Monday, March 30, 2009

Gingerbread Report

I feel like I spend my whole life playing catch-up and apologizing. This has to stop. It is time to manage time well and plan projects that can be completely thoroughly and successfully, with my whole heart. This half-assed last minuteness is not doing it for me, at all, it makes my house filthy and my friends neglected and my voice apparently passive. No more.

It is in the spirit of whole-hearted thorough investigation that I bring you my newest baking plan, a scholarly study complete with spreadsheets, the Gingerbread Report.

While a devoted fan of all things gingerbread, molasses, and spicy (do they let you in to New England without a love of molasses?), I have never quite isolated the perfect ginger-molasses cookie recipe. The subtle balance of butter to egg to flour to flavor that makes a cracked, spicy, chewy wonder every time has always eluded me. This spring, I am resolved to deal with the problem once and for all, by baking every reputable recipe I can get my hands on for ginger cookies, ginger-molasses cookies, and gingerbread, and creating the definitive guide to all things ginger-molasses. Since I and everyone I know loves ginger-molasses cookies, this shouldn't be a serious hardship, but it is going to be rigorous.

Recipes will be selected from a variety of online and print sources, and will be catalogued in a master spreadsheet by ingredients and method. All recipes will be posted here on the blog, with careful accreditation and link (if possible) to their original source. I will try to note unusual combinations or interesting ratios, and to stick as closely to the original recipe as possible (spices are exempt, almost all recipes are too chicken on this point for me). A round-up at the end of the run will summarize findings.

Literature Review: (so far)

Curtis & Schwartz Cookbook's Ginger Molasses Cookies
My old standard. These are easy, reliable, and reasonably adaptable for different baking conditions (rolled cookies, cakier, softer). I've made them hundreds of times--they were probably what started me making ginger cookies in the first place. I've never been able to quite pin down what made them so perfect in the given link. They've never been like that before nor since. If they had, I wouldn't be doing this project.

Tartine's Soft Glazed Gingerbread
From the book from the bakery. San Francisco's Tartine comes up a lot on blogs, but I came to this recipe in a roundabout way, printed it out, saved it for months, and found it when I was cleaning out my office last weekend. Made it, as simply as possible, no glazing of any sort. Spicing was perfect, but perfect. Texture is like flat gingerbread (the cake kind). Needed something. Not sure just what. I may have put in a touch too much egg. This, though, is very very good. Highly recommended, I'm using it as my spice guide now.

King Arthur Flour's Soft Molasses Cookies
These strong spicy molasses-rich cookies are are unusual in that they have no egg in the recipe, and do contain 1/3 cup of rum (I subbed rye whiskey, usually the only hard alcohol I have around in quantity). I upped the spices considerably, but left everything else the same--I'll give you the recipe spiced as KA intended it with my notes. These were very showy cookies (they are the ones pictured in this post) with good texture. Not perfect, which might have something to do with butter, they had only about half of what this amount of cookies would usually have. Good recipe for those times with no fresh eggs and a cupboard full of dry goods. The dough was very sticky. I mixed in a little egg in the second round of cookies, just to see what it would do.
Here is without egg:
Here is with egg:
And here they are side by side:
Not a huge difference, but the egg-free ones looked better and the egg added nothing, so I'd have to conclude that the bakers up in Vermont had the right of it.

Recipe follows after the jump.

Soft Molasses Cookies ("Joe Froggers")
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour website

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup (6 ounces) molasses
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) dark rum

Whisk together the flour, spices, salt and baking soda, and set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar, then beat in the molasses. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the rum.

Using a cookie or muffin scoop, scoop out round balls of dough somewhere in size between a ping-pong ball and a golf ball, and place the balls on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake the cookies in a preheated 375°F oven for 11 to 12 minutes, until they crack on top but haven't yet browned around the edges. Yield: eighteen 3-inch cookies.


Catherine said...

i don't know if i can express strongly enough my desire to be on the vetting committee for these cookies.

Joan said...

Mom says her favorite is the one from the Black Dog bakery from marthas vineyard. Dad says please freeze one of each recipe for me.
ps your picture on top of this post is cockeyed
pps serendipity: Linda Schwartz was on our plane yesterday

Miriam said...

i made the curtis and schwartz recipe tonight and they were delicious.