My cousin Laura is an amazing baker and her soft ginger cookies are to die for. I’ve been meaning to try to make something similar and this weekend seemed like a good time, since we’re all hunkering down for what is supposed to be The Storm Of The Century. I’ve always loved the phrase “atmospheric river” – it sounds like something out of a Tom Waits song – but did you know that an atmospheric river can carry as much water as 15 Mississippi Rivers? But I digress.
Cooking is an interesting thing. Some people are recipe people; some people are not. Some people who are not normally recipe people will tell you that they will experiment with everything but baking, for which they religiously follow recipes. I’m not a recipe person (well, let’s face it, I’m not much of a cook, other than baking), but in this case, since I’ve never made these before, I told myself I was going to find one recipe and stick with it. Did I? No, of course not – that would just be too boring.
I looked at a lot of recipes. This Epicurious one came up first on google (good job Epicurious!) and it looked pretty good, so I kind of used it as a base, but it seemed a little low on the spice factor, and I only had dark molasses and dark brown sugar, not light. This AllRecipes one struck me similarly, although it did up the fresh ginger quotient and add the triple threat, candied ginger. I was intrigued by the tablespoon of cocoa recommended by Fork, Knife, Spoon, so I incorporated that. I loved the spice line up in Feasting At Home, but I just can’t deal with the idea of vegetable oil in my baking. Also it calls for white pepper and I was more intrigued by the cayenne I’d seen in a couple of recipes including this one. I liked the orange zest idea from Bakerita. But none of them mentioned freshly ground nutmeg, which I’m kind of a fanatic about.
So here’s what I did.
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 T unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp grated orange zest
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 T fresh grated ginger
1 cup minced candied ginger
sugar for rolling
I’ve never worked with candied ginger much and at first I found it really frustrating. Everyone says to mince or chop it but it’s sticky, so when you do this it all lumps together and it’s hard to get it in small pieces. After wrestling with it for a while my first brilliant idea was to take 1/4 cup of the flour and use it to sprinkle over the candied ginger to make it easier to mince and to stop it all from glopping together. It worked great. Do this and set it aside.
My second brilliant idea was to use two kinds of fresh ginger. Now, I realize that we in northern California food heaven have choices that other people don’t, and I’m sure using just one would work fine. But since I found them at the produce store, I couldn’t resist, so I combined Hawaiian ginger (that’s the big one) with young ginger from Fiji (I know, I know). I grated a full heaping tablespoon of each. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a baking sheet.
Then, in a bowl, combine the remaining flour, cocoa, and all the dry spices. Stir with a whisk to remove lumps.
Grate the orange zest over that and combine.
In a second bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar.
Add the egg and molasses and beat well.
Stir in the fresh ginger. Add the flour mixture in two stages and stir in.
As it stiffens, add the candied ginger and stir well.
Roll it into one-inch balls and roll them in sugar (I used some brown sugar that had dried up but I think you could use anything granulated).
Bake for 10-12 minutes until cracked on the outside and firm but still soft.
Are they the best ginger cookies EVER? Well, I’m not sure since I’ve never made them before but here’s what I can tell you.
- The cocoa is barely detectable, certainly not as chocolate, but it gives a really nice bottom note.
- The orange zest is very subtle – I might try it with more next time.
- The proportions are good. They came out firm inside and soft inside.
- Believe it or not there’s not too much ginger. After tasting these I’m thinking the recipes that call for a teaspoon or two of fresh ginger and 1/4 cup of minced candied ginger would taste pretty insipid.
- Nor are there too many spices in general. All the spices melded really well and the cayenne was super subtle, just providing a hint of heat.
- They’re dark. They’re delicious but I might try them without the cocoa and light molasses and light brown sugar just to see how a tawnier approach comes out.
- I didn’t use any vanilla and some of the recipes call for it so I might try that.