly deteriorates to “What if I add cinnamon chips, and just a touch of almond extract, and then flatten them REALLY flat…” In the kitchen, I seldom draw a straight line between two points.

Nonetheless, I manage to find shortcuts when the project involves something I don’t like doing. Like fussing over cutout cookies. And maybe I can count myself LEAN because I discovered it’s easy to make pretty cutout cookies just by making normal round drop cookies, then cutting out their centers with a cutter once they’re baked. HA! Cutout cookies without rolling dough, cutting, re-rolling, transferring one by one to the cookie sheet… LEAN. And tasty.

Here’s one of my favorite spice cookie recipes: Soft Ginger-Molasses Cookies. Let’s make them into cutouts—the LEAN way.


We’ll start by beating butter and sugar till they’re nicely combined. Notice I’m using one of the new Beater Blades, which we finally have available on our Web site. They’re flexible, spatula-like blades on a polycarbonate base, good for cookie dough, cake and muffin batter, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, or anything else where you want to scrape the bowl as you beat.


Next come the molasses (or molasses and ginger syrup), baking soda, salt, and spices—cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.


It’s beginning to look like molasses cookie dough, huh?


Beat in 2 eggs. The dough will start to gain body.


Finally, beating in the flour gives it some real substance.


Drop balls of dough into sugar. Regular granulated sugar will disappear, leaving the merest hint of crunch.


Coarse (sparkling) sugar will give a subtle, slightly glittery crunch.


Swedish pearl sugar adds mild crunch and a pretty, “frosty” look to the cookies.


An alternate method of coating dough balls with sugar is to shake them gently in a zip-top plastic bag.


Space the cookies on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets. You can space them this way…


…or, to make extra-sure they don’t run into one another, stagger the dough balls, like this.


Bake the cookies till they’re barely beginning to brown around the edges, and they puff up in the center.


See the puff in the center? They’ll settle as they cool.


Let the cookies cool to lukewarm, then take your mini cookie cutters, and carefully cut out the  centers. I was able to cut these cookies easily even after they’d cooled completely, as they were soft. However, if you bake them a bit longer and they become crunchier, it’ll be harder to make a clean cut out of the center. Thus, best to cut while they’re warm (not hot; warm).


Nice, huh?


Use a bunch of different shaped cutters, for variety.


If you do all of this right on the baking sheet, you’ll contain the crumbs.


Different; cute; and, considering the steps I saved, LEAN!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Soft Ginger-Molasses Cookies.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Nabisco Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps, 30¢/ounce

Pepperidge Farm Gingerman Cookies, 68¢/ounce

Bake at home: Soft Ginger-Molasses Cookies, 16¢/ounce

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Sue

    Those little cutouts would be adorable as decorations on a cake or pie!!

    Indeed – it’s fun to cut out your leftover scraps of pie dough and lay them around the edge of the crust… PJH

  2. Micha

    I recently made a batch of Gingersnaps (using the KAF recipe in Bakers Companion, approximately), and the feedback from hubby was:”The only improvement I could suggest would be for them to be more chewy.”
    I reminded him I’d made snaps, which should be crisp 🙂
    I’ll have to make some of these for him…
    Thanks PJ!

    Yes, these are definitely chewy if you don’t over-bake – these will be more his cup of tea, I imagine- Enjoy! PJH

  3. Susan

    At last! Now I’ll use those cookie cutters that have been trapped in a box for years! Thank you for showing us a way to be LEAN.

  4. Alvara

    P.J., You’re really keeping me busy. I have Harvest Grain Ciabatta bread rising in my bread machine, that new pie crust cooling in the fridge waiting to be rolled out and here you have another cookie for me to make. I made the lime cookies and they were a bit hit. The cut out butter cookies will be next. I have become addicted to my sourdough starter, loved the chocolate cake it made and several breads. My daughter and her husband are coming home for Thanksgiving and I have to get the “magic in the middle” cookies made today.I mailed them some and they loved them. I go to the gym three times a week now so I will have to up it to five. I am anxiously awaiting my KA order. It should come next week.
    Happy Thanksgiving. I love this blog. I read it every day and am disappointed if there is nothing new.

    I know what you mean about the gym… I have to be a 7X/week gal! Glad you’re enjoying connecting here, Alvara. Wish I could do a new one every day, but other duties call… PJH

  5. Kristi

    oh my god. I feel like I’m reading my own thoughts written here in this blog…I HATE to make cut out cookies and after reading these past two blog posts I feel like I can finally go for it again. My laziness usually meant that all cut out cookies would be round with the only difference being in the color sugar toppings (they’re like ornaments…) but now I feel inspired to try something different. Thank you for your inspirational post!

    I’m with you, girl. You can do it! You can actually make any kind of drop cookie that gets pretty flat and cut the center out while it’s warm; even crunchy ones are soft enough when they’re just out of the oven, though you do have to work fast with the crunchier ones. I’ve been thinking I should try making the Fudge Drop Cookies a little bigger, and cutting the centers out -add a little peppermint extract to the dough – hmmmmm….. Now YOU have inspired me! PJH

    Hey, take a look at the end of the Fudge Drops blog – I did the cutouts, they look fabulous…. PJH

  6. Morningstar

    Mmmm gingerbread. I loved your mandelbrot recipe you posted a while back. The recipe made so many I ended up sending them (and your blog address) to friends around the country. Wish I had seen this yesterday as I was doing the roll, cut, transfer thing with a batch of sugar cookies while trying to hold my two-month-old and supervise my three-year-old.

    Hi Morningstar,
    Sounds like you had your hands full yesterday making memories as well as cookies. Hope you had a wonderful time!

    Happy Baking!
    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

  7. Michelle

    I just made these cookies last night for company I am having over on Monday. I don’t know if there will be any left they are just SOOOO good! I didn’t make the ginger syrup (didn’t have any fresh ginger in the house) but I would love to find out what they taste like with it…maybe next time. I have added these to my cookie list for the holiday season! I wanted to make a gingerbread house this year but with an active almost 3 year old I don’t think it would be wise. These cookies are a great alternative to that because you get the great gingerbread type flavor and they look really nice with the sugar baked on them.

    Hi Michelle,
    Glad to hear the cookies are a big hit. You just might be baking again before Monday eh?
    For the gingerbread house with little ones, try graham crackers ‘glued’ with royal icing. 4 halves for walls, 2 halves for a tiny roof. And PLENTY of candy!

    Happy Baking!
    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    1. Helen in CA

      learned in pre-school to build this graham cracker house around a milk carton, you know the bitty ones that are single serving size. That way the house won’t collapse what w/ an active 3yo building it

  8. Sharon

    P.J. I cut out the label from my various KA flours and tape them to the front of my cannisters – that way you know if you’re using AP instead of Bread flour, etc. I made that mistake once to disastrous results, now I can tell one from the other, and so can anyone else (who shall remain nameless) who hands it to me!

    EXCELLENT idea, Sharon. (I used to have “AP” written on my canister, but now I jut put the other ones under the counterso I know AP is always there in front of me.) PJH

  9. Linda

    I’m glad someone else dislikes cutout cookies as much as me. I love baking but not all that busy work to get the cookie to the cookie jar. I do cut out cookies for a Bake Day once a year and I feel that should be enough for anyone! These look great and I will have to try them out. I like that idea of the ginger syrup as well. Can a large quantity be made and put in the frig for use? Does it have a shelf-life in the frig? Thanks for another great recipe and idea for cutouts!

    These reverse cutout cookies sound like a good match for you, and for several other bakers. The ginger syrup recipe yields 2 1/4 cups of syrup that can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely in a non-reactive container. Happy Cookie Baking! Irene at Baker’s Hotline

  10. diana l

    hi…love the blog…the only comment i have is that in the picture of the kitchen i notice pegboard…we own a restaurant and the inspector says no to pegboard…too hard to clean…visited kaf this past fall and enyoyed the store very much…would have loved to see the test kitchen next door…talked to one of the students on a break and he was enjoying the experience and learning a lot…thanks…dml

    Diana, not being a restaurant, I think we don’t deal with the level of activity that you do. Food doesn’t splatter near the pegboard; I don’t do any mixing there. My mixer is probably 5′ away, and our stove is WAY far away, and we very seldom sauté or cook anything that would send grease into the air, so I think we’re safe with pegboard. And next time you visit the store – c’mon down and see the test kitchen. We’re 1.3 miles down the road from the store, at the catalogue building/warehouse. – PJH

  11. Kim

    I’ve been thinking I should try making the Fudge Drop Cookies a little bigger, and cutting the centers out -add a little peppermint extract to the dough – hmmmmm….. Now YOU have inspired me! PJH

    PJH please make these and post them so I can see how it turns out and than try them.

    Well, you might just talk me into it… PJH

  12. Trisha

    P. J., if one of your recipes lists 4 oz of butter, do you weigh it? I find that a stick of butter without the wrapper only weighs 3 7/8 oz. If a recipe calls for 2 cups (16 oz) butter, 4 sticks would be 1/2 oz short of 16 oz. Will that make a difference? Also, do you weigh your eggs? A large egg can vary so much in weight and if there are several called for, it could make a difference. How precise should I be? I use my scale for everything, by the way. Such a timesaver!’

    Trisha, in a recipe with a pound of butter, no, 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) wouldn’t make a difference. Also, I’ve found that the sticks of butter I use do weigh at least 4 ounces; so I wouldn’t assume that all sticks weigh 3 7/8 ounces. Maybe you just got an aberration, or maybe the brand you buy is consistently short? Might want to check that. As for eggs, a large egg (out of the shell) weighs 50g pretty consistently for me. A few grams difference here or there won’t make a difference. However, some brands are more consistent than others. Find a brand that’s consistent, and stick with it; that’s my advice. PJH

  13. Sandy

    I’m curious. Why do you have all the stones on your desk? Love this blog!

    I like rocks; they speak to me. There’s a certain beach south of Boston where I grew up, with the most wonderful stones, perfectly rounded from constantly being rolled back and forth over the shore, for centuries… So, no baking reason, in case you were wondering! PJH

  14. Gina

    Ok, I didn’t have any fresh ginger on hand to make the ginger syrup, so I just made the straight molasses version. But I chopped up six small disks of crystallized ginger (about a quarter cup total) and tossed the bits into the batter. WOW! The bits of candied ginger gave the cookies a real zippy kick-in-the-pants. DELISH! Thanks for the recipe, PJ! 🙂


    Gina, I actually like the molasses version better than the ginger syrup version, which I find too mild. I like ginger syrup more as a condiment than an ingredient. But the crystallized ginger sounds divine… thanks for the suggestion- PJH

  15. Kristi

    I spent last night after the kids went to bed making these. They turned out really well! So pretty…There was a post a few weeks ago about the whole, having to bring some sort of goodie to your kid’s school and having zero time to prepare. This happened to me yesterday when I dropped my kids off at daycare and last night I found myself standing in my kitchen at 10pm finishing the last of these sweet cookies. My husband said, “why don’t you just stop off at the grocery store in the way to daycare and buy a thing of Oreos?” No way man. That’s just not my style.
    Thanks for this recipe, the cookies turned out so well and make me look like such a pro!

  16. Gina

    OOPS! Sorry to hog the comments section again, but I just realized a big oversight in my post above. When I said that I added about 1/4 cup of crystallized ginger bits to the dough, I forgot that I had only made a half a “tester” batch of the cookies. So for the full recipe, you might want to increase the candied ginger addition to a half cup. Just FYI…

  17. Kim

    My mom’s recipe for Swedish ginger calls for sorghum instead of molasses. Have you ever tried that instead? I’m not sure what the difference is, but it is harder to find.

    Not much difference – molasses has slightly more of an “edge” to the flavor; I’ve always found sorghum a bit sweeter-rasting, less “caramel-y.” PJH

  18. Dezzie

    Yippie! This was an Awsome short cut idea… especially since I was “volunteered” to make 3 dozen halloween cut out cookies for my son’s 1st grade class the very next day!

  19. JoeleenAchurch

    Yummmy! These look delish. I am just wondering when you are making the ginger syrup do you cover it with a lid while it is boiling for an hour or leave it uncovered?

    Thank you!!!!
    You’ll leave the ginger syrup uncovered to allow the water to evaporate, so the syrup will thicken. Great question! ~ MaryJane

  20. Karen

    I’m getting ready to make these yummy-sounding cookies for a church bake sale. I can’t find any info on the yield. Can you help?

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Karen, this recipe makes about 3 1/2 dozen fairly large (palm-size, about 3″) cookies. Good luck with the bake sale! PJH

    2. Amy Trage

      The yield is always at the top of the recipe page on the right. This one yields about 3 1/2 dozen palm-size (abut 3″) cookies. ~Amy

  21. Lindsey Glick

    I love these cookies! One question though, would it be possible to freeze them? If not, what’s the best way to keep them and for how long will they stay good, do you think?


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