For years I’ve been making spiced cookies for my family and friends; and for years I’ve been asked what’s the difference between the three most common spiced cookies: Snickerdoodle, Gingerbread, and Ginger Snaps. The truth is, they are all very similarly composed cookies, with a few different ingredients and cooking techniques that drastically change the taste and structure of each cookie.
The history of the Snickerdoodle is up for much debate. Could be Dutch, could be German, or could be from New England of the United States. Origin aside, the snickerdoodle is the most sought after spiced cookie there is, and it couldn’t be easier to make.
Many of the ingredients are the same ingredients used in gingersnaps and gingerbread (i.e. flour, baking powder, butter, eggs, cinnamon, and sugar); but this cookie differs as the spices (a cinnamon/sugar blend) are not mixed into the cookie dough. The simple spice mixture instead coats the outside of the dough, hence providing this treat with several layers of different flavors; a spicy, yet sugary outer layer and a simple and sweet center. This differs from the Gingerbread and Ginger Snap cookies, which are instead a conglomerate of ingredients mixed together and baked in unison.
Gingerbread has been around for centuries, in one form or another, but was introduced to England from the Middle East around the 11th century.
During the 16th century the recipe had been perfected, to what we know and love today, by none other than Queen Elizabeth. It was she who made the treat with flour, rather than breadcrumbs (as previously baked), and made them into the shapes of dignitaries. This became an immediate trend, which has resulted in the eventual production of Gingerbread men and even later production of the Gingerbread House, as inspired by the tale of Hansel and Gretel in the 19th century.
As mentioned, the cookie is a mixture of flour, eggs, cinnamon and sugar, and is spiced with ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise. The ingredients are all mixed, rolled out, cut using shaped molds and baked accordingly. The tradition can be further executed by topping the classic cookie with white icing to bring out the details of each figure.
Ginger Snaps are simply a variation of the traditional Gingerbread cookie. They’re known for their crisper quality; their “snap” if you will.
Introduced in colonial times, the main differences between Gingerbread and Ginger Snaps are a longer bake time for an extra crisp and the use of molasses versus sugar. Molasses was used as substitute for sugar as it was the more affordable alternative to sweetening.
The debates of which are better, soft vs. crispy, spicy vs. sweet, has been a topic of baking discussions since…ever! This is why most classic recipes come with a variety of ways to execute.
Between the Snickerdoodle, Gingerbread, and Gingersnap, there is something for everyone to enjoy!