Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good Time Baking

I'm officially in the holiday spirit via a recent baking session with my Taylor inspired by the new cookbook by Alice Medrich, "Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy - Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies" - a great Christmas gift idea, by the way. Alice is a reowned baker and cookbook author known for her rigorous testing of cookbok recipes. Her book "Bittersweet" was a game-changer for me and I was really excited to bake from this new book as well. There are so many helpful tips and hints throughout the book which make it a real learning experience applicable to other aspects of baking life. She talks about the use of a scale for weighing ingredients (primarily flour) and how it is the key to acuracy consistency. I actually bought into this concept awhile back so I've got the scale ... I'm a believer. I also love how the recipes are categorized by texture and then there is a very cool section in the back dividing recipes up by categories such as "ridiculously easy", "doughs that freeze well", etc. She even has gluten-free recipes (and swears they are just as delicious as the other recipes in the book); I'll have to get back to you on that but I think if anyone can accomplish healthier yet utterly delicious cookies, it would be Ms. Medrich.
We made three recipes - one of four brownie recipes in the book which included a step of plunging the pan into an ice bath as soon as they came out of the oven and a thin/crisp chocolate chip cookie. But my favorite were the "Screaming Ginger" cookies, made with fresh ginger, crystallized ginger and ground ginger (along with allspice and cinnamon). As is the case with baking and cooking in general, the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference. In this case that meant using spices from Penzey's Spices. I love them. I used to order by mail and I can hardly express the joy I felt when they opened a store here in the Heights (clearly all of my orders over the years had translated into some sort of demographic data indicating the need for a retail location in this zip code). Their cinnamon in particular is stellar and for this recipe I used the Ceylon variety since it has a citrus overtune and less bite than some of the others but in this case I knew it would be perfect alongside the other ingredients, especially the fresh ginger root. By the way, you can leave out the fresh ginger and/or the crylstallized ginger and still get a great cookie if you don't want so much ginger but ... I loved the idea of all the ginger and they turned out fabulous ... everyone loved them!

2 cups (9 oz)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/4 cup unsulfured mild or full-flavored molasses
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (2.33 oz) packed brown sugar or light muscovado sugar
2 tablesppons finely minced or grated fresh ginger
1 large egg
1/4 cup (4 oz) ginger chips or crystallized ginger, cut into 1/4 inch dice
About 1/2 cup (3.5 oz) Demerara or turbinado sugar or 1/4 cup (1.75 oz) granulated sugar for rolling

Line cookie sheets w/ parchment; preheat oven to 350 w/ racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Combine the flour, baking solda, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork or wisk (prepare to have your kitchen smell like heaven).

Combine the warm butter, molasses, sugars, fresh ginger and egg in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and crystallized ginger (or chips) and stir until incorporated. The dough will be soft.

Form the dough into 1-inch balls (0.5 oz dough for each). Roll the balls in the Demerara sugar and place them 2 inches apart on the lined sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the cookies puff up and crack on the surface and then begin to deflate in the oven. Rotatethe sheets from bottom and from bakc to front halfway throug the baking time to ensure even baking. For chewier cookies, remove from the oven when at least half or more of the cookies have begun to deflate for crunchier edges with chewy centers, bake for a minute or so longer.

Cool on rack; may be kept in airtight container for several days.

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