“Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by an Armenian monk named Gregory of Nicopolis. French priests began making it and it spread to other parts of Europe. It arrived in Sweden via Germany; Swedish nuns used it to ease indigestion. The town of Market Drayton, in Shropshire, UK became known for its gingerbread around 1600, and gingerbread became widely available in the 18th century.”
I kind of giggled when I saw that Swedish nuns used gingerbread to ease indigestion because back in Michigan, there is a very well-known local ginger ale that is used as a cure-all for stomach problems (as well as for basting Easter hams). It has long been known that ginger has medicinal properties and can be used to treat nausea, indigestion, seasickness, and diarrhea. When mixed with water, ginger can be helpful for preventing heat cramps, and it is used in innumerable folk remedies. Not to mention that it’s a staple in most Asian cuisine, as well as some Caribbean foods.
This past week, I was invited by a co-worker to a cookie swap/ugly Christmas sweater party. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a cookie swap, party attendees bring cookies to eat and exchange, and everyone leaves with a variety of sweets. I was very glad to attend mostly so I could have the excuse to bake and eat cookies. However, I was at a loss when I thought of what kind of cookies to make. Should I make something creative, like decorated sugar cut-outs? Something easy, like a drop cookie? Will I have time or energy to make cookies at all? What if someone brings the same thing as me? Luckily, the party had a Facebook invite, and everyone posted the kinds of cookies they were bringing, and I settled on my tried and true standard: a gingersnap.
I have used many gingersnap recipes before settling on my favorite, which is inspired by a recipe I found on The Savory Notebook. I altered it slightly partly on accident and partly on purpose. The original recipe calls for one stick of butter, and when I made the recipe for the first time, I accidentally used two. It didn’t seem to impact the cookie much at all, so I left it at two sticks. The original recipe also calls for 1/2 tsp. of cloves; I cut it down to 1/4 because I don’t like too much clove taste (and it is mighty strong). Lastly, the original calls for three ounces of crystallized ginger; I used four ounces just because I like using it.
Chewy Gingersnap Recipe
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar plus extra for rolling
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 ounces crystallized ginger chunks, minced
Pam spray, to grease the cookie sheet
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together; set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in molasses, then mix in egg.
3. Add dry ingredient mixture in batches, scraping down the batter. It will be fairly thick.
4. Stir in crystallized ginger.
Here’s where you have to make a decision: to chill or not to chill. These cookies are going to be rolled into balls and the dough may be a tad sticky. Putting it in the fridge for even 20 minutes will make your life much easier.
After chilling, form the dough into balls. As someone with more than the usual amount of OCD tendencies, I used a tablespoon spring-loaded scoop to portion it out. That way, all the cookies are exactly the same size, and it’s already somewhat ball-shaped once it comes out of the scoop so I didn’t have to get my hands too dirty.
Roll the dough balls in granulated sugar, then place them two inches apart on the greased cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, and cool on wire rack. They will look slightly under-done and very dark, but that’s okay. When they cool, they will be very chewy. This recipe should make about four dozen cookies… at least it does when I use my tablespoon scoop.
The cookies were a big success at the party, and I even had a dozen or so to leave at home to eat later. They are so tasty and spicy, and it’s totally easy to eat a couple at a time. I make these a lot in the winter- for some reason, more so when my school district cancels class because of snow- and they really are the perfect holiday cookie.