Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Perfect Day for Ginger Snaps

One of the joys of marriage is sharing, the good along with the bad. Kat, in the spirit of love (I'm sure) has shared her cold with me, leaving me wondering what I might create in my kitchen that would help me feel a little better. Yes, I've already eaten the Garlic Soup and may make another pot before this is done. I have, however, other tricks up my sleeve and have decided to call upon another wondrously healthy ingredient - ginger!

There are lots of ways to take advantage of this delicious root but I know of nothing that highlights the flavor of this ingredient more than Ginger Snap Cookies. I have a recipe that I am still working on perfecting and today seemed like the perfect day to continue my experimentation.

When I first encountered a version of this recipe online, the thing that struck me was that, unlike most other Ginger Snap recipes, this one featured ginger in 3 different forms - ground, fresh and crystallized. The recipe was huge and made some 8 dozen cookies, a bit much for our household (according to Kat)! I decided to halve the recipe to a scant 4 dozen, at least until I got it just the way I wanted it.

My first batch was very tasty though there was one problem. The cookies were chewy, there was no snap to them at all. I tried to make them again, this time reducing the flour by about 1/4 cup and increasing the amount of sugar from just a cup of brown to also including 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. This resulted in a crispier cookie, but they were way too thin, almost wafer-like. In both trials, I increased the amount of ginger. Another thing I did to both recipes was to add the "super secret" ingredient, cayenne pepper! It took the cookie to a whole new level, elevating it from a "kid cookie" to an "adult cookie." The flavor is much more complex and the spiciness adds just the right touch.

Today my plan was to replace the butter in the recipe with vegetable shortening. I added back the 1/4 cup of flour that I removed last time and also increased the baking time from 10 minutes to 12. The result was exactly what I was looking for - a crisp ginger cookie that actually 'snaps' when you break it in half!

Today I am giving the recipes for both the crispy version, as well as the chewy version. The chewy version is obviously the healthier of the two. There are prices I'm willing to pay for a good Ginger Snap, however, and I am unrepentant! As for you, you may take your pick or even better, try them both!

Ginger Snap Cookies
Preheat oven to 350. In a medium to large bowl, sift together:
2-1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 t ground ginger
2 t baking soda
1 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t salt
Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together with a wooden spoon:
3/4 c vegetable shortening (use softened butter for a chewy cookie)
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar (for chewy cookies, do not use)
When butter and sugar are fluffy, add:
1/4 c molasses
1 egg
Mix until smooth. Add flour mixture and:
1/4 c grated fresh ginger, squeezing and adding excess juice
1 c chopped crystallized ginger
Stir with spoon (or even by hand) until well blended. Roll the dough into little balls about an inch in diameter and place onto parchment covered baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Press down in each ball to flatten it just a bit. Bake for about 12 minutes, until tops of cookies are lightly golden and take on a cracked appearance. Remove cookies from the oven and slide parchment on to wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes, then remove cookies from the parchment and allow to completely cool on rack. To speed the baking process along, I generally use 2 pieces of parchment, so that one is ready to go into the oven when the other comes out. Typically, I get 4 dozen cookies with this recipe but today I got 54, meaning I had to eat 6 of them to make the numbers come out!

A couple of quick tips - first, regarding baking sheets. I cannot recommend strongly enough the use of insulated cookware. I have one old baking sheet that I bought because it was cheaper than the others that is just awful for baking. The bottom comes out burned every time! I baked these cookies on an insulated baking sheet and the bottoms are a beautiful golden brown, each one a perfect cookie. Spend a little more on your bakeware. Trust me, it's worth it!

Second, in regards to purchasing crystallized ginger. It can be very expensive when purchased from an American supermarket, which has put a lot of people off of buying it or trying these cookies. Fret not! Simply go to your neighborhood Asian market (if you have one) and you'll find it for about $5 or $6 per pound, as opposed to $5 for an ounce or two! A pound is way more than enough to use in this recipe, leaving you with extra ginger for nibbling (it's great for upset stomach, colds and a variety of other health issues, or for just snacking on when you have a sweet tooth) or for making more cookies! Don't be afraid to shop in ethnic food stores. True, the labels are harder to read but the folks who run these stores are very helpful and I think you'll find that the prices will blow your traditional American market out of the water! Here in Portland, we're lucky enough to have Asian, Russian, Latino, African, German, Carribean and other ethnic stores available to us. They are a veritable treasure trove of food wonders and challenges.

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