Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Crazy for Cookies

Janet here: A few weeks ago, I made — or more accurately, tried to make my mother-in-law's molasses sugar cookies. We were coming up to the anniversary of her death and my husband asked me to make them. I thought it would be a nice way to remember her.

But then I looked at the recipe and it called for Crisco instead of butter and I just couldn't wrap my baking head around using Crisco for anything other than part of pie crust (and my father would roll in his grave if he knew I used anything but pure butter for all of it) so I substituted butter and they were good but not quite the real thing. (Not that I'm sure anything would have really been the real thing anyway because my mother-in-law wasn't making them, and I mean that in all the best ways.)

So when we decided to make cookies this week, I decided to try to redeem myself and make another molasses recipe, this one the Barefoot Contessa's ultimate ginger cookie from her At Home cookbook. It included the all-important molasses ingredient of my mother-in-law's tasty cookies but also included bits of crystallized ginger (a particular favorite of my husband). Although I was nervous while working with the dough — it was much drier than most cookie batter — I'm happy to report it was a success. While not a substitute for his mother's cookies — nor should they be — Peter proclaimed them tasty.

Ultimate Ginger Cookies
makes about 16 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sguar, lightly packed (I only had light brown and it was fine)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg at room temperature
1 1/4 cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)
granulated sugar for rolling the cookies

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if you're like me, just in a bowl where you're going to mix everything with a trusty old fork), beat the brown sugar, oil and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg and beat for 1 minutes. Scrape the bowl and beat for one more minuted.

With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookier into a 1 3/4-inch ball and then flatten slightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place on the cookie sheets.

Bake exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft on the inside. Let cool on the sheets for a minute or two. Then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Try not to eat a half dozen.

Rachel here: Without planning on it, or much discussing it, it seems my mom and I both baked cookies with other people in mind this week. Aren't we good people to know? Anyway, one of my dearest friends in the world is coming to visit for a few short days this weekend and I am immersed in an insanely chaotic couple of weeks right now so, to prepare for her visit I made cookie dough ahead of time this past weekend. Since it's a recipe I'd never used before, though, I figured it would only be wise to bake off a quick dozen to make sure they're edible. This has actually been my approach to cookie baking for the last year or so, and I have to say I highly recommend it. I make the full dough recipe and then usually just bake a dozen, either refrigerating or freezing the rest of the dough depending on when I think I'll be wanting more cookies. This way, fresh cookies are never more than ten minutes away in my house and, let's be honest here, there's nothing like a cookie warm from the oven. Plus, it's a great way to get a chunk of baking out of the way in advance when you have a busy week with an event looming at the end of it.

Anyway, the recipe I used I modified from one I found on epicurious that was featured in the July 2003 Bon Appetit. The texture is perfect, I think (and my co-taster, John, agrees). In a completely spacey pregnant moment, I forgot to put in all of the spices and nearly (like, very very nearly) forgot to put in the oats. I remembered the oats in the nick of time (like, right before I was about to put the cookies in the oven) and, at that moment, realized my complete neglect of the spices. I didn't want to over-mix the dough, though, so I sprinkled the spices on top. I imagine these cookies are a little bit better with the spices mixed into the dough and I suspect you can go a little heavier on the spices than the recipe calls for. Even with all of my errors, though, these cookies are seriously delicious. Now I just have to try to forget how much dough I have in the fridge until closer to my friend's arrival...

Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins, Cranberries, Walnuts and Chocolate Chips

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tspn. baking powder
1/2 tspn. baking soda
3/4 tspn. salt
1 1/2 tspn. cinnamon
1/2 tspn. nutmeg
3/4 c. butter, room temperature
1/4 c. vegetable shortening, room temperature
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar (I used dark)
2 large eggs
1/4 c. honey (for ease, 1/4 c.=4 T...easier to measure in this case, I think)
1 T. vanilla
1 c. raisins and cranberries
1 c. walnuts, broken
1 c. chocolate chips (I used bittersweet...sooooo good)
3 c. rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine first six ingredients (flour through nutmeg) in a small bowl and set aside. In your mixer, beat the butter, shortening and sugars until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, honey and vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture. Stir in the last four ingredients (raisins/cranberries through oats). Spoon batter onto cookie sheet (I used a heaping tablespoon) and bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Let sit on sheet a minute or so before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Yum!

The base for this recipe, I think, would lend itself well to anything you wanted to add in the place of the last four ingredients (though, personally, I'd keep the oats). The original recipe called for way more sugar, too, so if these aren't sweet enough for you, then feel free to increase both of the sugars to 1 cup.

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