Gingerbread Butter Drops with Lemon Glaze

I have eighteenth-century cookery book author Amelia Simmons to thank for inspiring this confection. In her 1796 cookbook, American Cookery—the first cookbook authored by an American—she included two spiced Butter Drop cakes (cookies, really) among her no less than five gingerbread recipes. My version of these buttery gingerbread butter drops indeed puts me in mind of the small spice cakes and sugary confections that adorned dessert tables in Europe and America centuries ago. Usually arranged on silver or glass épergnes or surtouts de tables (ornamented center dishes), sweetmeats of this kind were as visually dazzling as they were celebrations of the confectioner’s skill. Cloaked elegantly in sheer white glaze, these petite treats would have been well suited to a gleaming eighteenth-century silver dish or glistening cut-glass tray.

Fortunately, these tender gingerbread butter drops, flavored delicately with lemon and spice, are easier to prepare today than they might have been centuries ago. The dough comes together quickly and requires no chilling before shaping and baking. The glaze (which often seems daunting but really isn’t) is also a snap and only requires whisking together a handful of ingredients.

Served for dessert, as part of a petit four tray, or packaged as gifts, these gingerbread butter drops offer a unique and elegant twist on traditional dark gingerbread.–Jennifer Lindner McGlinn

Gingerbread Butter Drops with Lemon Glaze Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H
  • 3 H
  • Makes 32 butter drops

Ingredients

  • For the drops
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon heavy (whipping) cream, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or oil
  • Royal Icing (optional, see recipe below)
  • For the lemon glaze
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract or lemon oil (optional)

Directions

  • Make the drops
  • 1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • 2. Whisk together the flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
  • 3. Put the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Incorporate the cream and lemon extract, mixing until smooth. Reduce the mixing speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together. (The dough should form a fairly moist clump when you squeeze a bit in your hand. If it seems too crumbly, mix in additional cream, about 1 teaspoon at a time, until you’re satisfied.)
  • 4. Turn the dough out onto a flat work surface and shape into a cylinder about 3 inches in diameter. Divide the dough into quarters. Divide each piece into quarters again, and then cut each of those pieces in half, creating 32 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. (The butter drops expand slightly during baking.) Press the balls lightly so they stay put and don’t roll around on the sheet.
  • 5. Bake the butter drops for about 20 minutes, or until they are very light golden brown. Cool the butter drops on the baking sheets set on wire racks for about 2 minutes before removing them to the racks to cool completely. (You can store the butter drops at this point in airtight containers for up to 5 days, or proceed to coat them with glaze.)
  • Make the glaze
  • 6. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, hot water, lemon juice, and lemon extract (if desired) in a large bowl until smooth. Warm the glaze in the microwave at about 10-second intervals until it is just barely warm to the touch. (Warming the glaze will loosen it a bit and make it easier to coat the butter drops).
  • Finish the drops
  • 7. Arrange the cooled butter drops on a large wire rack set over a large baking sheet or sheet of aluminum foil. Drop the butter drops, one at a time, into the glaze, turning them with a fork to coat them completely. Using the fork, lift the butter drops out of the glaze, tap gently on the edge of the bowl to remove any excess glaze, and return them to the wire rack. Warm the glaze again in the microwave, if necessary, about halfway through the batch.
  • 8. After the butter drops have dried for about 5 minutes, gently reposition them on the rack, using a clean fork or paring knife, to prevent the glaze from clumping at the bases. Set the coated butter drops aside in a dry, cool area until the glaze is firm, about 45 minutes. Coat the butter drops a second time in the same manner, warming the glaze again to loosen it. (Store any leftover glaze in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
  • 9. To decorate the butter drops, pipe dots or swirls of royal icing on top of the butter drops, if desired. Set aside to dry completely, about 1 hour. (Store the butter drops in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment or waxed paper, for up to 1 week.)

Royal Icing

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
    1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
    4 large fresh or pasteurized egg whites
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and begin beating on medium-low speed. Add the egg whites, increase the mixing speed to high, and continue beating until the icing is smooth, thick, and glossy, about 7 minutes, stopping at least once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. (If you’re working on a particularly dry day, you might need to drizzle in more egg whites to reach this consistency.)
  • Scrape the icing into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing the wrap directly on top of the icing to prevent it from drying. (Use the icing immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Warm the icing to room temperature before beating again until smooth).
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Karla Cyr

Dec 13, 2009

If you enjoy making a homemade holiday like I do, why not make these fabulous Gingerbread Butter Drops with Lemon Glaze to give as gifts? Pipe little white dots of icing on these cookies, and you'll have people oohing and aahing with delight. Anyone who likes lemon and gingerbread would be proud to have these cookies around for Christmas, or, frankly, anytime of the year. They’re scrumptious. So in all your holiday fury, take a stroll down your grocery aisle, stock up on the ingredients, and start baking. These cookies will please you and many this Christmas and for holidays to come.

Testers Choice
Trista C.

Dec 13, 2009

These gingerbread butter drops have the texture of shortbread with the zing of lemon and ginger. The tart glaze contrasts perfectly with the sweeter cookie. This is an easy recipe and is made with pantry ingredients, so it is perfect for those sudden baking urges. These are the perfect bite-size cookies!

Testers Choice
Sue Epstein

Dec 13, 2009

I first evaluated this recipe several days ago when I first made the cookies. We thought they were nice but nothing out of the ordinary. I put them in my cookie jar and forgot about them. Then last night I opened the cookie jar, and there were the forgotten gingerbread cookies. Wow, what a difference. They were delicious! The lemon and ginger flavor really came through. I would suggest to anyone making them to let them sit for a couple of days to mellow.

Testers Choice
Melissa Maedgen

Dec 13, 2009

These gingerbread butter cookies were absolutely delicious. The lemon flavor from the glaze and the lemon oil or extract in the cookie is dominant over the ginger and spices. Wonderful with tea. If you like desserts with tang, you will love these. I will definitely be making them again.

Testers Choice
Susan Hillery

Dec 13, 2009

These cookies should be re-named “Gingerbread Button Drops” because they are as cute as a button. The double glazing creates a very smooth and hard covering that holds in the lemon and ginger flavors. Perfect for holiday entertaining or gift-giving.

Testers Choice
Leanne Abe

Dec 13, 2009

I really liked these butter cookies—firm but not crispy or crumbly—but with a kiss of glaze instead of being enrobed. They looked beautiful on a platter, and I think they’d make a cute gift. Dipping the cookies into the glaze instead of pouring it over made the recipe go by faster, and I don’t think the cookies suffered. These are definitely going into the holiday cookie rotation, right next to Russian teacakes!


Comments
Comments
  1. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Anonymous] I found these to be lovely light butter cookies and the combination of spices added a pleasant surprise burst of flavor. The lemon glaze was delicious but, the recipe produced too much glaze for the cookie yield. I think these gingerbread cookies would be an asset to any tea or holiday event. The next time I make them, I’ll either halve the glaze recipe, or I’ll thicken the glaze a bit and make it more of a light frosting. I’ll definitely add these to my cookie recipe collection.

  2. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Anonymous] This was a very flavorful cookie. The combination of the gingerbread flavor and the lemon glaze was unusual and had a nice balance of flavors. Sweet and tart would be a good description. The dough was easy to work with, and the fact that you don”t have to refrigerate it for a few hours was a real time saver. The royal icing was a good consistency, easy to pipe onto the cookies, and gave then a nice finished look. I liked the recipe and will make another batch to add to this year’s Christmas cookie baking selections.

  3. Melissa says:

    I appear to have done something VERY wrong. I made this recipe on Saturday. The cookies spread a ton, becoming very thin and crumbly, the glaze was way too sweet, and you can’t taste the ginger at all. It was pretty warm in my kitchen, so that probably accounts for the spread, right?

    • David Leite says:

      Melissa, sorry to hear you had some problems with the recipe. A few thoughts and suggestions:

      1. If your kitchen is warm, it can affect any cookie dough. Room temperature should be about 68 degrees, but when you’re cooking, your kitchen can get as high as 75 or 80 degrees, affecting ingredients such as butter. Here’s a good test: room temperature butter should be soft enough for you to make a small dent with your finger when you press on it but firm enough to hold its shape. Proper butter temperature can help avoid spread. If your kitchen is always warm when baking, slip the cookies in the fridge for 10 or 15 minutes.

      2. Regarding the crumbly texture, the recipe mentions in step 3 to add a bit more cream until it holds together.

      3. The mild ginger flavor could have something to do with the age of your spice. Make sure your ginger is fresh (no more than 6 months old).

      4. And the sweetness of the glaze seems to be a personal preference. Try cutting back on the sugar, and see if you like it. Hope this helps.

      • mel says:

        the dough was really wet before baking, so it didn’t seem to need more cream, it just became crumbly after baking.

        mel is actually short for melanie, btw

        • David Leite says:

          Okay, then Melanie it is. Then that’s a good clue. The butter definitely was too soft, and, perhaps, there wasn’t enough flour in the dough. I’m going to see if I can get ahold of the author to give you a tip or two.

    • Cindi Kruth, LC Recipe Tester says:

      Hi Melissa, thin cookies may have been the result of other factors, too.

      The sugar could be a source of the spread. Generally sugar, because it melts, is considered a liquid ingredient in baking. Confectioner’s sugar, however, usually will reduce spread (as compared to other sugars), because it contains cornstarch. A light measurement here or a substitution of another type of sugar could cause thinner cookies.

      Another common problem causer is the type of flour. The recipe calls for all-purpose. If you used bleached flour or a brand with lower protein content, the result will be more spread and a thinner cookie.

      Another issue could have been the baking sheet. The recipe specifies a parchment lined sheet. If you used a non-stick sheet instead the cookies would spread too much. Hope this helps you.

  4. cake says:

    I never tried it with lemon glaze, it sounds like a great idea.

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