Gingerbread Redwork: cookies to keep you in stitches


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens… ah, mittens! Such a delightful part of winter. The snowiest days can seem a little bonnier and brighter if you have a warm, soft pair of mittens. Why, just the other day at my knitting circle…

I was showing a pair of black baby alpaca fingerless mitts that I had knitted up. My goodness, those mitts are soft! Just thinking about sliding my cold little digits into them on a frosty morning makes me smile.

I’ve only been knitting since July, so these mitts were one of my first big projects. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the skill levels of the lovely ladies that I knit with, though. Tiny little baby sweaters, full-length cabled socks, and a coat of many colors that is spectacular – these are just a few of the projects I’ve seen go by in the last few weeks.

Taking inspiration from my fellow fiber artists, my gingerbread cookies this year feature hand “stitching” instead of lots of piped icing. The beautiful thing about this project is that you need very few tools, zero specialty ingredients, and ANY cookie cutter will work.

To get started, gather a couple of fine-tipped paintbrushes (no plastic bristles, though); a paint palette or plate; gel paste food coloring, and a wee nip of vodka.  Oh, and your favorite cutout cookies.

Let’s make some Gingerbread Cookies right now, as they will need to chill a bit before baking, and sit overnight once iced. Spreading the work out over 2 days makes it seem like more of a fun project and less of a day-long forced cookie march.

In the bowl of your mixer combine:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (melted, or very, very soft)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cloves

Mix until well combined. You can see that I went with the very, very soft butter instead of the melted this time. Melted butter combines better with the syrupy molasses, but cold butter will just lump up and spin around the bowl.

Beat in:

  • 1 large egg

Then add:

This makes a soft, slightly sticky dough that will stiffen up beautifully in the fridge as it rests.

For thick dough like this, a bowl scraper is the way to go. Flexible but strong, it lets you get into every curve of the bowl, like an extension of your hand. It really only took me three good swipes to get all the dough out of the bowl and onto plastic wrap. After that it was straight to the fridge for a couple of hours to chill and firm up. (For the dough I mean, not me).

A generous dusting of flour, a h andy rolling pin and some cookies cutters from your stash, and you’re nearly there.

There. Fragrant and sturdy cookies cooled and ready for their coat of white icing.

Royal icing thinned to a spreadable consistency makes the perfect canvas for your stitches. Check out this blog on decorated cookies for how-to’s.  See you here when you get back.

Our cookies are dried and ready to go, so let’s get stitching.

To create your paint, place a few drops of gel food coloring on your plate or palette, and add about 1/2 teaspoon vodka or other clear alcohol. Stir together and practice a few brushstrokes until you’re happy with the color and consistency. Think back to first grade when you worked with watercolors and you’ll be fine.

Why alcohol? It evaporates so quickly at room temperature, the paint will dry in no time. You can also use a clear extract, like lemon.

Painted stitches are quite easy when you break it down. They’re just little dashed lines with even spaces between.

See those little blobs of paint? Be sure to blot off the tip of your brush to avoid those. Patience will be rewarded with smooth and even lines.

Keep adding stitched details until you’re happy with your design. Try a Web search for needlepoint, redwork, and cross-stitch designs if you need inspiration.

Let the paint dry for at least an hour before serving. If you’re packing up the cookies to share with friends, let dry for a few hours, to be on the safe side.

Hey, it’s my mittens!

For a blanket stitch-edging, like the snowman’s scarf or the edge of the mitten, think letter U. Basically, you want to paint little letter u’s all along the edge, joining them as you go. uuuuu.

Remember, play and have fun. The joy of hand-stitched mittens is that they’re not perfect, they have little flaws that separate them from the machine-churned store-bought ones. You can see where Gram’s may have slipped a stitch, or where Mom forgot to purl.

The joy of hand-made cookies is that someone took the time to cut, bake, ice, and decorate something for someone special. And that warms the heart more than any skein of wool.

Happy stitching!

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. strandjss

    I love these – absolutely gorgeous and doable even for me – thanks for always posting such great recipes and blog articles
    This is really a passion for me, so I’m thrilled when it inspires others. Have a great time creating your own masterpieces. ~ MaryJane

  2. nelll

    These are lovely. Makes me think two things: 1) I need to run right out and bake and decorate these (never mind the work I’m supposed to be doing right now) and 2) I need to be skillful and patient enough to bake and decorate these.

    I wonder about the texture of these cookies. I remember decorated gingerbread cookies as looking yummy, but being hard and dry and not particularly tasty. Seems like everyone I know likes a soft cookie.

    Is it such a bad thing to decorate a soft or chewy/bendy cookie? Won’t the hard icing help to stiffen them up and make them stackable?

    I have a recipe for a soft ginger cookie that is iced, but not with decorating icing. Of course, I can’t roll out that dough; it’s a drop dough that makes round cookies. If I was content with just round cookies (Christmas ornament-shaped?), would not the icing and the technique work just as well, and then I’d have the soft cookies and the pretty look?

    That really won’t work. The ginger bread needs to be hard and sturdy. Soft ginger bread will not only not hold the candy, but will also disintegrate. Frankly the harder and dryer the better. Betsy@KAF

  3. "Paul from Ohio"

    I just KNEW you’d be up to at least one decorating blog! Tremendously original and making it fun instead of a make-the-cookies haul mood that many might get into this time of year. Amazing lady MJ. I’ll bet you also created the Polar Bears and Eskimo’s on the KAF home page! Happy Holiday baking to all. As a watercolor artist, boy are these right up my snowy woods trail!
    hee, hee, nope, you guessed wrong! The fabulous and talented Brook made the holiday cookies and houses this year. I have been doing art with Brook since she was in 5th grade or so, and we’ve worked on several projects together here, so props to her. ~ MaryJane

  4. marcin

    Beautiful! I will have a houseful of little kids here Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I would do anything to be able to put a plate of these delightful cookies out–some for Santa too. But no talent in my bones to do it with. Ugh. The pain. You make it look so possible. Perhaps if I make some practice batches, I can get it between now and then. I think I’ll have to try. What do you use for a paintbrush?
    You can totally do this, and the kids will be totally floored too. I actually use a set of small brushes that I purchased at an art store years ago. They have short chubby handles on purpose, so are great for close up work. Just a nice pointy brush from the craft store (JoAnn’s, Michaels) will fit the bill. ~ MaryJane

  5. epryga

    I love these. Thanks for the tip on using vodka or clear extracts in the paint. I have been doing something similar for years with a buttermilk sugar cookie cut in the shape of a wreath. I use the same white icing and then paint green wispy brush strokes all around the wreath in a sparse stylzed way to create the impression of greenery and then piped red bows on the bottom. This is a way to decorate cookies that really lets your creative juices flow and keeps your cookies from getting too glopped up with frosting.
    I love the wispy pines idea. Thanks so much for sharing. ~ MaryJane

  6. churtenb

    In reference to this earlier post, what will happen to the cookies if they are frozen with icing?

    anne19714 Says:
    November 27th, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Are you able to freeze this cookie dough for baking at a later date?
    Yes, you can freeze the unbaked dough, or the baked but not iced cookies. ~ MaryJane
    Great question. If you freeze cookies with icing on them, the icing tends to sog up and get runny when the cookies thaw. If they are colored or painted, the colors will run and bleed together and make mud out of your lovely cookies. So says she, the voice of experience ;) ~ MaryJane

  7. argentyne

    I always like my gingerbread and gingerbread cookies to be spicy. But I may have to try this just to spend some time painting. :)

    As for knitting, MJ, you’ll be surprised how fast you are doing things you never though you’d be able to make. Come join us on Ravelry, if you’re not there yet. LOTS of patterns and support!

    (dangerpuddle on Ravelry)
    I’m definitely a Rav girl, I look at new patterns nearly every night. I’ve just begun cabling, and I even did a little colorwork the other night, but that’s a bit hard, so I’m sticking to easier stuff when I’m distracted by baking. ~ MJ (I’ll definitely look you up on Ravelry!)

  8. AnneMarie

    You can also use the edible ink markers that KA sells :) Although NO decorating should be done if you’ve been into the rum cake in the previous entry!!
    hee hee hee, that might make for some interesting designs though! ;) ~ MaryJane

  9. lindadv

    Baking and knitting! Two of my obsessions, not sure about cookie decorating but I love your ideas and designs.

    I have been knitting since last December and you are way ahead of me with the cables and colorwork! Ravelry and King Arthur recipe searches are an every day thing!

  10. shippeb

    These look delish! I agree with Anne / dangerpuddle, you’ll do just fine with the knitting, faster than you believe.

    (shippeb on Ravelry)

  11. Nelll

    I’m puzzled by Betsy’s answer to my post above. What candies? I’m not trying to build a gingerbread house here.

    I just want to know if it’s possible to ice a soft cookie with this icing and use this decorating technique on normal, round drop-cookies that will be lying on a plate. Why would they disintegrate?

    So sorry, I must have misunderstood your question. Yes, you can use royal icing on the soft ginger cookies. Remember, royal icing hardens quickly, also the cookie will be soft and the icing will be hard. Betsy@KAF

  12. bakerrn

    Hey, someone needs to start a King Arthur Flour Bakers group on Ravelry. I’ll join! (BakerRN on Ravelry)

    I love the needlework/baking theme on these cookies!

    Excellent suggestion! I’ll see if we get any takers to get ourselves up on Ravlery. In the meantime, please feel free to add any comments or suggestions on how to take these a few steps further!! Kim@KAF

    Wouldn’t a Rav group be a ton of fun? I’ll have to bring it up at the next web meeting. ~ MaryJane

  13. nelll

    Soft cookie, hard icing, pretty designs: soft and ‘crunchy-sugary’ at the same time. Sounds to me like it could work for my cookie-eaters:

    Thanks for the clarification, Betsy!

  14. nelll

    Just looked at the snowmen and noticed the X’s for eyes. Isn’t that the symbol for ‘dead’ in cartoons? Maybe French knots there?

    We were going for a home sewn look here, using cross-stitch or outline stitches from embroidery techniques with our gel paste colors or food doodler markers. Your french knots sound like another “stitch” that would work well! Happy Decorating – Irene @ KAF

  15. stephendag

    If I’m not writing, I’m either baking or knitting! Definitely set up a KAF group on Ravelry!
    I’ll have to see what we can come up with after the busy holiday season. Thanks for all of the encouragement y’all! ~ MaryJane

    1. PJ Hamel

      MJ is tied up right now, Robert – but I can answer for her. Yes, you can certainly use any coloring agent you like that yields the color you want, without thinning the icing too much. Good luck – PJH

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