Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Simple Food Ginger Snaps

The next step in my Gingerbread Odyssey is a tour through the gingerbread or ginger cookies in my ever-growing cookbook collection. These days I almost have more cookbooks than I know what to do with, and certainly more than I really know well. I'm very excited to use the my gingerbread explorations as an opportunity to better know some of the more obscure or underused. I also plan to use this as an opportunity for mini-reviews.
That said, my first attempt was from a new favorite, the already broken-spined The Art of Simple Food. This elegant new book from Alice Waters is full of straightforward, readable recipes for what Waters at least considers basic preparations. It's as approachable as most of the Chez Panisse cookbooks can be intimidating, and I use it all the time. Desserts are not the book's strong point, but it covers Waters' basics, including the gingersnap recipe also featured in my favorite children's cookbook and fantasia, Fanny at Chez Panisse. I would hazard a guess that these cookies made or make frequent appearances at the restaurant, as they are also the recipe that David Lebovitz, a former Chez Panisse dessert chef, chose to feature in his book review for Simple Food.
The snaps were good, not great. Next time I would up the spice and possibly make the dough a little dryer, it was difficult to work with. At first, I tried rolling out the dough, but that was so difficult that I did my second batch as a freezer roll, and had better success. These aren't the holy grail of cookies, but there is one thing that they do very well indeed, so well that it's pointed out everywhere that the recipe appears, and that is...
Ice cream sandwiches. I adapted David Lebovitz's passion fruit ice cream recipe to a mango-lemon version, and tried a new method for filling the sandwiches. Usually I just scoop a spoonful onto the bottom cookie, press on the top, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. That method is a little messy, and doesn't create the precise little sandwiches I prefer (yes, I'm all Martha about my ice cream sandwiches). This time I poured the soft ice cream onto waxed paper in a 3/4 inch layer in a pan, and cut out circles with a biscuit cutter once it had hardened, and this was successful enough that it will be my new go-to method. And they were delicious, best after defrosting for ten minutes or so.

Ginger Snaps
From The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution (Clarkson Potter) by Alice Waters, adapted from David Lebovitz's adaptations.
  • 2 cups (280 g) flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 11 tablespoons (150 g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup (80 g) mild-flavored molasses* (sometimes called 'light' molasses)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
1. Stir together the dry ingredients.

2. Beat the butter just until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until smooth.

3. Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.

4. Mix in the dry ingredients gradually until the dough is smooth.

5. Divide the dough in two equal portions and roll each on a lightly-floured surface until each is about 2-inches (5cm) around. Don't worry if they're not perfect; you can neaten them up in a second.

6. Wrap each in plastic wrap then roll them lightly on the counter to smooth them out. Refrigerate, or better yet, freeze the cookie logs until firm.

7. To bake, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

8. Slice cookie dough into 1/4-inch (a scant 1 cm) rounds with a sharp knife. Dip one side and press firmly in a bowl of coarse sugar if you want (you can also use granulated sugar instead), and place sugar-side up on baking sheet, evenly-spaced apart. Leave a couple of inches, about 5 cm, between cookies since they'll spread while baking.

9. Bake for 10-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until deep-golden brown. The cookies will puff up a bit while baking, then settle down when they're done. Bake on the lower end of the range for softer cookies, and more for snappier ones (I'd suggest going for snappy if you want ice cream sandwiches), depending on your oven.

10. Let the cookies cool two minutes, then remove them with a spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack.

Mango Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz
  • 1/2 cup mango puree (put mango in food processor, whir...)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (I subbed some with milk)
  • 6 Tbl whole milk (I used skim)
  • 7 Tblsp. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • orange zest (meyer lemon) or lemon oil
Mix mango and 1/2 the cream, set aside.
Warm milk, sugar, salt, remaining cream in saucepan, whisk the yolks in nearby bowl. Add a bit of warm milk to eggs to temper, whisk eggs into warm milk, heat until custard coats the back of a spoon. Stir custard into remaining cream/mango mix, add zest. Chill and put in ice cream freezer.

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