Have you ever noticed how certain aromas enter your nose—then waft down to the deepest nooks and crannies of your soul? They can unlock memories you didn’t even realize were buried there. Simply put: specific smells and tastes take us to our “happy place.” And that’s exactly where I ended up when we stepped into the kitchen at the Williamsburg Lodge for a private baking lesson.
Like many of you, I can remember walking into the Raleigh Tavern Bakery as a little girl and waiting impatiently as my parents ordered a round of hot ciders and gingerbread cookies for my sisters and me. Fast forward to 2014. As I stood watching the chefs add a cup of “this” and a pinch of “that” and the combination of cinnamon, ginger, and molasses started to fill the kitchen—it hit me. The smell of gingerbread is synonymous with Colonial Williamsburg. You can’t have the true experience without indulging in one of our signature treats. Whether you’re a CW veteran or a rookie, you’re in luck. I’m going to show you exactly how to create this magic in your very own kitchen.
Head Pastry Chef Rodney Diehl actually started his Colonial Williamsburg career as a teenager in the Raleigh Tavern Bakery. He and Chef Karl Saunders, the man we affectionately refer to as “Karl the Cookie Guy” could probably make this recipe in their sleep. In the last year alone, Karl made 587,000 of these. Can you imagine? That’s more than half a million cookies!
Karl uses scales to precisely measure each ingredient–making sure it isn’t an ounce above or below what’s expected. And each industrial-sized batch he whips up yields 2,296 cookies. The sheer weight of the ingredients alone will blow your mind: 150 lbs of flour, 40 lbs of sugar, 18 lbs of butter, and the list doesn’t end there.
While I’m sure you’d love to eat 2,000 cookies—I’m guessing a couple dozen will be enough. And there’s a good chance you already have what you need right there in your pantry. Take a minute to check out the recipe, then scroll down for step-by-step baking directions from our experts.
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp baking soda
- 1 cup margarine
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup unsulphured molasses
- 4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, sifted
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Mix well.
- Add softened margarine, evaporated milk, and molasses. Mix well.
- Add the flour one cup at a time, stirring constantly.
- The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to your fingers.
- Knead the dough for a smoother texture.
- Add up to ½ cup additional flour if needed to prevent sticking.
- When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured surface and cut desired shapes.
- Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets (or parchment lined pans) for 10-12 minutes.
Chef Rodney says to mix your butter and sugar first. You want to do this until they get nice and creamy. Then, in a separate bowl, combine all of your dry ingredients, including your flour and spices. Set those aside. Next, add your milk and molasses to the butter mixture until they’re well blended. Then, slowly, one cup at a time, add your flour to the mix.
Once your dough is ready, spread it out and cut into whichever shapes you desire. If you don’t have a round cookie cutter on hand, you can always use the bottom of a glass. That’s a trick my grandmother taught me—one that also works for homemade biscuits! You’ll know your cookies are done if they spring back when you touch them.
UPDATE: This isn’t the only trick we have up our sleeve. Chef Rodney revealed these five behind-the-scenes secrets (including some simple substitutions) to make this recipe taste exactly like the recipe so many of us have come to love.