100 Cookies Later, The Ultimate Gingerbread


Jessica and I finished up our holiday-cookie–tasting extravaganza weeks ago, but the fruits of our labor can now be viewed right here. Tasting over 100 cookies from SF’s best bakeries sounds fun until you’re on your fifth really mediocre Mexican wedding cookie, feeling vaguely strung out on sugar (not to mention the suspicious dusting of powder on your nose).

Out of every cookie we tasted, my personal favorite by far was Miette’s gingersnap: buttery, crisp, chewy, gingery, adult. It’s expletive inducing. But please do not confuse gingersnaps with gingerbread. (“Snap” and “bread” being the key words here.) Gingerbread is generally soft not snappy; it’s what you find in the form of men, women and little children. Barring Citizen Cake's gingerbread folks (which are ridiculously cute), most of the gingerbread we sampled was just eh so we asked SF-based baker Anita Chu, author of the newly released cookbook Field Guide to Cookies (Quirk), to give us her recipe for it. Anita has a great blog on baking called Desserts First. Check it out.

Blogger, baker and gingerbread maker: Anita Chu at her cookbook launch


Gingerbread is a very old and popular cookie that is associated with Christmas in Europe and America. It comes in two variations: a soft, thick version that is meant for eating, and a thin, crisp version that is often elaborately decorated and used as Christmas ornaments. All gingerbread has a lightly sweet flavor spiced up with ginger in the dough (so even ornamental gingerbread smells delightful). Gingerbread is cut into all sorts of holiday shapes, and gingerbread people are a popular variant. A stiff, durable version of gingerbread is used for constructing gingerbread houses; sometimes this gingerbread is inedible and hard for structural purposes.

Baking Notes: Remember that gingerbread dough needs to be prepared at least 2 days in advance. A baking thermometer is helpful in step 3.

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup milk
3 cups bread flour
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 pinches ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Icing and colored sugar for decorating, if desired

1. Line a 9 by 9 inch square baking pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and milk. Continue heating the mixture, whisking continuously, until it reaches 100°F. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. In a stand mixer, mix together bread flour, baking soda, spices, and salt on low speed.
4. Add the butter mixture slowly on low speed. Mix a couple minutes more to combine thoroughly.
5. Pour dough into prepared cake pan, cover surface of the dough with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
6. The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into 4 pieces. At this point the dough could be double-wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 2 weeks; to defrost dough, refrigerate overnight.
7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease several cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
8. Place one of the chilled pieces of dough on a lightly floured surface and dust with more bread flour. Return other pieces of dough to the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.. Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out cookies and place on cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.
9. Bake smaller for 12 to 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until firm to the touch. (Bake larger pieces 15 to 16 minutes.)
10. Cool sheets on wire racks for a couple minutes before transferring cookies directly onto wire racks with a metal spatula to finish cooling. Decorate cooled cookies as desired with icing and colored sugars.

Yield: About 5 dozen small or 3 dozen large cookies

Storage: Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If they are decorated, stack them between sheets of wax paper.

Recipe excerpted from Field Guide to Cookies (Quirk)

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