This used to be RBR Tailgate, started by Benmys (thanks!), who is actually a chef. I’m just a self-taught cook. If you want to catch up, here are links to the first three entries.
Note: I’m definitely taking a break next Friday, which is Christmas Eve. Hopefully I’ll have time to put something together for New Year’s Eve and semifinal. Probably something on real chili, not the infamous tourist-trap abomination Cincinnati likes to boast about.
FF Rules: (1) #nopolitics. (2) Share your experience. This is a really smart room, and for me, this weekly feature is mostly about being a space to compare notes and ideas. If you enjoy food, you’ve got something to add. Trust me.
Holiday Baking: Ginger Snaps
So, I’m driving around on Signing Day, running errands, and I’m listening to a national sports radio outlet on the satellite radio. On comes a commercial for mail-order brownies. Brownies. Through the damn mail. “Made with the finest Belgian chocolate, blah blah blah.” Brownies, like all baked goods, start shedding “worth-the-calories” value about 15 minutes after they exit the oven. Like a new car, the rate of depreciation can be steep. How good would a brownie have to be to still taste great after being baked, cooled, vacuum packed, and shipped across the continent? And that’s before you factor in the cost of acquisition through the mail, plus waiting 4 or 5 days. Balance all that versus the cost of throwing 8 simple and cheap ingredients into a bowl (9 or 10 if you want to get super-fancy), pouring some batter into a pan, and waiting about 45 minutes.
And if you really want it even easier than that, run to your grocery store and get some brownie mix. Ghirardelli’s various offerings are bullet-proof and taste great.
The larger point here, though, isn’t really about brownies. It’s about baking. Baking is incredibly easy, and watching people throw down major bucks at the holidays for mail-order baked goods blows my mind. Lone exception: Mrs. Hanes Moravian Cookies. I can’t even begin to replicate how thin her operation gets her cookies, and they’re fantastic. One of my favorite holiday recipes happens to be a cookie that’s just not well-served by local bakers or the big food manufacturers: ginger snaps. Actually, it’s more a ginger-molasses cookie, but the cookbook and the family call them “ginger snaps,” so I’m going to stick to that. This recipe is a huge hit at church potlucks and Sunday school classes. I get a lot of requests for it.
A good food scale will make all of your baking projects a heck of a lot simpler. I use a Salter. Weighs a couple of pounds, takes up an 8”x10” footprint on the counter when in use, handles up to 30 pounds of weight, measures to the half-gram, works in grams, ounces, fluid ounces, and milliliters, has a touch-less zero function (tare), and set me back all of $35 used at a local restaurant supply.
Put your bowl on the scale. Tare. Add your flour. Tare. Add your sugar. Tare. Etc. I weigh any ingredient that won’t fit in a measuring spoon. This used to be more of a hassle when all recipes only gave you volumes, but most give you weights now, and if they don’t, conversion is pretty easy. Your phone has both a search engine and a calculator. If you don't have a scale, the spoon-and-level measuring cup method is definitely close enough for government work if that’s your preference. I got the scale for nutrition planning and bread doughs, which are much more finicky about proportions. You don’t really need it for cookies and brownies, things like that, but I still find using the scale easier than trying to stuff shortening into a measuring cup or dealing with sticky sweeteners like honey or molasses.
This recipe comes from the Huntsville Heritage Cookbook, with a couple of alterations. The cookbook got started in 1967, with multiple reprinting over the decades. My version is 1992’s, given to me by my mom as one of my Christmas gifts that year. I’m not much into new cookbooks anymore, given how easy it is to find recipes online, but I find the old ones pretty useful (can’t find 60 year old recipes on the Internet easily) and even entertaining (All the men will come running for this easy and delicious cake! Make your friends green with envy over this elegant but oh-so-simple dish! Definitely a time warp.) You can find them used online. And maybe the Huntsville Junior League still sells them new, I have no idea.
Anyway, the recipe here is the HHC’s ginger snap recipe x2. Making a single batch in my house is kind of pointless. My crew’s going to roll through a double batch pretty quickly. The dough keeps well in the fridge if you press some plastic wrap down on it, and then you can bake a pan as needed. I also double up the ginger and cinnamon from the original recipe, which everyone seems to enjoy. Nothing mild about these cookies.
Bocktean’s Ginger Snaps:
- 4 cups AP flour (500 grams)
- 4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 tsp table salt
- 4 tablespoons ground ginger
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Put all that in a bowl, whisk it until all the spices seem well distributed, and set it aside.
Into the mixer bowl:
- 1.5 cups shortening (308 grams)
- 2 cups sugar (400 grams)
Beat until creamy.
- Add: 2 eggs.
Beat until integrated.
- Add: 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP Grandma’s Molasses (175 grams) Or go black-strap molasses if you really want to go old school.
Beat until integrated.
- Add your flour in 1/3rd increments, beating each add until incorporated.
Roll cookie dough into balls, put them onto a cookie sheet (I use parchment paper underneath). My mom used to roll the cookies in sugar and then press down on them with a fork before baking. I pass on both steps now. They’re sweet enough enough for me and my crew without the sugar coating, and the cookie seems to come out the same pressed or not pressed. But, you can play around with these steps to tailor the cookie to your peak preference - which is kinda the whole point of baking at home. Have at it.
Baking: preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes. Or maybe 14. Or maybe 16? If your oven has uneven heating, you’ll probably need to rotate your pan(s) halfway through.
12 minutes is perfect if your cookies are an ounce (28 grams) of dough each. Ounce and a half (42 grams) takes longer. Two ounces (56 grams) takes longer. The smaller cookies will be more crisp. The larger cookies will be chewier. Make a batch at each size and see what you prefer?
My wife ribs me endlessly about weighing my cookie dough. When she does cookies, any cookie, she just uses a spoon to scoop some dough, roll it, and toss it onto the pan. Which means when her cookies come out of the oven, the perfectly cooked ones (right size) get eaten first, the slightly undercooked ones (too big) get eaten second, and the burnt ones (too small) get fed to the dog. I keep meaning to buy a 1 ounce cookie scoop (I've got a 1.5 and a 2), but I never seem to get around to it. But all my cookies go into the oven the same weight, which means they all cook evenly.
Once the cookies have exited the oven, I let them sit on the cookie sheet for two minutes before sliding the parchment paper and cookies to a wire rack to cool. That keep the bottoms from burning. Then I pop some more cookies on the sheet and back into the oven it goes.
And that’s it. The flavors are perfect for the holidays, and the recipe is dirt simple.
What do you guys bake for the holidays? Or order? :)