Saturday, December 3, 2016

They Knew How To Cook 'Back in the day'

Do YOU know what the difference between ginger cakes, gingerbread, gingerbread biscuits, ginger cookies, gingersnaps or Pfeffernüsse cookies are?

Well today, it is easily understood what separates cakes from biscuits from cookies, but back during the heydey of family gatherings, holiday meals and the colonization of New England it was basically all the same.

Even to this day, the smell of spices classically represented in ginger-based desserts has a comforting effect on the soul. And with all the work our forebears maintained, they needed every bit of help they could find.

Here is an early recipe for Ginger Drop Cake but notice one thing, it has no ginger. An interesting omission.

"...take one cup each of sugar, mollasses lard and boiling water, one dab of soda half a dab of cream of tartar; stir in flour until it is thick as cake and sugar and salt."

From Sarah Hale, from The Good Housekeeper, 1841, we have Gingersnaps:

"Take a pound and a half of flour, and rub into it half a pound of butter; add half a pound of brown sugar and half a pint of molasses, two tablespoonfuls of cream, a tea-spoonful of pearlash, and ginger to the taste. Make in into a stiff paste, and roll it out thin. Put it on buttered tins, and bake in a moderate oven."

We can certainly thank the Germans for a certain New England "must have" during the Holidays, especially the Pensylvania Dutch. Pfeffernüsse cookies are the closest thing to the American gingersnap cookies but were originally baked according to whether or not a leavening agent was able to be procured.

If a housewife had no leavening agent, then small, super crispy cookies were made. But if pearlash was used then everyone had a high, soft, almost rounded cookie.

From The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple, 1747, by Hannah Glasse, we have the following recipe for Pfeffernüsse cookies:

"Take three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in very fine, two ounces of ginger beat fine, one large nutmeg grated, then take a pound of treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff; roll it out, and make it up into thin cakes, cut them out with a teacup, or small glass; or roll them out like nuts, and bake them on tin plates in a slack oven".

So as you can see, there was very little difference between any of these recipes. Here is my recipe for two different gingersnaps.

Soft and Puffy Gingersnap Cookies 

There are two different types of people. Those who love crispy, delicate gingersnaps(see NOTE) and those who love pillow soft, fluffy gingersnaps. Here are directions for both!. If you want darker cookies, use light or dark brown sugar in place of granulated in cookie dough. This recipe is foolproof and should be saved for many years to enjoy.


3/4 cup(1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons each baking powder and cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried ginger *
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Cream the butter and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl until as smooth as possible with an electric mixer. Add egg and molasses and continue beating until well combined.

In a separate bowl, blend remaining ingredients and add to butter mixture slowly. After everything is beaten as smooth as possible with an electric mixer, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm enough to handle without being too sticky.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Pinch off enough dough to form a 2-inch ball, roll it between your palms and then roll in remainder of sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving at least 1-inch between cookies. Bake 14-16 minutes, or until puffed up and starting to show small cracks on top. Remove from oven to cool slightly before removing to wire racks to completely cool.

Make 24

* Because I think all gingersnap cookies should be well pronounced with the flavor of ginger, these cookies stand up to that mantra. If a less pungent taste of ginger is desired, cut the amount in half.


NOTE: For Crispy Gingersnaps, after mixing all ingredients, transfer dough to a work surface and roughly shape into an 8 to 10-inch log. Place this rough log into the center of a large piece of film wrap. Roll the dough in wrap, forming a more uniform log as you do so. Place in freezer at least 2 hours, or until firm. Remove from freezer, unwrap and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Coat each side with sugar and place on an ungreased cookie pan with about 2-inches between each cookie. Bake in a 350-degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottom of each is darker then the tops, and the centers are firm. Remove to cool as directed above.

1 comment:

stillwaiting said...

Just tried both of these recipes chef and they came out spot on. Thank you again and keep up the good work.....and you mean to tell me nobody has picked you up for a show yet?