Monday, October 29, 2007

Recapturing Youth, One Ginger at a Time

What is it about a giant cookie that brings us right back to childhood?

Some of us were lucky enough to grow up living near a great bakery. I wasn't so fortunate.
I knew from a very young age that looks could be deceiving (think diner desserts under glass). However, what those baked goods lacked in flavor they made up for in presentation and thus, that bakery still survives today.
Despite their bland taste and crumbly texture, those giant sprinkle cookies of my youth were more than just an occasional confection. If I woke to find one on the kitchen table, it served as a daily briefing of the events of the day. It meant that it was Sunday. It meant that we would gather, as a family, to attend mass at 12:15 and return home to find the large sauce pot still bubbling away on the stove (don't try this at home). The house would fill up with the aromas of fried meatballs, tomato sauce and whatever late-breakfast request tickled our fancy (I come from a long line of kitchen pleasers--ask nicely and you shall receive). The coffee table was scattered with the Daily News and the New York Times, and the only plan for the day was to plan nothing.
There were times in my adolescence when I resented those Sundays. While friends were planning shopping trips and attending sporting events, I was bound by the formality of weekly mass and the literal translation of resting on the Sabbath day.
Ironically, these are the days of my youth that I miss the most. I miss the dinner-table debates, the stolen sips of wine-spiked soda from my grandmother's glass and most significantly, the food.
I have learned over the years that it is foolish for me to try to recreate the Sunday fare of my youth. It is not simply the combination of flavors and aromas necessary to bring me back, but instead the whole sensory experience-- right down to my left-handed sister's elbow bumping mine at the table. I would have to leave this re-creation to a higher power.

So instead, I try to recreate that youthful, big cookie feeling with a few necessary adjustments.
While the sprinkle cookies of my youth might have satisfied some of the most discerning eight year olds back in the day, my audience is tougher today. In my ongoing quest for the perfect, flavorful, chewy, jumbo cookie, I have happened upon many favorites.
The one I am about to share with you however, is the penultimate in cookie-deliciousness.
I happen to be a big fan of both ginger snaps and molasses cookies. After many experiments, I arrived at a cookie that will please both young and old. It is not too spicy or too sweet and its soft, chewy texture might just bring you back to your Easy-Bake-Oven days.
I will admit that presentation is one of my hang-ups. An odd shaped cookie might taste as good as a perfectly round one, but why settle for mediocrity? I want my cookies to look great and taste even better, so I take the time to carefully measure and scoop.
But however you fashion these Ginger Molasses Softies (recipe follows), be sure to share them with loved ones. You'll likely make a few memories of your own.

And while we're on the subjects of cookies and youth, I should mention that the Ginger Molasses Softies were the cookies my college-freshman daughter requested I bring to Family Weekend. She must have known that her self-pitying, almost-empty nesting mom was feeling a bit un-needed. Truth be told, her first request was for Pecan Pie (and on that matter, to whom we owe credit for the expression "easy as pie" is a person to whom I have a few four letter words to direct--but that's another post) but clearly, PIE wasn't going to happen (at least not in twenty-four hours). So, she asked that I make enough cookies for her to share with friends. Friends I was eager to meet, but with a bit of trepidation.
Lately, her emails and phone calls had been very matter-of-fact and increasingly less frequent. She was expressing her need for independence and I was pretending not to notice.
On the morning we were set to leave for her campus, the skies opened. It poured buckets. We had enough time to wait out the storm and the cookies were packed and ready to go. I decided to pass the time by checking email and AIM (secretly hoping she would be on line). What happened next was monumental proof that alas, somewhere in that beautiful, independent stature of a young woman, was my little girl.
Although the details are fuzzy, I remember a fury of frantic instant messages, a fourteen-digit secret code, and her ALL CAPS request for use of my credit card "immediately!"
Through a series of desperate instant messages, she convinced me to purchase premium tickets for the one-night-only return of the Spice Girls to New York. And, in what seemed like a split second, transmission was complete.
ROW- H belonged to my daughter and four of her friends. She was thrilled, and for a moment, I was her cool mom again (and all this for only $500 bucks). It jogged a memory.

I recalled one day, several years ago, when she struggled to decide whether to dress up as Ginger Spice or Baby Spice for a costume party. She chose the latter and proudly wore her favorite go-go boots, hoop earrings and Spice Girls vinyl watch. Sadly, it was only a short time later that the very mention of the Spice Girls would cause her to cringe, roll her eyes and pretend it was all a bad dream.
I'm told the Spice Girls planned to return only for one show. The response from their New York fans was so swift, the show sold out in just minutes. They returned the love and added a few more shows to please their adoring fans. They were back.

The truth is, whether we are celebrities in the spotlight, moms in the kitchen, or students on campus, we ultimately return to where we are loved.
For some, familiar tastes and aromas bring us back to childhood, for others, the roar of a crowd is the very approval they seek.
This gives me great hope.

The go-go boots, hoop earrings and Ginger Cookies are patiently waiting.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious and
Share Your Food


Jumbo Ginger Molasses Softies
This recipe makes 18 to 20 Large Cookies
3 Cups All Purpose Unbleached Flour
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
4 scant tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 tsp Ground Ginger
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
3 Sticks Unsalted Butter at room temp.
2 Cups Packed Light Brown Sugar
2 Large Eggs
scant 1/2 cup molasses
2 TBS Lyles Golden Syrup
3 to 4 TBS Candied Ginger pieces chopped finely
Turbinado Sugar/Sugar in the Raw for topping
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and brown sugar until smoothly blended. Stop mixture to scrape sides of bowl as needed. Add the eggs, molasses and Lyle's Golden Syrup and mix until blended. On low speed, add the flour mixture and mix just long enough to incorporate. Fold in candied ginger.
In a cereal bowl, place enough Turbinado sugar to cover the bottom of the bowl (about 1/2 cup).
Using a large cookie scoop or 1/2 cup measure, scoop dough and gently roll between palms to form a ball (dough will be sticky, so form gently), then roll ball in sugar. Place ball on cookie sheet and using the bottom of a clean glass (I lightly butter the glass bottom and dip into sugar to prevent sticking), gently depress cookie to flatten slightly. Continue making cookies, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Just prior to baking, sprinkle cookies with a tiny bit of cold water ( I run a clean hand under the faucet and shake it over the cookies--it's important not to saturate the cookies). Bake cookies one sheet at a time, until tops feel firm but are still soft in the center and there are several large cracks on top--this should take about 15 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 10 minutes and then transfer, using spatual, to wire rack to cool. Store cookies in airtight container between sheets of parchment paper for up to 3 days (if they last that long).
My Notes: If you can't find Lyle's Golden Syrup (once you taste it, you'll know why I like it so much), you can use the same amount of molasses--this will give the cookies a stronger flavor.
If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour, you can use all white flour. I believe the ww pastry flour makes for a slightly healthier, chewier cookie.


Cats said...
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Cats said...

Michelle's cookies are outstanding. The molasses cookies with make you cry tears of joy!! At last year's neighborhood holiday cookie exchange, these cookies were the biggest hit and the one recipe everyone had to have!!

chelsea Frati said...
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Madalon said...

Okay, I'll bite (if only figuratively, as there are no cookies at hand): if these are the penultimate cookies, what, pray tell, are the ultimates?

The left-handed sister

Michelle said...

Dear Left Handed Sister,

While I hestitate to list only one cookie, I would have to cave under pressure for the sake of my family.
The "ultimate" cookie would have to be our family favorite called Chewy Toffee Cookies. The recipe is simple but finding toffee bits (sans chocolate coating) at the local market is the real challenge.
I'll have to add this to my list of recipes to post.

The Right Handed Sister