Why It Works
- Fresh and powdered ginger create a deep but aromatic heat.
- Whole wheat flour adds a graham cracker-y flavor and crunch.
- Seasoned with the natural mineral content of molasses, these cookies don't need added salt.
I love gingersnaps with the burning heat of a thousand suns.
Now, you might be wondering whether I love gingersnaps with the burning heat of a thousand suns, or whether I love gingersnaps with the burning heat of a thousand suns, and the answer to either question is yes.
In fact, the intensity of my love for gingersnaps is directly related to the intensity of the gingersnap itself. It's not that I want to flame out on the first bite, only that I expect a cookie named after ginger to pack a certain punch. It should start off cozy and warm, gradually building until at least one eyebrow is raised in appreciation: wow, that's got some kick.
And let's not forget the snap.
So far as I'm concerned, the crunch should be deafening, resonating in your ears with every bite. Not just crunchy, which I think of on a macro-level, but crispy too, delicate in the spaces between its beautiful crumb.
Gingersnaps should be buttery like shortbread, hearty like Biscoff, and small enough to eat by the handful. (Too big, too thick, and gingersnaps get hard. Tough.) It's a lot to ask from one little cookie, but with the right ingredients, it's no effort at all.
The only wildcards are fresh ginger, molasses, and whole wheat flour; everything else is likely in your kitchen right now.
Compared to ground ginger's earthy depth, fresh ginger is aromatic and bright, almost citrusy. Layered together, they hit all the highs and lows, delivering ginger across the spectrum, with a heat that lingers long after the cookie itself is gone.
Crystallized ginger lingers in the worst possible way, sticking between your molars as if your mouth's been tarred and feathered with cookie crumbs. And besides, most grocery store brands are priced like foie gras and taste like window cleaner, so good riddance. (Crystallized ginger can be delicious, don't get me wrong, but it belongs with soft and chewy cookies.)
Malty sweet molasses balances the double-ginger heat. It's an acid, which means it reacts with baking soda to give the cookies their delicate crumb (it also lets us doctor the dough with a precision brown sugar won't allow). Like maple syrup, molasses varies in quality and flavor between national or local brands, but in the context of a cookie, any brand will do, so long as you avoid anything called blackstrap (literally, "black syrup"). This thick and inky substance comes from the final pressing of sugar cane, giving it a significantly higher mineral content than other types of molasses. Not only is it intensely bitter and acidic, every tablespoon contains 30 milligrams of sodium: a full percent of our recommended daily intake.
Stick with plain, unsulphured molasses. If you don't live in a part of the country where it's locally made, grocery store brands like Grandma's or Brer Rabbit will do in a pinch. Otherwise, hop online and buy a jar of sorghum instead. It's a similar product, made from a grass of the same name, with a bright, almost orangey flavor to balance the darker notes of caramel and malt. Sorghum's an artifact of my upbringing in Kentucky, a personal preference rather than any sort of make-or-break secret ingredient. That distinction goes to whole wheat flour.
It provides the same depth of flavor we love in graham crackers, but it's also both hyper-absorbent and lousy at forming gluten. Those two factors make the dough thick but weak, so it spreads less and cracks more, for gingersnaps that bake up invitingly thick yet tender. Plus, it bakes to a chestnut hue that puts white flour to shame.
I make gingersnaps by creaming the butter and sugar a full five minutes. This provides tons of fine, evenly distributed air pockets for the carbon dioxide to inflate, giving the cookies a slightly more even crumb (and more pronounced cracks across the top).
You wouldn't notice any difference in flavor if you skipped the creaming process, though the crumb would be slightly irregular and the gingersnaps more crunchy than crisp. Both versions bake about 2 1/4 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick, but resist the temptation to rush through!
You also get a bonus from the extra creaming: Aerating the dough forces it to physically expand, so much so that it yields 48 tablespoons of dough. Simply stir all the ingredients together and the dough is so heavy and dense with molasses that number drops to 38. What's an extra five minutes compared to the tragic loss of 10 spicy gingersnaps?
Once the dough is portioned and ready, the final trick is to coat each piece in granulated sugar. It partially dissolves as the dough begins to melt, forming a sugary shell to enhance that gorgeous cracking across the top. Plain granulated sugar will do, but the larger crystal size of turbinado or raw cane sugar will add an extra layer of molasses flavor and crunch.
7 ounces sugar (1 cup; 200g)
1 3/4 teaspoons (10g) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (3g) ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons (20g) fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tablespoons (10g) ground ginger
1 tablespoon (15ml) vanilla extract
A few cracks of black pepper
6 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks; 170g); firm but pliable, about 60°F (16°C)
2 ounces sorghum or unsulphured molasses, not blackstrap (60g; about 1/4 cup)
1 large egg, cold
12 ounces traditional whole wheat flour (2 1/2 cups; 340g)
Raw or granulated sugar for finishing
Adjust oven rack to the middle position, preheat to 350°F (180°C), and line 2 aluminum half sheet pans with parchment paper (not wax paper!).
Combine sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, gingers, vanilla, pepper, butter, and molasses in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low to moisten, increase to medium, then beat until fluffy, pale tan, and soft, about 5 minutes. Add egg and beat until smooth, 2 minutes more, pausing to scrape as needed. Resume mixing on low, sprinkle in flour, and continue until a soft dough is formed.
Divide into 48 level 1/2-ounce portions with a 1 tablespoon scoop. Roll until smooth and round, tumble in a dish with raw or granulated sugar, and arrange on prepared sheet pans, leaving 2 inches in between. Do not flatten, these cookies will spread on their own.
Bake until puffed and chestnut brown, about 22 minutes. Cool directly on sheet pan 2 hours—prior to that, gingersnaps will not be crisp inside. Store leftovers in an airtight container up to 3 weeks at room temperature.
Stand mixer, paddle attachment, #60 cookie scoop (1 tablespoon), aluminum half sheet pans
Due to its unique pH and sodium content, blackstrap molasses will give these cookies a cakey texture and slightly bitter edge. If you can't get a hold of molasses, reach for Lyle's Golden Syrup instead.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Portion dough onto a cutting board wrapped with plastic, cover lightly, and chill until firm; about 30 minutes. Divide between a few heavy-duty zipper-lock bags, and refrigerate for up to one week (freeze for two months). Bring to room temperature, roughly 70°F (21°C), then roll, coat in sugar, and bake as directed.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 3g||4%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||9%|
|Total Carbohydrate 12g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|