Monday, November 17, 2008

Baking Day: Cranberry Gingerbread Gems

Tis the Season to eat cookies!


On my Mothers side of the family, there is a tradition of the Holiday Baking day (also, the famous holiday turkey cook-off, but, that's another post). My Grandma-Great, Wylie, had a Baking Day as part of her regular week like many women of her generation, and although she passed on when I was small, every now and again my mother or grand-mother will wax eloquent about her famous cherry pies.

As time went on (as it does), Baking Day went from being a weekly to an annual event.
I remember as a kid, all of us gathering together in our kitchen- grandma, aunts, all the cousins, my sister and brother and friends, to bake pies and make toffee and craft cookies. My mother had a huge stack of favorite recipes and baking pamphlets gathered over the years which she would xerox and hand to everyone to figure out what we wanted to make. Gingerbread figures to be decorated and used as edible ornaments were a standby, along with many batches of English Toffee to send as Christmas presents for relatives abroad. (Sorry guys, that recipe is secret.)

Over the years, the divorces, the jobs and the process of generally growing up, all of those aunts, cousins, siblings and friends have grown apart in distance, although not in spirit. The house I grew up in belongs to my dad now, and the only cook in it is my sister who still lives at home. We live streets, cities, states away from one another. As the years go on it grows harder and harder to get everyone together for the various holidays.

Baking Day does happen though, every year, through thick and thin.

These Cranberry Gingerbread Gems are a Baking Day favorite of mine, and one which I always associate with this time of year. In the past few years I've adapted the cookie to be smaller, crisp, and even more addictive - I usually put ten or so in a small cellophane bag with a ribbon to give to co-workers.
These cookies have a grown-up twist, maximizing spice and using blackstrap molasses, which comes from the third boiling of cane sugar and is a darker, bitter cousin to the usual. I roll my Gems in Ludy's Ginger Brew Salabrat , which can be found in asian markets in the tea section - which, by the by, on its own is lovely mixed with hot water as a digestive. Cut it with sugar if you can't stand the heat.
If you can't find Ginger Brew, white sugar mixed with a bit of ground ginger will approximate.

Cranberry Ginger Gems

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses (regular works fine too, but the bitterness helps balance the sweet)
1 egg
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped crystallized ginger
Ginger brew mixed with sugar (or white sugar mixed with 1/4tsp ground ginger)

Directions:
FYI, I use a stand mixer for this, and if you have one I recommend it.

Cream together butter and sugar. (Basically blend them together until the mixture is light in color and fluffy.) Add the molasses and egg; blend well.
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl - flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. I use a fork to fluff up the flour but using a sifter works too. Add dry ingredients to the wet - I recommend doing this a bit at a time, and if you are using a stand mixer, pause between additions. The dough will get very stiff.

Fold in cranberries and crystallized ginger bits.
Cover, and refrigerate until very firm - I didn't use the dough until the next day, but a few hours at least should do it.

Heat the oven to 350 F, and prep a shallow dish with ginger-sugar mixture.

Now, you can shape these a few ways. If you want normal size cookies, simply shape into 1-inch balls and roll in the sugar. However, part of the charm of these cookies is how small, crispy and utterly addictive they are - and I would sure feel a lot more guilty eating regular size cookies.

To make small cookies, take a scoop of dough and roll it in your hands into a snake.
(Yes, it's going to look like a winner of the dog-turd lookalike contest. Get over it.)

Roll the snake in sugar, then take a sharp knife and cut into pieces about a half inch thick. Press slightly to reshape into a circle if nessesary.

I use a sil-pat on a baking sheet when I make these because it pretty much negates any pan cleanup, but parchment or a greased cookie sheet works well too. Place the mini-cookies about an inch apart.

Bake for no more than 10 minutes at 350 degrees - I like to check around 6 minutes in. A cookie should feel set but not stiff - if it feels sturdy in the oven, they are probably overdone.
Cool on a rack for a few minutes (if they last that long!)

1 comment:

Sandy Smith said...

Yum! I can't get enough of the cranberry-ginger combo - they're so perfect together. I love your "cookie muncher" too!!

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