There are two kinds of people in the world: people who understand ginger cookies and people who do not. The people who do not understand ginger cookies are the ones who relegate the whole breed to strict duty as crumbs for crust when graham crackers have gone out of fashion. But there is a world of difference between a ginger-snap, a ginger cookie, and a gingerbread cookie. Bear with me. I know those of you who don't give two spits about any kind of ginger cookie won't care, but if you'll hang on two moments, you'll be able to argue the provenance of the varieties of ginger cookies with the best of them.
GingerbreadIn the medieval time-period, "gingerbread" didn't even refer to a cookie, rather to preserved ginger. However, by the time heads began to roll during the Wars of the Roses, the English at least had the warmth of gingerbread (in its various forms) to console them for the (bloody) effort of discussing whether red or white roses were more appropriate for arrangement in London palaces. In the beginning (and continuing) in the British and greater-European tradition we find the most common form of "gingerbread" being hard cookies baked in an endless parade of shapes. It's really an American thing to consider warm, spicy, muffin-like loaves or squares as "gingerbread." It is now common to assume that unless "gingerbread cake" is specified, a person is referring to the hard, shaped cookies used for gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, and gingerbread ornaments.
GingersnapsGingersnaps are a close cousin to gingerbread and could essentially be interchangeable except for the fact that they're quite boring and never baked in any other shape but rounds. I mean, what a life. Change your shape for a second and you're mislabeled as gingerbread. Talk about prejudice. The "snap" part of gingersnaps came round during the Colonial period when it was noticed that when bitten into, the hard gingerbread rounds made a snapping sound. Gold star for participation, Betsy Ross. While I still like gingersnaps with a cold glass of milk on a raw November day, I vote that most gingersnaps end up in a cheesecake with a gingersnap crust.
Ginger CookiesHere we get to the bit I'm most passionate about. Ginger cookies. When I refer to a ginger cookie I'm talking about a very precarious, particular, and perfect combination of molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and at least two forms of ginger. I'm talking about dark spice and a chewy texture. I'm talking about cookies which bake up like a dream and pair exquisitely with black coffee, lemon tea, or your morning commute to work. Here we discard all the polite hinting at ginger which bakers have relegated themselves to since the first housewife to bake a pan of ginger-flavored biscuits came up with the idea. A ginger cookie is big and bold with enough flavor to stay on a bucking horse.
The whisky shot of the cookie world, let me introduce you to a recipe I've tried and tried again and again. I've tweaked the spices, the ratios of ginger-to-chewiness, as well as the other ingredients until I really feel I've got a good shot at calling these...
The Ultimate Ginger Cookie
(10-12 large cookies)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping Tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large ginger root, peeled and minced (approximately 3/4 cups minced fresh ginger), tossed with sugar
granulated sugar, for rolling cookies
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Cream butter, brown sugar, and molasses by hand or with mixer until very fluffy. Add egg and beat one minute longer. Add minced fresh ginger.
- Sift together dry ingredients and add to butter mixture, stirring well. If dough is a little soft, let it rest in the fridge for an hour.
- Roll into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball, then roll into sugar. Set on cookie sheets at least 2" apart. Sprinkle with a little more sugar.
- Bake for 12-14 minutes until tops are crackled and set. Allow to cool completely before removing from trays.