When the weather gets cold and the sunshine becomes a rare luxury, we suddenly begin to crave for some homemade treats. Then, with the Christmas around the corner, thousands of sweet temptations cross my mind (and I presume yours, too) and we roll up the sleeves and start baking all kinds of goods, ignoring the expanding waistlines (for them there are New Year’s resolutions).
I know of people who have already made kilos of ginger cookies, stollens, linzers and other Christmas cakes (and that was a month before Christmas!). I’m not one of them and that is not because I don’t enjoy doing it, but probably because I am not capable to organize myself and have everything ready in time.
Last year I have baked some beautiful ginger cookies with icing. We all loved them, but the thing with this type of cookies is you need to leave them for few days to soften a bit and develop their flavours. But what if you don’t have the time to wait? Or simply want to get into Christmas mood with some sweet inspiration, right now.
I came across this gingersnaps recipe on David Lebovitz site (inspired by a recipe by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa) and I think of it as the find of the month. Cushy, chewy and spicy cookies and all that without a drop of fat! As you have probably noticed, we are not shying away from butter, quite on the contrary. But this time of the year means lots of parties and temptations, and to have something to chew with a cup of coffee without feeling guilt, is a real luxury for me.
The Lebovitz recipe calls for ingredients I don’t know where to buy from: molasses, candied ginger and readymade applesauce – we simply don’t have that sort of stuff in Bulgaria. So? Because, I’d decided to bake them anyway, and nothing could stop me, I needed to come up with some substitutions. I used honey instead of molasses, a mix of finely chopped sultanas and grated fresh ginger and I’ve prepared my own applesauce. Making your own applesauce adds another step to the recipe, but it is actually very simple, and you can use the rest for other baking recipes. I also reduced the sugar amount, as I found them a bit too sweet for my taste. And here it is:
Makes 24 big cookies
Preparation and baking time: 85-90 minutes
2 ¼ cups (315g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup honey
½ cup, packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (75g) reduced applesauce
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (40g) finely-chopped raisins
and 10g grated fresh ginger
Or 1/2 cup (50g) candied ginger
additional sugar (about 1/2 cup, 100g) mixed with a big pinch of cinnamon for rolling the cookies
Start with the applesauce – as I prepared mine from scratch, I made it thicker than the regular applesauce and it definitely was a clever thing to do – even this way the batter is sticky and tricky to work with. So, you be advised…
For the quantity needed (1/4 cup) I used 2 big apples, peeled, cored and grated. Put them in a small saucepan, sprinkle with 1 tsp cinnamon and pour 2 tbsp water. Bring to boil, reduce the heat, and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the mix resembles a thick paste.
Of course, you can reduce half a cup (150g) of ready made applesauce (don’t add any sugar) down to quarter of a cup (75g).
In a bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt and leave apart.
In another bowl mix brown sugar, applesauce and honey. Beat with a mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed. After this time scrape down the sides and add the egg whites. Incorporate them, beating with the mixer for another minute.
Sift the dry ingredients over and mix with the mixer at its lowest speed, until the flour is completely absorbed. Mix at medium speed for one more minute, than stir in the chopped raisins and grated fresh ginger (or candid ginger).
Chill the batter very well. The dough will be a bit tricky to shape into balls, so make sure it’s well chilled before starting working with it.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
Line three (or 4) baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Pour some cinnamon-scented granulated sugar in a small bowl. Scoop the cookies into generous tablespoon-sized balls (about the size of a walnut) and plop them down into the sugar. For me the easiest way to shape them was to scoop up some of the batter with a cold teaspoon, and using another teaspoon drop the batter into the sugar. Using your hands form the dough into sugar-coated balls and don’t be shy with the sugar – the quantity in the batter is already reduced. It helps to shape the sticky dough and makes a charming shimmery crust on the finished cookies. Once you’ve put them in the oven, they will spread into nice circles.
Arrange the balls on the tre baking sheets, but keep in mind they will spread – don’t put them near to the baking sheets borders and leave at least 3-inches/8cm distance from ball to ball.
According to Lebovitz, the cookies have to be baked for 13 minutes or until they feel just barely set in the center. They are meant to be chewy and soft, so you don’t want to over bake them. I followed his instructions, and watched them like a hawk during the final moments of baking.
And yes, as he says, all the ovens are different! I found mine to be a little under baked, so in my second try I placed the baking tray first on the lower level of the oven for 5 minutes, and then moved it on to the middle level of the oven for another 9-10 minutes. And it was a success!
My advice – gently touch with your finger the center of a cookie and take them out right after they feel like they’re starting to set.