I love the smell of fresh grated ginger and cloves, and I'll use any excuse to bake with these spices. Yes, the thought has crossed my mind to fill the bathtub with holiday spices, but the logical side of my brain tells me that this won't end well. I wonder if anyone has invented a Christmas spiced body lotion? because if not, I think it's time to discuss this possibility.
A while back, I used to own a vanilla flavored body cream that smelled like the Betty Crocker French vanilla icing in a can(!). This was one fine cream, with an aroma that suggested you should spread it on a cupcake and eat it. During my quick stint with icing-in-a-can-cream, my dog wouldn't stop licking my legs, and it was driving me insane. He thought I was one giant cupcake. You know, people always say that dogs have the cleanest mouths around, but I disagree. I walk my dog twice a day, and I see what he tries to put in his mouth. And let's just leave it at that.
I love to fill the house with baked goods this time of year. It makes me feel accomplished as a baker and Christmas enthusiast. Last year I went overboard, and basically started a small scale bakery out of my sister's kitchen, with 3 dogs and a tiny baby rolling around on the floor. It was a messy affair. For some reason, I felt the need to bake each family member at least a dozen cookies. It was crazy, and I have decided to scale things back a little this year. I have settled on a few recipes and am more interested in trying to perfect them: christmas cake, mince meat tarts, and these ginger cookies.
Last year, Cook's Illustrated put out a great holiday baking issue, which included an article on soft, chewy molasses spice cookies. They (a team of highly specialized taste testers), instead of me, spent the time and money and came up with a great recipe. What I love so much about Cook's Illustrated is their breakdown of each ingredient, and how it relates to flavor and texture. So even if you don't share similar tastes with regards to their end product, you can alter the recipe based on their analysis of each ingredient.
Molasses is the dominant flavor in this cookie. Cook's Illustrated gives a breakdown of 5 common molasses and how their flavor contributes to the overall taste. Most tasters preferred dark molasses over blackstrap, due to its lighter flavor. I'm not particularly fond of that intense blackstrap flavor either, but you could always use blackstrap if that is what you prefer. Personally, I liked the sound of Brer Rabbit full flavor - imparting a smooth molasses flavor without a trace of bitterness - so went with that one.
I chose to use all dark brown sugar for its flavor. Cook's Illustrated suggested using a combination of brown and white sugar, the brown intensifying the molasses flavor, and the white acting as a spreading agent, allowing the cookies to have an even thickness without being puffy.
The egg whites in this recipe cause the cookie to have a cake-like crumb, while being more dry and firm. Thus I added one egg yolk for this recipe. I also altered most of the spice ratios from their recipe, in particular adding more ginger and cloves. I followed their exact instructions for baking, which I have included below. The cookies turned out just as I hoped. Soft, chewy, and gingery. I think I might just make these cookies all year round, they are that good(!)
SPICED GINGER COOKIES WITH MOLASSES RECIPE
makes 40 cookies
recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking
notes: these cookies should look raw and slightly under baked when you take them out of the oven. They should also have distinct cracks on the tops. This is ideal for that soft chewy texture.
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup molasses (Brer Rabbit Full Flavor)
1/4 cup coarse sugar
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Reposition the oven rack to the middle.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt with a whisk. Set to the side.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the dark brown and white sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy - 3 minutes.
Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined - 20 seconds.
Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses. Mix until combined - 20 seconds.
With the stand mixer on the lowest setting, slowly add the flour and mix until just combined - until you can no longer see any white. You will likely need to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides with a spatula.
With a 1 3/4" melon baller, scoop enough dough to fill the scoop and then scrape the remaining dough so that the bottom is flat - resembling a half circle. Plop the dough into your hand, flat side facing down, and sprinkle with the coarse evaporated sugar, enough to fully coat. Place the cookies onto the baking sheet, flat side facing down, roughly 2 inches apart.
Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 11 minutes, rotating half way through. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 5 days, or in the freezer for 6 months.