Since the weather’s gone wintry, I’ve been in the mood to bake. Not just bread, but cookies, cakes, and pies – sweet and savory (I’ve got a leek and gruyere quiche in the oven at this very moment). This being the holidays, gingerbread was high on the agenda. But as much as I love the look of gingerbread christmas tree ornaments, I wanted something for grownups – something with intense flavors and strong spices, something too tasty to leave on the Christmas tree.
Enter Alice Water’s gingersnaps. Ms. Water’s is a “chef, restaurateur, activist, and humanitarian”. She is also owner of Chez Panisse, the world-renowned restaurant in Berkeley. Her book, The Art of Simple Food, includes a recipe for gingersnaps that David Lebovitz (also an alum of Chez Panisse) generously shared on his blog in 2007. The recipe came to my attention when it was recently noted on The Kitchn’s Christmas Cookie Roundup. And so, I went out and bought some butter.
These gingersnaps were my first exposure to the concept of “refrigerator cookies”, which basically means you make a log of dough that you can store in the fridge or freezer from which you can slice and bake cookies as you need them. I must say, it feels really good knowing I have a blob of dough in my fridge that I can quickly turn into fresh-baked cookies whenever the mood strikes (I think the mood is striking right now). You can also roll the dough out and cut it into shapes, a little more challenging but way more festive.
A word of advice: the thickness of the cookie will have a dramatic effect on their taste experience. Thinner cookies will be crispy all the way through, while thicker cookies (about 1cm, as David Lebovitz suggests) are crispy on the outside with a nice bit of chew on the inside – that’s my preference, too.
From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, discovered on David Lebovitz’s blog. David also suggests revving up the spices by adding 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or allspice to suit your taste. I definitely plan to add more ginger next time, and perhaps cut the sugar just a tad so that the ginger really comes through. But I’m a spice fiend.
- 2 cups (280 g) flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 11 tablespoons (150 g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (80 g) mild-flavored molasses (I’ve struggled to find molasses in the UK, so used half honey, half dark treacle)
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- optional: coarse sugar crystals for coating the cookies
- Stir together the dry ingredients.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter just until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until smooth, stopping the mixer to scrape down any butter clinging to the sides of the bowl.
- Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.
- Mix in the dry ingredients gradually until the dough is smooth.
- Divide the dough in two equal portions and roll each on a lightly-floured surface until each is about 2-inches (5cm) around. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; you can neaten them up in a second.
- Wrap each in plastic wrap then roll them lightly on the counter to smooth them out. Refrigerate, or better yet, freeze the cookie logs until firm.
- To bake, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Slice cookie dough into 1/4-inch (a scant 1 cm) rounds with a sharp knife. Dip one side and press firmly in a bowl of coarse sugar if you want (you can also use granulated sugar instead), and place sugar-side up on baking sheet, evenly-spaced apart. Leave a couple of inches, about 5 cm, between cookies since they’ll spread while baking.
- Bake for 10-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until deep-golden brown. The cookies will puff up a bit while baking, then settle down when they’re done. Bake on the lower end of the range for softer cookies, and more for snappier ones, depending on your oven.
- Let the cookies cool two minutes, then remove them with a spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack.
Storage: The dough can be refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months. Once baked, the cookies can be kept in an air-tight container for a couple of days but like anything made with butter, of course they’re best the day they’re baked.