Sunday, December 20, 2009

holiday baking and candy-making

The weather outside is frightful, as snowflakes spiral through brisk winter air and the streets are blanketed in snow. What better day to stay in with a hot cup of tea, holiday tunes playing, and catching up on the Yumcoast?

Last weekend, in a rush of holiday spirit, I decided to invite my friend Joan (that's her below, sprinkling chopped hazelnuts over the toffee) over for some holiday candy making. I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and given my love for toffee and all things coffee, just had to make it. As an inexperienced candy maker, I followed the directions to the letter (with one exception – Whole Foods was all out of molasses, so I purchased I deep, dark, rich buckwheat honey. It tastes nearly as rich as molasses, without the bitterness. I can’t wait to use it in other baking projects!), realized that I may have a faulty candy thermometer, and ended up burning the first batch. The second try garnered better results, but erring on the side of caution, we slightly undercooked the sugar, resulting a texture closure to fudge – or, dare I say it, Butterfingers – than a nice, crisp toffee. It is still quite delicious, and I’m thinking of using it in cookies . . .

And because simply making toffee isn’t quite enough for one Sunday afternoon, we also decided to make Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies. The recipe was a little odd for a cookie recipe – oil instead of butter, a very dry dough – but the end result was pleasant. I would like to try making them again, possibly replacing the ground ginger with freshly grated ginger, and attempting to replace the oil with melted butter.

Ultimate Ginger Cookies
From Barefoot Contessa at Home

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 1 more minute. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 3/4-inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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