Same cutter, different cookie!
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three gingerbread cookies decorated as reindeer
Credit: Jessica Furniss

If making gingerbread cookies is one of your holiday traditions, you probably have a gingerbread man cookie cutter in your baking supplies. But did you know you can use that cookie cutter to make more than gingerbread men? With one simple trick you can turn a gingerbread man into a reindeer. Simply flip him upside down and the legs become antlers! Genius, right?

I'll show you how to turn a gingerbread man into Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and if you scroll down, I'll show you a shortcut version, too.

Items You'll Need

supplies for decorating gingerbread reindeer cookies
Credit: Jessica Furniss
  • 6 gingerbread man cookies (try this recipe for Eileen's Spicy Gingerbread Men).
  • A gingerbread man cookie cutter that's large enough to hold this design. (This $10 Amazon gingerbread man cookie cutter set comes in three sizes.)
  • Royal icing (this Glossy Royal Icing is made without egg whites).
  • Brown food coloring (You can substitute cocoa powder, but it will affect the flavor.)
  • (You can also dye a very small amount of your royal icing black and use a third pastry piping bag)
  • 6 red M&M's (or cinnamon red hots.)
  • Round sprinkles or M&M's Minis
  • 2 pastry piping bags (This $14 set from Amazon comes with tips and pastry bags.)
  • A #4 round icing tip  and a #3 round icing tip (or a ziplock bag can work in a pinch)
  • 4 toothpicks
  • 2 small bowls
  • 2 icing spreaders

Before you get started, it's worth taking a few minutes to review these tips for making gingerbread cookies and working with icing.

Tips for Gingerbread Cookies

  • These Rudolph cookies work best with crisper gingerbread. A recipe for softer cookies can be used, but the royal icing may not settle as well.
  • Always chill your gingerbread dough before cutting out the shapes. This prevents the dough from spreading out and losing the gingerbread/reindeer shape in the oven.
  • Using a cooling rack will give you that signature "snap" on your gingerbread cookie.

Tips for Royal Icing

If you've never worked with royal icing before, you can expect a few key differences than other frostings or icings:

  • It's runny: Royal icing is made to be super spreadable, so go slowly and squeeze lightly when piping it onto your cookies.
  • It smooths out: After you've spread out your royal icing evenly over the cookie, don't panic if there are little indentations or imperfections. The great thing about this icing is that it will settle to a smooth finish after a few seconds, so any small mistakes will smooth themselves out on their own.
  • It runs together. Although royal icing can dry quickly when you're trying to spread it, it also tends to run together when it comes into contact with more icing. To keep the colors from running together, be sure to follow directions below for chilling the cookies between each icing color. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but you'll be glad you did it!

Tips for Making Brown Icing

To get a nice brown icing, you have three options: 

  1. The easiest and most consistent option is brown food coloring. If you want it to have a slight red tint like my icing, you can also add a drop or two of red food coloring to the brown. 
  2. Cocoa powder works pretty well, but you will need to add in some extra water as the cocoa powder will dry out the icing. Start with a half teaspoon at a time until the icing is back to the texture it was before the cocoa powder was added. There will be a bit of a chocolate flavor added to the cookies if you choose this method. I liked the flavor combo, but it might not be for everyone! 
  3. Making your own brown icing by mixing a set of primary color food coloring is possible, but it's very time consuming and can be frustrating to reach the exact brown you're looking for. 

Icing Gingerbread Reindeer Cookies

*Before dyeing your icing, set aside half of the white icing to use later. Cover it with a damp cloth so it doesn't dry out.

Icing can be tricky, so you'll want to work fast to make the process (and the icing) go smoother. Work one section at a time to make sure the icing is still wet enough to spread with your toothpick, as explained in the directions below.  Keep the bowls of icing covered with a damp cloth, otherwise it may dry out.

gingerbread reindeer cookie outlined with brown icing
spreading brown icing with a toothpick on gingerbread reindeer cookie
Left: Credit: Jessica Furniss
Right: Credit: Jessica Furniss
  1. Assemble your pastry bag with your #4 round tip, as directed on the packaging and set it into a tall glass, folding over the edges to open the center. Carefully add your brown icing to the center using your icing spreader. Push your icing gently to the end of your pastry bag towards the tip.
  2. Carefully outline the shape of the face, ears, and antlers of your reindeer.
  3. Go back into the center of the face and add more icing, then immediately grab your toothpick and spread the icing to fill in all gaps of the face and ears. Do this for all 6 cookies.
  4. Chill in the freezer for one hour to set.

Adding Details

decorating gingerbread reindeer with white icing and red candy nose over brown icing
decorating gingerbread reindeer with colored dots
Left: Credit: Jessica Furniss
Right: Credit: Jessica Furniss
  1. Assemble your second pastry bag and fill with your white icing as you did the brown icing. Gently pipe two white dots for the reindeer eyes and one white dot to act as glue to stick the red M&M's for Rudolph's nose.
  2. Chill in the freezer for another hour.
  3. Grab your small tube of black decorating gel and carefully add the mouth, pupils of the eyes, and the Z shape to make the string for the Christmas lights.
  4. Immediately add your round sprinkles or M&M's Minis in alternating colors to complete the Christmas lights. (You might like to use clean tweezers to help place the colored dots.)
  5. Leave these guys out overnight to allow the icing to set. Then place them in a covered container in the fridge until time to serve. 

Shortcut Reindeer Design

simple gingerbread reindeer decorating idea
Credit: Jessica Furniss

For a shortcut option you'll need:

  • 6 gingerbread man cookies
  • White royal icing
  • 1 ziplock bag
  • 1 small tube black decorating gel (Or you can dye a very small amount of your royal icing black and use a second ziplock bag.)
  • 6 red M&M's

Directions

  1. Place your open ziplock bag into a tall glass and fold down the edges to expose the center.
  2. Add your white icing to the bag with an icing spreader, then cut off a tiny corner of the bag to pipe the icing through. 
  3. Carefully pipe your antlers, ears, and the whites of the eyes.
  4. Pipe a small dot of icing to act as glue for Rudolph's nose.
  5. Using the small tube of black decorating gel, gently pipe the mouth and the blacks of the eyes.
  6. Allow to sit out overnight to allow the icing to dry, or enjoy immediately! 

Enjoy your clever Rudolph cookies with your family, package them and leave them on your neighbor's front porches, or freeze them and enjoy one a day if you're on your own during this unique quarantined holiday season.

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