Apr 18, 2010

Building a Better Cookie - and a better world.

I recently found myself wandering around lower Manhattan in search of a big, soft ginger cookie to accompany my four dollar latte.  You know the one – that deep auburn disc with a rustic crackled surface all bedazzled with sparkling sugar crystals.  I love you, ginger cookie. 

I didn’t find one that day, but I did resolve to learn to make them at home.  I’m not much of a cookie baker.  As much as I crave sweets, there’s only myself and my husband here and the last thing we need is three dozen sugar bombs lazing around the house.   

Never the less, for the sake of science, I began baking ginger cookies yesterday.  I started the way I usually do, by looking for recipes online.  The first three recipes I found all called for shortening rather than butter.  Using vegetable oil instead of butter immediately ran against my cooking intuition, but hey, what do I know?  So I looked in my trusty dusty betty crocker cookbook and it said you should use at least 65% vegetable oil in ginger cookies.  Didn’t say why, but fine.  So I used a modified version of a shortening recipe, which yielded perfect looking cookies, but they were NOT the ginger cookies of my fantasies.  I could totally taste that they were made with shortening.  Gross.  And they were only soft in the middle, and crunchy at the edges.  Not good.  And the color wasn’t right.  Me and the hubbs ate a couple and the rest went to the birds.  Literally.  (The crows don’t discriminate, it seems.)

I conferred with my brother and a friend about the failed cookies.  Independent of one another, they both suggested I try a Martha Stewart version.  This time, I decided to indulge my home chef’s intuition as I worked with the recipe.  I made at least two significant modifications to the technique, and the big, soft ginger cookies were a success. 

You can do it!

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tablespoons baking soda, dissolved in 1 T hot water
a couple tablespoons large grain sugar (for tops of cookies)

Sift flour, cocoa powder, and spices into a medium bowl.

Cream butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl.  Add grated ginger and molasses and blend well.  You can use a hand mixer if you like. 

Add about a third of the flour mixture and blend.  Add about a third of the baking soda mixture and blend.  Continue alternating flour mixture and baking soda mixture.  The dough will be very stiff.  I picked it up and kneaded it a few times.   

Refrigerate cookie dough for at least an hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Shape dough into golf ball sized orbs, flatten and space about an inch and a half apart on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the cookies.
Bake for about 15 minutes.  What you should observe is that the cookies rise a bit at first, but eventually flatten out. 
I sprinkled a little more sugar on top right when they came out of the oven.
Let the cookies remain on the cookie sheet for about five minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. 
Allow cookie sheet to cool off before you start adding more dough, or it will start to melt before you put it in the oven, and you don’t want that. 

To see more photos of how to make these cookies, go to:  frankie makes ginger cookies on facebook

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