Colonial Ginger Cookies

Warm, spicy traditional ginger cake-style cookie. Perfect for morning snacks, late afternoon tea and of course, cookie trays. Not too sweet, not too spicy–just right! Makes 4 dozen.

These chewy molasses ginger cookies are one of my favorite parts of Christmas! They are soft and cakey and full of spiced flavor. They are similar to the colonial gingerbread cookies found in Williamsburg, Virginia at Raleigh Tavern.

Colonial Ginger Cookies

Warm, spicy traditional ginger cake-style cookie. Perfect for morning snacks, late afternoon tea and of course, cookie trays. Not too sweet, not too spicy–just right!
5 from 2 votes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Holidays
Servings 4 dozen cookies


  • 6 cups Plain flour, plus more for dusting as needed
  • 1.5 cups molasses (12 oz.), unsulphured 12 oz. is a regular glass jar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed tightly
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. allspice, ground
  • 1 tsp. ginger, ground
  • 1 tsp. cloves, ground
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
  • 2 tsp. baking soda (dissolved in 3 tbls. cold water)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting


Read all instructions first. This recipe makes a large batch (approx. 48 cookies) so you’ll need large mixing bowls.

    To make the cookie dough:

    • In a large bowl, cream together the egg, shortening and brown sugar.
    • Add in the molasses to the creamed mixture (this may take a few minutes to get out all 12 oz.)
    • Stir in the 1/2 cup cold water. Set wet mixture aside.
    • In a separate large bowl, sift together the 6 cups of flour plus the spices (1 tsp. each: allspice, cloves, ginger and cinnamon).
    • Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, a little at a time. Stir in until all dry ingredients are incorporated but do not over mix.
    • Stir in the 2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 3 tbls. cold water to the dough.
    • Chill dough at least 20 minutes or up to 3 days (can also be frozen if not using right away).

    To bake the cookies:

    • Preheat oven to 350 oF. Line several large cookie sheets with parchment paper and dust your work surface with flour.
    • Roll out the chilled dough very thick (approx. 1/2 inch) and cut as desired (recommend 3 inch biscuit cutter but shapes work well, too). 3 inch round cookies is the standard here but…
       If you want smaller, more cakey cookies, simply pinch off dough and roll into a ball. Cookies will be taller and a little lighter.
       Dust surface and/or cutter lightly with flour as needed but brush away excess flour before baking.
    • Place cookies on lined cookie sheets far apart (about 2 inches apart) and bake 12-17 minutes, or until when lightly touched, no imprint remains.
      Be careful not to over bake–use the center rack and don’t crowd your oven.


    I cannot stress how important it is to use parchment paper or your Silpat. Aluminum foil does not prevent these from sticking (but it doesn’t affect flavor at all).
     I’ve made these both by chilling before (as called for) and working straight after making the dough. If you do not chill, dough may be stickier and harder to cut but will still work with a little added flour. I recommend chilling for at least 20 minutes, though.
      If you are having trouble getting all 12 oz. of molasses out of the jar, you can substitute 3 tbls. brown sugar for 1/4 cup molasses (though I wouldn’t substitute any more than that). Thanks to The Balance for the tip!
     If a glaze is desired, wait until cookies are cool and then drizzle or dip. Dust with powdered sugar for a simple and pretty cookie.
     Use the best spices you can buy–the ginger especially should be good quality.
     I recommend using dark molasses, but do not use blackstrap
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    One of my favorite memories growing up was visiting Williamsburg, VA each year with my Grandma, Marie. We would go for a few days during the week after Christmas while I was on Christmas Break. We went primarily to shop (love those outlet malls!) but occasionally would stop by Colonial Williamsburg for a meal or some sight-seeing. I loved walking around the old town and pretending to live in the Colonial era. I was a history nerd and the historians in Williamsburg have really outdone themselves there–you truly feel immersed in that culture. 

    Years before Grandma Ree and I started making our one-a-year trek across the state, she and my aunt, Arlene, would go on the occasional trip to Williamsburg. Arlene said the ginger cookies were the best she’d ever had, and worth making a 3 hour drive. On one of their many tours, Arlene asked to get the recipe for the famed-ginger cookies and she wrote it down like any good baker would–without half of the instructions. Since I’ve inherited her recipe collection, I’ve inherited her written version of this recipe and I’m excited to share it with you!

    I can’t verify if it’s *exactly* like the ones sold in Williamsburg, but I can 100% tell you they are delicious and will hit all the warm, spicy notes of Christmas in a Hallmark movie sort of way.

    These cookies are rather cakey, with a perfect blend of spices and not-too-sweet molasses flavor. They can be rolled out and cut into big (3in) round cookies or simply rolled into a ball and dropped (my preference). They also work great for cut-out shapes because they don’t spread (but they should rise).

    I’ve rolled them out straight after mixing the dough and I’ve also chilled before rolling (as the recipe intends)—either way works fine. See notes in recipe below for more details. Enjoy these with coffee or milk for a real treat–or top them with a sugar glaze for added sweetness. I simply sprinkle them with powdered sugar and they are divine. Be sure to share with all of your loved ones!

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