Date-sweetened Gingerbread Men for a Christmas Tree Hunt

 We headed into the woods this weekend to hunt for our Christmas tree and a log for our yuletide fire.   Living close to nature as we do, after all the National Forest is within walking distance of our home, we relish the turning of the seasons and, perhaps, feel their urgency more than most people.  With the darkest day of the year approaching and what promises to be another six months of blanketing snows, we took the time to welcome the season with a Christmas tree hunt and a picnic on snowshoes.

When my husband and I first began dating eleven years ago, we had little money and a lot of time.  (I imagine not much has changed since then except that, since welcoming our boy into our lives, we’ve even less time.)  But with little money and a lot of time, we took our dates outside – into the wilds on snowshoes.  It was lovely those first few years – the two of us tramping through the pillows of snow from which naked aspens shot up defiantly.

We’d pack a picnic – usually crackers, a hunk of cheese and a thermos of hot chocolate, warm cider or a bottle of cheap wine.  And we’d eat, and kiss, under a cloudless bluebird sky nestled among the aspens and conifers who could, in their secrecy, hide my blushing cheeks.  Those, dearest readers, were the greatest indulgences of our early love.  That is, until we eloped to Amsterdam.

Of course, time goes by, and before you know it you get lost within the machinations of your life.  Babies are born.   Business must be done.  Family must be visited and, before you know what you lost, you’re exhausted.

So this weekend, Christmas tree permit in hand, we packed up the car, the kid, his friend and a picnic in an effort to reclaim some of the wonder we lost to the doldrums of life.  And ever the chronicling blogger I am, I posted to Nourished Kitchen’s Facebook page that we were off.

Snowshoeing, if you do it right, can take a lot out of you.  Depending on the depth of the snow, the pitch of the hill and the speed at which you travel, it can be physically demanding, but wonderously fun nonetheless.  So, just as we did when we first started dating, I always pack a picnic – something light to eat that can help break up the day, satisfy the belly and appease the little ones.

First, I made my favorite gingerbread men (and for you who adhere to the GAPS diet, you’ll be happy to know it is a gingerbread man recipe even you can enjoy). I’m particularly partial to this gingerbread man recipe because it is satiating, and only slightly sweet. It’s a simple combination of blanched almond flour, date sugar, eggs and organic spices which I typically buy in bulk here.  Almond flour and eggs provide protein and good quality fats while date sugar isn’t much of a sugar at all and is, rather, simply dates that have been thoroughly dried and ground into a powder.

And, along with our date-sweetened gingerbread men, I packed fresh apples, a hunk of beautiful artisan-crafted raw milk cheddar cheese and a thermos filled with warm goats milk, spiced by a sprinkling of nutmeg and sweetened by a bit of blackstrap molasses.

With that, we ventured into the woods, where we met friends and neighbors who all sought that perfect Christmas tree.  We tramped through the snow, discussed the abominable snowman and when my husband disappeared for ten minutes the children were convinced he’d been eaten, wanted to leave him for dead and head to the car with a fervent urgency only a 6-year old can muster.  They settled down, though.  My husband rejoined us, we found the perfect tree (a 13-foot spruce!) and while he chopped down the tree and packed the sled we all settled in for a little snack before heading home.

And I hope this recipe, humble as it is, brings you as much joy as it did our family.

date-sweetened gingerbread men

By Jenny Published: December 12, 2011

  • Yield: 12 to 16 gingerbread men
  • Prep: 05 mins
  • Cook: 12 to 15 minutes (baking per batch) mins
  • Ready In: 17 mins

This recipe calls for date sugar and almond flour. Date sugar is a finicky sugar, highly absorbent, and you cannot substitute another sweetener for it in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups almond flour (plus extra for flouring your working surface)
  • 3 cups date sugar (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE)
  • 5 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 tsp unrefined sea salt
  • 3 tbsp powdered ginger
  • 1 tbsp powdered cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • dried currants (to decorate the cookies)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Beat almond flour, date sugar, eggs, sea salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves together until they form a solid lump of dough.
  3. Flour your working surface and rolling pin. Spread the gingerbread men dough onto your work surface and roll until about 1/4-inch thick. Cut out with a gingerbread man cookie cutter. Decorate with currants and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet or a baking stone and bake until fragrant and slightly browned at the edges – twelve to fifteen minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack. Once cool, transfer to an airtight container for storage as the gingerbread men will become brittle if left out too long.

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What people are saying

  1. Ashley says

    Okay, I know it’s march not December, but do you think this recipe would work for making the walls of a gingerbread house? I’ve been wanting to make one every Christmas for 3 years and I’ve been hung up on doing it with whole foods and the lack of recipes is downright sad.

    • jenny says

      Yes! I bet it would – they get pretty hard when left out overnight, so it would be a very sturdy wall (but very expensive, too)

    • Andrea says

      I love that this recipe is even out there. I will be substituting coconut flour for almonds as we are allergic. Can you please offer a suggestion for the eggs? I have never had success substituting more than 2 eggs in a recipe. the binding function of egg seems to be the most difficult to replicate, and that appears to be the needed function in this recipe as well. We can handle about 1 egg if it is cooked into something, but egg free is truly best for us. I look forward to your suggestions, and I love your website!

  2. Stef says

    Very yummy cookies. I had to substitute sucanat sugar for the date sugar and found that the recipe was extremely “wet”. Had to add nearly 3 cups of flour (in my case needed to grab wheat flour since I’d run out of almonds) to be able to get it to roll-out consistency. Does the date sugar make for a thicker dough?

    • Clare says

      I didn’t have date sugar either and read somewhere you could just whiz dates instead but yes mixture was far too wet. next time I would add less eggs?? took 3-4 cups of tapioca flour to be a workable dough and then made 6 dozen cookies!!!! tasty though. love that there is a serious amount of spice in them.

    • jenny says

      I strongly encourage you to make the recipe as it is written (and tested), substituting different sugars, different flours, dates for date sugar, more eggs or less eggs will produce dramatically different results.

  3. says

    Jen, I love the window into your family’s sweet life: thank you! This article makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, and I’m wanting to pack up the kids, their sleds, and go out into the wilds of Pennsylvania in search of our own tree, with basically the same accruements in tow to warm our bellies, and our memories! No real snow here yet tho, and we haven’t gone to cut a tree from our land for several years as a favorite Granny always likes to donate one of hers. None the less, I will be baking up a batch of these gingerbread men, as our brood has been asking for them lately. Of course, they want a gingerbread *house*, which I think we can do.
    Enjoy the Season!

  4. Monique Verdin says

    Extremely disappointed in this recipe. It was gooey, so I added an exorbitant amount of extra almond flour till I ran out, then I added coconut flour, and right now I am going to add some rice flour. My first batch is almost out of the oven, and they look like sugar cookies in color. Every once I a while, my dough is not sticky enough to actually have a gingerbread shape keep enough shape to hold. It tastes yummy, but please do not insinuate that these are for gingerbread men, as my children and I are disappointed with this sticky mess, and now will have to do this all over again with a different recipe.

  5. Nicole Warren says

    Is date sugar legal on the GAPS diet? I just have not seen many people using it. I used to use it all the time. Currently I am just using honey as a sweetener.

  6. Crystalline Ruby Muse says

    I just made this recipe, with the recipe exactly as above, using my own homemade almond flour & date sugar. Like others, I found it profoundly viscous. Almond flour on the pastry board did nothing to dry it out, so used corn meal, since we had no flour ground. With very liberal amounts of corn meal on the board, sprinkled on the top of the dough (would not stick to rolling pin), & rubbed onto my hands (previously drenched in the unrelenting dough!), I was able to roll them out & cut out little trees, which I had to very gingerly, so to speak, peel from the cutter. Took me about an hour to implement this task, so didn’t bother to decorate. Very tasty! But I’m curious how you could possibly manage this in 5 minutes. Your dough must’ve been much drier & less sticky ~ any ideas why?

    • jenny says

      I’d venture it’s because you’re not using blanched almond flour; rather, you’re using homemade almond meal. They perform VERY differently, particularly in this recipe.

      • Crystalline Ruby Muse says

        I blanched my almonds & pulsed very carefully, following instructions for making almond flour. Do you know if there is something else in the prep process of commercial blanched almond flour that would be different from homemade? Boy, these cookies do taste great, I must say!

        • jenny says

          I don’t know … but I will say that I’ve made the recipe several times and it works, but it is a super super precise recipe so that any minor deviation in the way of ingredients/method yields dramatically different results.

          • says

            Wet for me as well! I used blanched almond meal flour and palm sugar (as that’s all I had)… I had to add quite a bit of sorghum flour and buckwheat flour (and extra almond flour) to make this batter roll out and not stick to my cookie cutter!!! I think the recipe needs a revision…

            • jenny says

              Lindsay –

              You cannot make substitutions and expect to achieve the same results. Date sugar functions very, very differently from palm sugar or other sweeteners. In order to get a cut-out cookie, you have to use date sugar as it is absorbent.

              • Crystalline Ruby Muse says

                Thanks for taking the time to respond, Jenny. I hope you are having lovely holidays, however you celebrate. I just made the white chocolate recipe for gifts, & it was a dream! Many blessings to you & your family.

  7. tina says

    I just want to say all you bloggers are wonderful, patient people…it would drive me CRAZY to have to keep telling people over and over again to stick to the recipe exactly as it is written!!!

  8. Jessica says

    Oh thank gods! A gingerbread cookie without molasses! I’ve suffered through making gingerbread cookies (a favorite of mine and my boyfriend) twice now and about threw up at the smell of the sticky gross stuff. I’ve been told it’s impossible to make gingerbread without it and had given up hope of ever making cookies again. But I will certainly be using this recipe!

  9. Angie says

    I just wanted to say….
    My friend and I made this recipe and DID substitute rapadura/sucanat for the date sugar, because our local store was out of date sugar, and we still wanted to make grain-free gingerbread men for the kids! The dough was at first, of course, too gooey, but we fiddled with it, and in the end it worked out great.
    Here was our modified recipe:
    5 cups almond flour (we added about 2 cups more)
    1 cup rapadura (instead of date sugar)
    3 eggs, beaten (we added an egg, to help it cling together and be roll-able)
    1/4 cup molasses (for added stickiness)
    –same amounts of salt and spices–

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