I don’t know whether this is the same in every family, but in ours, my mum is the most adventurous eater, never afraid to try new things and always on the lookout for that one item on the menu she has never tried before. By contrast Gustav (my dad, but us four kids all call him by his first name), prefers to play it safe when eating out. If there is a steak or a nice piece of grilled fish on the menu, he will likely order it. Inevitably this results in food envy when my mum ends up stumbling upon yet another unknown-to-us but utterly brilliant dish. And it is funny really, while Gustav may hesitate to order a new-to-him dish in a restaurant, he likes strong flavors more than anyone in our family.
He adores smelly cheese (mainly French n his case but as long as the cheese is really smelly and nicely ripe and soft, Gustav will likely like it) and while I love a good smelly cheese now, as a child, seated next to my dad for all our meals, I found the smell almost unbearable. Lately, Gustav is really into his fermented foods. A Christmas present of Sandor Katz’ book on fermentation kick-started an already nascent Kimchee operation in my parents’ conservatory. And then came the fermented sodas (which sound stranger than they are – I had a lacto-fermented quince soda at Semilla in Brooklyn last autumn and it was all kinds of delicious, similar to what you might expect to taste if someone offered you quince ‘cider’). But one thing I never understood until recently was his love of all things ginger. He must be one of the few people I know who actually enjoy the chewy ginger candies you can buy in what look like small cigarette packs in Chinese supermarkets.
With its undeniably soapy flavour, ginger can be an acquired taste. And it certainly was for me. Yet, the older I get, I have come to not only appreciate but in fact enjoy its flavour – sweet yet fiery – most recently in an incredible risotto that included both anchovies and small pieces of candied ginger Alessandro and I enjoyed at Marzapane in Rome. So it was no surprise that when I picked up Claire Ptak’s new book The Violet Bakery Cookbook, I was immediately drawn to the Chewy Ginger Snaps – with the wet and rather cold start to autumn we have been having here in Brussels, there is little I would rather like to do than sit on the sofa with a good book (currently reading this!), a steaming mug of homemade chai and a heavily spiced cookie like one of these ginger snaps.
Rye Molasses Ginger Snaps
Adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook
Notes: Claire writes that the recipe yields 12 cookies – what I was not quite expecting was that by 12 cookies she meant 12 cookies the size of your palm. While I am used to seeing and eating chocolate chip cookies that are that big, when it comes to ginger snap cookies I am used to seeing them in much smaller sizes, roughly the size of a slice of cucumber maybe. So just bear this in mind if you make these. The dough can obviously be divided into much smaller pieces for smaller cookies and that way should easily yield 18-24 cookies (just make sure to reduce the baking time accordingly). Claire rolls her cookies in caster sugar before baking which I skipped when I made these – next time I may follow her advice but use a flavoured sugar like cinnamon or cardamom sugar instead of plain caster sugar.
200g wholemeal rye flour
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground black cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground coriander
Pinch of salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g candied ginger, chopped finely
125g softened butter
100g dark brown sugar
1.5 tsp boiling water
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line two sheetpans with parchment paper.
In large bowl mix the rye flour with the spices, the salt, the bicarbonate of soda and the chopped ginger. Set aside.
In a separate bowl mix the softened butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy (this will take about 5 minutes). Add the molasses and beat to combine. Add the boiling water, followed by the dry ingredients. Mix until you have a smooth dough.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each into a ball. Place six balls on each sheetpan. Flatten each ball slightly using a spatula or the palms of your hands.
Bake for ca. 15 minutes or until the tops are starting to crack but the cookies are still somewhat soft in the middle (they will firm up as the cookie cool).