Gingerbread cookies: They’re not just for Christmas anymore

Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me—I’m the gingerbread man!

Now, I ask you: was the original gingerbread man happily enjoying the holiday season, lounging around the Christmas tree, waiting for Santa to arrive? No way.

He was running around the countryside avoiding predators, till the sly fox persuaded him to get into a boat to cross the river… and, well, we all know what happened after that. (Fairy tales could be so violent, back in the day when we didn’t worry about kids and their fragile psyches…)

Ginger is one of my favorite spices, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to relegate it to one month of the year. I just love a good, moist gingerbread cake. Up in Maine, where I lived for 14 years, we’d anxiously await the August harvest of tiny, fresh Maine blueberries, so we could make blueberry gingerbread. And peach gingerbread is equally tempting. Apricot-ginger scones, ginger pancakes, ginger squares… this is a spice that’s right up there with cinnamon. Which is why I chose to play with it on a recent snowy February afternoon.

I like soft molasses cookies. Maybe some “Yankee” has rubbed off on this Irish-Norwegian gal during the 32 years I’ve spent in northern New England. Or maybe it’s simply nostalgia for the soft, fat cookies my Wisconsin grandma used to make. Or maybe it’s even those hermit-like Archway cookies that tempt me in the cookie aisle to this very day. But whatever its source, I have an affinity for molasses cookies. And for ginger. So I decided to ramp up the ginger in my favorite molasses cookie recipe. How best to do that? Crystallized ginger.

Crystallized (candied) ginger is ginger that’s been peeled, boiled in sugar syrup, and dried. The result is an assertive, sweet/hot, chewy ginger, a wonderful addition to scones, muffins, cookies, and cake. You can only go so far with ground ginger; when you want a real kick of ginger, reach for the crystallized.

Which is what I did with these cookies. They include crystallized ginger, as well as ginger syrup (which, by the way, is super-simple to make at home; see the step-by-step below, and the recipe at the end of the gingerbread cookie recipe). And added ginger is what moves molasses cookies to Soft Gingerbread Cookies.

One last word: if you see any foxes in the neighborhood, run!

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First, combine the crystallized ginger and sugar in a food processor. A mini processor is a good choice here.

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Process to make a fine-textured, golden ginger sugar.

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Mix the sugar and butter…

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…beating till smooth.

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Add the molasses (or molasses and ginger syrup), baking soda, salt, and spices.

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Beat thoroughly, to make a mahogany-colored, soft dough.

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Add the eggs…

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…and beat again. Notice the batter looks a little grainy; that’s OK.

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Beating in the flour smooths it out nicely.

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Use a tablespoon cookie scoop, or a spoon, to scoop balls of dough into the sugar coating of your choice. This is Swedish pearl sugar; it makes a real visual statement.

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This is coarse white sugar; it makes the cookies sparkle.

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Space the balls of dough on a parchment-lined or greased cookie sheet, leaving about 2 1/2” between them on all sides. Yes, really; they’re going to spread a lot.

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As the cookies bake, they’ll puff up…

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Then flatten as they cool. Notice how much they expanded.

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This is what happens when you don’t leave sufficient space between the cookies.

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And this is what happens when you ALMOST—but don’t quite—leave enough space.

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And this is what the cookies look like when you make their variation, replacing all of the molasses with ginger syrup, and leaving the diced crystallized ginger as is, and not processing it with the sugar. Notice the chunks of ginger in the top cookie–now that’s what I call a ginger cookie!

And here’s how to make homemade ginger syrup:

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Start with 14 ounces of fresh ginger root. You’ll find this in the produce section at the supermarket. I don’t bother to peel it.

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Slice the ginger 1/8” to 1/4” thick. A food processor makes short work of this chore. Combine the ginger, 3 1/2 cups water, and 3 1/2 cups granulated sugar in a deep saucepan. A DEEP saucepan; it’s going to bubble up.

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This is what happens when you underestimate the extent to which this syrup will bubble!

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When the syrup has been at a steady, vigorous simmer (not a hard, rolling boil) for 45 minutes or so and reached the required temperature, pour the contents of the pan into a sieve set over a heatproof container.

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Weigh it down, to press as much syrup out of the ginger as possible. Let it drain till it stops dripping; it’s OK to just let it sit on the counter for an hour or more.

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And there you have it: homemade ginger syrup. Ginger ale, anyone?

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DAFFODIL WATCH: The snow receded last weekend, and guess what was underneath? These daffodil shoots are a few feet to the left of where I was originally looking, along my south foundation. They must have been hiding under the leaves for quite some time. Although it’s still mid-winter cold, the sun rises higher in the sky every day; and I’m convinced that my spring flowers can feel it.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Amy R. Cape

    I made the Soft Ginger cookies today, and they came out wonderfully. However, I had trouble making the ginger syrup. I followed the directions for slicing the ginger, adding the water and sugar, and bringing it to a boil. I inserted a candy thermometer and waited until it reached the required temperature, which in my case took only about 10 minutes, far less than the 45-60 minutes called for in the recipe. I even double checked the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. I removed it from the heat, strained it in a sieve, and had a nice thick clear syrup. I left it on the counter in a glass measuring cup. Within about 10 minutes, it began to crystalize. Within about 1/2 hour, it had solidified into a pale beige, opaque mass. I was able to soften it by sitting the glass cup in a pan of boiling water, but it remained opaque and grainy so I threw it out. What did I do wrong?

    Reply
  2. PJ Hamel , post author

    Amy, two possibilities: I didn’t make the link to the recipe very clear, so maybe you didn’t use the right amount of water? The recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of water and 3 1/2 cups of sugar, along with 14 ounces of ginger root. The other thing is, it should simmer – pretty vigorously, but it shouldn’t be a hard, rolling boil. It sounds to me like either you didn’t use enough water, for some reason; or it simply boiled away too quickly. I’m sorry! I’ve never seen this happen before…

    Reply
  3. Carla Lapierre

    I used apple cider for the water in the syrup recipe it is really good. We used the syrup in place of map;e syrup on crepes. My Quebecois husband even conceeded that this was special abandonning his sirop d’erable for this meal.
    Having read the problem about the over thickened syrup. When the weather is due to be stormy water boils away much faster. Perhaps Amy was cooking on a day when weather was due?

    Reply
  4. Casey

    These are EXACTLY the kind of gingerbread cookie I was looking for. I made the ginger
    syrup (very easy) about 6 weeks ago when I found some gorgeous organic ginger at the
    market. I used Trader Joe’s UNcrystallized Candied Ginger and couldn’t for the life of my
    Cuisinart make it chop up as finely as desired. I resorted to re-sifting it, adding the sugar
    only to the butter and then using the finely chopped ginger added in with the flour. They’re not as chewy as I hoped, but I’m sure that’s a consequence of my less than perfect oven (whose heating element is on the top of the oven). I’ve only eaten two (major YUM), the rest will go with me to the store tomorrow to treat my employees who all love the flavor of ginger. Thank you for the precise directions posted on the Bakers’ Banter page.

    Reply
  5. Julianna

    After the ginger pieces have been drained of the syrup, are they usable in a crystallized ginger sense for the cookies?

    Yes, if you peel the ginger before you make the syrup – I don’t usually bother to peel. Also, you’d need to dry them out – just leave them sitting out till they’ve dried off. Good idea! PJH

    Reply
  6. Eileen

    I love Baker’s Banter and was psyched to see your comment on my site, PJ. An honor, to be sure. :)

    These cookies are wonderful. They were so easy, quick, and DELICIOUS.

    Reply
  7. Peggy

    Could you please send me types of cookies I would appreciate it.

    Cookies are categorized in these six types, based on the dough and shaping procedures; drop, rolled, bar, refrigerator, molded, pressed. For recipes, check our website or the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion cookbook devoted to cookies of all types. Irene at KAF

    Reply
  8. Erin R

    I made these yesterday (what else are you expected to do in a snow storm?!) and they are FANTASTIC. We went through the whole process of making the syrup (and since I don’t have a candy thermometer, we just waited until it looked like it had reduced by about half – which made an excellently gingery syrup) and used the crystalized ginger too. I love that they’re not hard (a good number of gingerbread recipes i’ve tried tend to get pretty stiff once they’ve cooled).

    Anywho, my boyfriend (who manned the mixer the whole time!) think they’re excellent and are hoping that we get snowed in again so we’ll have the opportunity to make more of these.

    So tasty, aren’t they, Erin? Glad you guys made good use of the storm yesterday – it’s headed for us today, and I[m making molasses cookies, pizzelle, and biscotti – plain vanilla, and cranberry-pistachio. Happy holidays!

    Reply

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