French gingerbread men recipe with ideas for decorating them. Out of the holiday season, make different shapes and they’re simply Biscoff cookies (Speculoos in France) with lime zest. What’s more, they last really well and crispy a few days.
Gingerbread Men in France
Not to be confused with French gingerbread known as pain d’épices, particularly famous in the three towns: Reims, Dijon (see more in my article), and Gertwiller in Alsace. There’s even a gingerbread museum (Musée du pain d’épices) in Gertwiller (Bas-Rhin) for all you need to know about it and its traditions.
French gingerbread is mainly made of flour, honey and spices – I’ll post my favourite recipe for it soon.
In France, gingerbread men have been traditionally made in Alsace since the 15th century. Known as Mennele, they are brioche based and decorated with coloured icing. Tradition has it that Saint-Nicolas offers them as gifts. The best Mennele can be found made by French pastry chef, Christophe Felder from Alsace.
This recipe, however, is not the same, as it’s more a biscuit rather than brioche and made with flour and gingerbread spice without honey.
I initially got this recipe from French pastry chef, Kevin Lacote. Known for his fabulous pâtisserie near Paris’ Parc Monceau, I already talk about him in my Guide to the Best Tea Rooms in Paris (just look up the location area as Paris 17th). In a nutshell, if you love Parisian flan, then he makes one of the best in Paris – including a gorgeous pistachio version. Not to be confused with a crème caramel (flan aux oeufs) – I also talk about this on my crème caramel recipe video and in that recipe post. Worth the detour!
This is only a quarter of Kevin Lacote’s recipe from the November/December 2021 issue of Fou de Pâtisserie magazine. As his is much more complex with a praline pecan and chocolate version stuck together, I was happy with just this simple version.
I adapted it only by replacing his lemon zest with the zest of a lime and have to say, love it this way.
How to Make Gingerbread Men
Firstly, I recommend you weigh out your ingredients using a digital kitchen scale. It couldn’t be easier: it takes the maths out of baking and most importantly, ensures consistent successful results each time. As in all my recipes here in France, I use grams. I include ounces and in some recipes cups, although I add these purely as an approximate guide as they are not as precise a measurement.
- Cream together the butter and sugar using a stand mixer. If you don’t have one, mix together using a wooden spoon.
- Once the mix is light and creamy, add the egg (chef Lacote specifies only 35g which is the equivalent of a small egg) then gradually add in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and gingerbread spice (quatre épices).
Gingerbread spice: If you don’t have this, then Allspice is closest – otherwise I give details in the recipe card below how to make your own.
- Once the mix is coming together (don’t be afraid if it looks dry, it’s normal – it will come together in the end), add the grated lime zest;
- Film the dough and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
- Next day, the dough is ready. Take out the fridge for a few minutes to make it easier to roll out then cut out desired shapes. Once baked and cooled they are ready to decorate.
Citrus isn’t normally an ingredient used in traditional French gingerbread but after experimenting with this, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The family love these green flecks of delicious lime zest.
What’s more, the gingerbread men dough’s consistency is so easy to work with, there is no need to flour the working station.
Decorating Gingerbread Men
Last Christmas, my girls had so much fun decorating gingerbread men and women – and added other shapes: such as snowmen, Christmas trees and snowflakes.
Here are just some of them they made using special white icing cookie decorating pens (stylos glaçage – available in most good specialist baking shops, like DecoRelief, Mora, Zodio, Wilton, etc.). Normal food ink pens (black) are good but we discovered that there wasn’t much left. We find that for best results, use icing pens.
So this year, we went crazy with white, red and brown icing pens.
To use icing pens at their best, first heat them in a tumbler of very hot water and thereafter it’s easy.
Both Julie and Lucie let their imaginations run wild. Gingerbread men or women with masks, dresses, bikinis, some happy, sad, spooky, some with googly eyes. We also added a reindeer cutter, where Julie added an extra pea-size of dough as a nose.
French Gingerbread Man
I was wondering why Lucie was putting together a French flag with a cocktail stick, stickers and pens. It was for her French Marianne. Do you recognize her? Eugène Delacroix could have been a proud French cookie!
How Long do Gingerbread Men last?
These Gingerbread Men last for up to a week. Ensure to store them in a sealed tin box to retain their crispiness all week. It’s best not to leave the cookies out overnight, as they will gradually lose their irresistible crunch.
Gingerbread Men Cookies or French Speculoos Biscuits
Yield is for about 60 gingerbread men cookies using a 14cm cutter. As we used various shapes and sizes, our yield was 40 cookies.
Gingerbread Men Cookies
- 125 g (4½oz/½ cup) unsalted butter softened
- 70 g (3oz/ 1/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
- 110 g (4oz/½ cup) cane sugar
- 35 g (1 small) egg organic
- 250 g (9oz/ 2 cups) plain flour (all-purpose) type 55
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp 4 spices, pain d'épices or all spice
- ½ tsp fleur de sel salt (or Maldon, Celtic sea salt)
- 1 lime, zest only unwaxed/organic
The night before:
- Ideally using a mixer with a paddle beater (if not by hand), cream together the butter and sugars until light and creamy. Add the egg until well mixed together then the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices, salt and lime zest.When a dough forms, wrap in cling film and leave to rest overnight in the fridge.
- Leave the dough at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 170°C fan/190°C/375°F/Gas 5.
- Roll out the dough directly on a baking mat (Silpat) or on parchment to about 3mm thickness.
- Cut out gingerbread men shapes (or others such as snowflakes, stars, snowmen, etc.) and bake for about 12 minutes or until golden brown.
- Leave to cool on a wire tray then decorate.
Use edible coloured food pens or icing pens, especially for decorating cookies or biscuits. Calories: approx. 260 kcal based on 3 cookies each