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Day 6: Ginger, the first one

When I first started thinking about the cookies I wanted to bake during the course of these twelve days, I was a little worried that I would not be able to come up with 12. I know once the husband starts reading this, he is going to start laughing and not stop. My tendency is to begin with, “Oh, I’ll just make our favorites and that’s it. We don’t really need that many cookies.” Then, I start looking around and going through my cookbooks and reading blog posts, and before I know it, I want to make way more than just the few I began with. It’s a sickness, I know.

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But friends, there are just so many interesting recipes to try out there. Every year, we seem to find a new favorite which we would not have found if it weren’t for my craziness. Plus, every situation demands different cookie needs. Take the ginger cookie, for an example. There isn’t one cookie that will fit the needs of every situation. A thin, crispy, buttery one will not make good houses, nor would a soft, spicy, cakey one. And just what is a ginger cookie, anyway? Lots of recipes call for ginger but some may have a whopping amount and some have just a little. And does it have to have molasses to qualify as a gingerbread cookie? See what I mean? I started off thinking I would just make one type of ginger cookie this year and before I know it, I have to make at least two, if not three. Sigh. There’s nothing to do but to just give in to the madness and just go with the flow.

Here’s what happens when you just decide to go with the flow and start making all the cookie dough one wants to make.

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You’ll be hearing about most of these in due course, but today, I’m just going to talk about a thin, tiny ginger cookie that I just have to make every year. In fact, I cannot imagine a Christmas without this cookie (warning, this statement might be heard again before this series is through).

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It is super thin, crispy, buttery, and packs a big ginger punch, especially when you hit a little chunk of crystallized ginger. With the sprinkling of sugar, it is also sparkly and festive looking. They are little enough that eating them feels like eating potato chips; you can’t just have one, a dozen is more like it.

The dough is really soft and difficult to roll.

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But, with the help of parchment paper

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and a ruler, it is easy to get a nice, uniform log.

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Once it is in a log, put it in a paper towel tube that has been cut open lengthwise to help keep the log’s curvy shape.

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When you slice it, use a thin, sharp knife and roll the log a little with each slice to keep it from flattening on one side.

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If you get bits that come off, just press them back together. You won’t even notice them after they are baked.

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This recipe seems like it makes a lot, but when a serving is a dozen cookies, it’s not as many as you would initially think.

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Here’s my cute helper. He’s also quite the cookie monster, but I think secretly he keeps hoping I will bake more pies. Me, I get a little grumpy if I go too long without a piece of cake. What would you choose? Cake, cookie, or pie?

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Ginger Cookies
Makes about 8-10 dozen small cookies.

1 1/4 cups pecans, toasted in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes and chopped coarsely
14 Tbs. (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 extra-large egg
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 Tbs. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger

In a bowl, using an electric mixer preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the 1 1/4 cups sugar until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Then add the molasses and beat to combine.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt and white pepper. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until well mixed, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the crystallized ginger and nuts until evenly distributed.

Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Form each portion into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in parchment and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or for up to 2 days.

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, cut each log into slices 1/8 inch thick. Arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a rack and sprinkle with sugar. Let cool.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Soup for Supper, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 1998).

Caramelized Spicy Apple Butter

I confess that I have a problem with most apple butters. To my taste, they tend to be too sweet and too spicy, not in the chile pepper kind of way, but in the sweet cinnamon-y kind of way. I do love spicy things such as gingerbread and spice cookies and cakes. But, I’ve always thought that fruit butters that use all those sweet spices just mask the flavors of the fruit and they all end up tasting the same so that I can’t tell a pumpkin butter from an apple butter from a peach butter. All I taste is cinnamon and nutmeg and sugar.

As a result, when I decided to make apple butter this year, I knew it would have to be different. Unlike the peach butter I make, which is just basically peaches and sugar and bourbon, the apple butter would have to have some flavoring added. Otherwise, it would just be concentrated applesauce, right? My inspiration came from thinking about caramel apples and from a juice bar apple drink I once had with fresh ginger added. I decided to try to mix those flavors and see what would happen.

I started with caramelizing the sugar. Here is one pound of sugar in the pot, melting and turning into a wonderful color. I have never caramelized this much sugar at once. It was amazing and scary at the same time.

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Four pounds of peeled and cored apples go in next. This was a scary few minutes. Boy, that sugar turned into a huge mass of hard candy.

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I added some apple cider, brought it all up to a simmer, and stirred it occasionally until all the sugar melted again. It cooked for awhile; 30 minutes, maybe? I basically boiled it until a lot of the liquid had evaporated. I thought it would be easier to boil away the liquid while the apples were still in chunks rather than when it was pureed. Purees tend to spit all over the place and make a mess.

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When everything was nice and soft and there was just a little liquid in the bottom of the pan, I got out the immersion blender and blended it all together until it was as smooth as I could get it.

Here’s the fun part. Two tablespoons of freshly grated ginger went into the pot. I let it cook down for awhile and tasted. It still needed something. It was a little flat. The ginger had a nice zing and I could taste the caramel, but it needed another flavor. This is when I opened the spice drawer and took a look around. I saw the smoked paprika and decided to throw some of that in the mix.

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Ooh! What a lovely sweet smokey scent! I think maybe at this point my tastebuds were a little apple saturated, because when I tasted the butter, it was hard for me to distinguish any ginger or paprika or caramel flavors. The husband said it was fine, but I really thought it needed a little extra kick, so I added some cayenne pepper as well.

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When the mixture was nice and thick, I declared it done before I could add anything else to the mix and make it weird.

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How was it, you ask? Well, it was pretty good. There’s a subtle, smoky heat to it that lingers in your mouth, but it is not overtly spicy. It’s also not too sweet, which is nice for a fruit butter. It was yummy on freshly baked biscuits. If you look closely enough, you’ll see red flecks from the cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. The boys thought it was a little too spicy, but I think it will mellow out as it ages.

Want some? I have an extra half pint jar to give away. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite Fall activity is and I’ll randomly pick someone on Friday. Sadly, I will only be able to ship domestically this time–not sure what the customs regulations for jams are. Anyway, leave me a comment for a chance to taste this unique apple butter!

Next: freezing apples

Catching Up

Whew!  I have had a busy past week and half.  I have been doing plenty of baking and stitching, but have not had much time for writing, so I will have to do a little catch up this week.  I did manage to get Friday’s FFwD recipe done on Saturday, though.  It was a really dreary day and not really great for pictures, but there you go.

Salmon with Basil Tapenade

Everyone in my house loves salmon, so we all liked it, though, strangely, I am not sure I will make it again.  It just didn’t have the Wow factor that I was hoping for.  It was easy to make, I will give it that.  Maybe it is because I am not a huge olive fan.  Maybe I was just too tired from my busy week.

Incidentally, though I never posted it, I did write up a post for the FFwD recipe from two weeks ago.  Strange.  Anyway, I’ll include it here.  Keen Doristas will notice that I did not make last week’s recipe.  I just couldn’t get it together that week.  You know how it is.  Maybe one day I will get around to making that blueberry mascarpone roulade.  It looked delicious.

(from a couple of weeks ago)

Ginger has become one of my favorite spices. There is something about the way it is slightly spicy and sweet at the same time that I really like. When I have a sore throat, a spicy, gingery tea is all I need to soothe it.

Because I love ginger, I was intrigued by this week’s ffwD recipe. I like pickled things (usually). I love crunchy food. And lastly, when it is one hundred degrees outside, I really love cold food. Since this dish, Crunchy, Ginger-Pickled Cucumbers was all of these things, I loved it. Most everyone else who had them liked them as well. They are refreshing with a little heat and zing from the fresh ginger.

I doubled the recipe to make it for our fourth of July dinner with friends and it worked out just fine. The leftovers were just as good the next day. I think I will be making this again in the near future since the hot weather is likely to stay with us. I am thinking about adding some other veggies to the mix. What do you think would be good?