Carol Egbert: Gingersnaps in a Snap
Ginger is one of the most versatile ingredients in my kitchen. There is ground ginger in the spice drawer, fresh ginger root in a ceramic crock and crystallized ginger in a jar in the pantry. Ginger tea, made by simmering slices of fresh ginger in water with a bit of brown sugar, chases the chill of a frosty afternoon and soothes a sore throat. I put ginger in everything from stir-fries to meatloaf and it is always present in the form of gingersnap cookies. They are a mainstay in my husband Charles’ diet. He can resist chocolate cake, banana splits and candy bars, but he has an undeniable gingersnap habit — every lunch ends with a gingersnap or two. So, when he reached into the blue and white cookie jar and found only a few gingery crumbs, I said that we could make a batch of gingersnaps rather than driving to the market to buy them.
Gingersnaps, crisp, spicy, sugar cookies, are easy to make, even for an inexperienced baker. Charles’ gingersnap lesson began by gathering the tools and ingredients we would need. I took the butter out of the fridge so that it could warm to room temperature and he gathered measuring spoons and cups. Our first problem was that there was only half a teaspoon of dry ginger. I needed two teaspoons of it and our second problem was that the molasses jar was nearly empty. I’d have to substitute honey for half of the required molasses. With a bit of improvisation, we filled the cookie jar without leaving home. Here’s how we did it:
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
additional granulated sugar to top cookies
Charles put the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and kosher salt into a large bowl and stirred with a wire whisk until they were combined.
I put the butter into the bowl of the stand mixer and beat it until it was soft and then added the brown sugar and granulated sugar. When the butter/sugar mixture was combined, I added the eggs and the grated fresh ginger and beat until the mixture was fluffy. (I used a large quantity of fresh ginger because it’s less potent than the dry.)
I beat in the molasses, honey and lime juice and then gradually added the flour mixture and mixed the batter until the flour was incorporated.
I put the soft, sticky dough into the freezer to chill. After half an hour, the batter was stiff enough to be formed into cookies. Charles had preheated the oven to 350 and lined two cookie sheets with parchment paper. He made three quarter-inch balls of dough and I rolled each one in granulated sugar before putting it onto the baking sheet. In 10 minutes they were baked and ready to be transferred to a cooling rack. Without the parchment paper, it would have been impossible to lift the cookies from the baking sheet. This recipe makes about five dozen cookies. We baked a third of the dough and put the rest in the fridge. These crisp, gingery cookies surpassed Charles’ exacting gingersnap standards. I expect he will be baking a second batch by tomorrow afternoon.
Spiced cookies were popular during the Middle Ages, not only because they tasted good, but also because ginger and honey were valued for their health benefits. Ginger-flavored cookies are called brunkage in Danish, pepparkakor in Swedish and lebkuchen in German, and ginger nuts in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It may be the zip of ginger, cinnamon and cloves or the sweetness of molasses and brown sugar that has made them so popular, but I think it’s the childhood memories that this sweet treat triggers that make them the favorite of so many.
Carol Egbert lives in Quechee where she paints and cooks. Her food blog can be found at www.carolegbert.com.