Monday, November 30, 2009

My Mother's Gingersnaps: Cookies in the past and future tense

A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing verb tenses with my beginning grammar class. I asked them to write several sentences about a hobby using the different verb tenses we had learned. I wrote several sentences about baking cookies as an example:
I bake cookies once a week.
I'm not baking cookies right now.
I have been baking cookies since I was about 8 years old.
I will bake cookies this weekend.

Not Tolstoy, but it gets the job done. So the students whispered among themselves until one of them finally asked, "What does it mean, 'bake cookies'?" So I did some explaining and body language (teaching ESL is often like playing charades) until they mostly said "Ah!" Then one brave student said, "Will you bake cookies for us?" Well, how could you say no to that?
So that weekend, as I promised in my sample sentence, I baked cookies--My Mother's Gingersnaps. There are at least 3 recipes for gingersnaps in this cookbook. If you look at Alicia's last post or one of my recent ones, you'll see the recipe for Chocolate Gingersnaps. That's a very gingery and very easy recipe. My Mother's Gingersnaps involve chilling and rolling, which I very much dislike, and they're not as gingery, but they're pretty decent nonetheless.
Claire and I made them together, and then on the Monday before Thanksgiving, when I had school and she didn't, she came to class with me and distributed cookies. She was a very popular person, believe me! My gingersnap-loving colleagues, Barbara and Emily, had tasted the Chocolate Gingersnaps, and agreed that they liked that recipe slightly more, even though these cookies were good. I'm with them. This is a good cookie, on the soft and buttery side, with a nice ginger bite from the candied ginger, but it doesn't have the powerful ginger impact of the Chocolate Gingersnaps. Karen, if you're reading this, this probably isn't the gingersnap for Lemon Cremes either. We'll see how the next recipe goes.

Here's my very Southern molasses substitute. Sometimes I find molasses a bit too bitter. This has just the right amount of edge. It's also a great substitute for dark corn syrup in pecan pie and such.

Here's Claire patting out the very sticky dough. It had been in the freezer at least 4 hours. That probably wasn't long enough. I still have some dough in the freezer, which is why these cookies are still future tense...

Fortunately, Claire has the patience to cut out dough into various shapes (though I ended up doing the rolling because that dough was way too frustratingly sticky). Aren't they pretty? Note how much they spread, though.

Claire enjoying her handiwork--a big gingerbread snowman.

Here's the recipe. It should make at least 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you cut them and how frustrated you get with the dough.

My Mother's Gingersnaps

3.5 oz. (1/2 c.) candied ginger
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1-1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
3/4 t. finely ground black pepper (yes, that's right. I think maybe you should use preground so that you don't have big chunks from the grinder. )
1-1/2 t. ginger
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) sugar
3/4 c. (8.6 oz.) molasses or cane syrup
1 egg
1-1/4 t. cider vinegar
2 c. (10 oz.) unsifted flour
1 c. (5.5 oz.) whole wheat flour

If your candied ginger comes in tiny pieces, you're probably fine. The Trader Joe's ginger I had was in pretty large chunks, so I snipped it into tiny pieces (1/4 inch or less) with scissors.
Cream the butter with the baking soda, salt, pepper, and ginger until it's soft and fluffy. Then gradually add the sugar and beat for at least 2-3 minutes, until it's all light and fluffy. Then beat in the molasses, egg, and vinegar (Maida gives the very sensible advice to pour some vinegar in a small cup and then spoon it out.), and then add the candied ginger. Finally add the flours, carefully and at low speed.
Divide the dough into three parts and wrap each in waxed paper. Put the packages in the fridge overnight or the freezer at least an hour but preferably also overnight.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 and line some cookie sheets with aluminum foil. Make sure you have PLENTY of flour at hand to flour your pastry cloth and rolling pin. Roll out the dough QUICKLY to about 1/4 inch, and cut it with round cookie cutters or whatever you feel like. Place the cookies on the foil-lined sheets, giving them plenty of room to spread. If you're not speedy quick and/or your kitchen is somewhat warm, you'll probably have to chill (freeze) the dough scraps before rerolling them. I alternated between two packages of dough, and that worked out pretty well. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until brown and flat. Cool on foil on a rack, and get ready to share. Otherwise you might have to write a sentence like, "I was doing well on my diet before I baked these cookies."


  1. Too bad there weren't any left to bring to Livermore!

  2. This is one of my favorite cookies, but it is only at Christmas that I have the patience to roll & cut out cookies. This recipe is so easy done as a slice and bake Refrigerator Cookie. I line a loaf pan with parchment or clear wrap, then press the dough into the pan and freeze. Slice very thinly for ginger wafers and bake 6-10 minutes depending on thinness.

    1. Great idea! Thanks for reading :-)