Crispy Ginger Snaps

Minnesota weather has been making national headlines. It is record-breaking cold and/or snowy here. So of course we felt the necessity to make our house smell like sweet, spicy cookies. That’s how the day started out.

SO many things happened today. Despite the cold, we found we had a constantly open door to let friends in and out, send the sad boy off to the vet with his beloved lizard (driving really carefully because it was snowing like crazy out there), let the cable guy in and out for a service call, and A LOT of shoveling. But of course, we still managed baking.

Ginger snaps are one of my very favorite cookies to eat, and baking them is pretty fun, too. But though the ginger is essential to the recipe (it is, after all, the ingredient that made it into the title), what really makes it work for me is the molasses. I love the rich, smoky-sweet flavor. I even enjoy watching it slowly, slowly dribble out of the bottle. Though molasses tastes amazing, it can be a little difficult to work with because it is so sticky. The best trick I’ve learned is to use a bit of cooking spray on the inside of the measuring cup before pouring in the molasses–that helps it pour faster and gets more of the molasses where it belongs – in the recipe.

I also want to mention something so important to baking it’s getting its own post: Make Sure Your Ingredients Are At the Right Temperature! Yes, molasses is slow, but what happened this time is that my butter was way too cold. I had just pulled it out of the freezer and though I microwaved it for two minutes at 20% power, it was still cold enough that it was just not creaming with the sugar. I’d thought that the kinetic energy of the beaters would heat it up enough that it would still come together, but I really should’ve known that trick never works. I had to put the whole bowl in the microwave for another minute at low power, and then things worked great.

Finally, a note about timing: The line between chewy ginger snaps and extremely crunchy ginger snaps is very fine. When we baked these today, 10 minutes gave us cookies that were crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle; 12 minutes was perfectly solid all the way through; and 14 was hard enough that it felt like my incisors were going to crack. (Still tasted great, though…and if you are looking for a cookie to dip in milk, these held up well and closely resembled the texture of biscotti.) Don’t let the cable guy distract you while these are in the oven. However, if you want to offer him one, we have first-hand experience that it will be appreciated.

These are crispy…but I’m curious whether you’re a crispy or chewy cookie eater…

Yay, it’s Pizza Night!

Who doesn’t like pizza? The options for toppings are literally endless, and can be a healthy meal all on its own, assuming you remember some vegetables and don’t ONLY include meat (AHEM, the incredibly delicious but oh-so-bad-for-you Heart Stopper Pizza from Donatellis in White Bear Lake, MN). Most Americans live in a place where multiple pizza places will deliver hot pizza to you in an hour or less, making it one of the most accessible foods. But…if you can spare about an hour of your own time, you can make one yourself that’s even better. After tasting this pizza, a friend from France announced that she now understood that when we order pizza in, it’s because we’re too tired to make a better one ourselves.

The base of any good pizza is the crust. Originally I used a recipe I found online, but over the years I made several adjustments to both the amounts and the process it until it came out exactly the way I like it. It’s excellent—crispy and squishy at the same time. I use a stand mixer to mix and knead the dough, which is particularly useful because I can leave it running while I change gears and chop vegetables or grate cheese or make the sauce, but you could also absolutely knead this by hand.

And yes, it’s a yeast bread, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait for it to rise. In fact, you DON’T want this to rise very much before it goes into the oven. What little rising it needs to do will happen while you’re putting on the toppings. Finally, a word about gluten. If you haven’t figured it out by now, we are NOT gluten-free in this household. However, my niece does have a gluten allergy, and for those occasions when she’s eating our food, I have tried out some gluten-free versions of my baking recipes. To be honest…most have not been very good. This recipe, however, is an exception to that rule. I think the gluten-free version was almost better than the original!

VARIATIONS:

  • Gluten-free version: Increase the yeast to 3 tsp, and substitute 2½ cups of gluten-free flour plus 2½ tsp xanthan gum. There are a lot of gluten-free flours out there with very different properties, but for this recipe I’ve had good luck with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour.
  • Deep Dish: This DOES work as a deep-dish recipe, but you need the right equipment. A cast iron skillet is essential, and for this amount of dough it will need to be 12” or 13” in diameter. Instead of corn meal to dust the pan, brush the entire inside surface, bottom and sides, with a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, press out the dough into the pan, starting in the middle and pulling it all the way up the sides. It should be about ½” thick at this point. Then, put the pan on the stovetop and cook over low heat while you’re adding the toppings. This will start the crust along so it isn’t burnt on the top and sides while still mushy and cold in the middle. Even so, it will take at least 5 minutes longer to bake than the regular version.

Buttermilk Biscuits: The Yummy, the Flaky, and the Recipe!

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This is one baking recipe that Kate has been known to make.  Of course, Kate being who she is, will always change recipes as the mood strikes.  For example, last Christmas Eve we made bread for 30 people at the family gathering.  I baked two loaves of bread and she made two batches of savory biscuits, using this basic recipe but adding various herbs and spices.

More commonly, though, I’ll make these for breakfast and Kate will make her own country gravy to go with them.  It’s one of our special treats.  The directions we’re giving are not for those super-fluffy biscuits southerners are so proud of.  These are a bit denser and hold up really well to the gravy. If, for some reason, you have leftovers they also taste great as ‘toast’.

fresh buttermilk biscuits with honey.
Fresh buttermilk biscuits with honey…mmm…

Here’s what you need for successful biscuits (aka flaky scones):

  1. Flour, salt, sugar. The sugar content can be decreased to make them more savory.
  2. A leavening agent. These are quick breads, so you’ll be using baking powder and/or baking soda, depending on the acid content of the liquid.
  3. A fat. Lard or shortening works, but I typically use butter.
  4. Milk. Yeah, don’t try to make this one dairy-free. Buttermilk biscuits are the best-tasting.

If you are a serious baker, you probably already have a pastry cutter.  If not, let me explain.  Pastry cutters (pictured here) are used for mixing hard things into dry things (like butter into flour).  It makes mixing biscuits, pastries, pie crusts, etc. so much easier!  If you don’t have one, you can use two table knives and ‘cut’ the dough in using a scissoring motion. This is a big deal because if you use your hands, you will melt the butter with your body heat.  Colder butter means flakier (read ‘better’) biscuits. If you want one, we like this one: Spring Chef Dough Blender, Top Professional Pastry Cutter with Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Blades (Black-Large)  It has great reviews and comes in two sizes because not all bakers have the same size hands.

Pastry Cutter

We’re going to be adding flour between each layer of folding and rolling (which you do a few times).  That’s so while it’s baking it will rise up instead of out and then when you take it out of the oven, it will pull apart in layers (which is wonderful).

Okay, here’s your recipe:

VARIATIONS:

  1. Reduce the sugar by 1 tsp and add 3 tsp fresh herbs of your choice (personal favorite: 2 tsp crushed rosemary & 1 tsp thyme) for a more savory option.
  2. Don’t want to roll & fold & roll & fold & roll & fold so much? Just increase the milk/buttermilk to a full cup and you have drop biscuits that you can put on the baking sheet by the spoonful. (You probably do want to grease the pan in this case, since the added liquid—as well as the lessened flour, due to not adding it each time you fold—will make them much stickier.)
  3. If you don’t have buttermilk, regular milk will do in a pinch, but the lower acid content means you’ll need to omit the baking soda and increase the baking powder to 4 tsp instead of 2.

Enjoy!

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