Chocolate cookies get a spark from crystallized ginger
The sudden change in weather, from sunny and warm to cool, wet and dreary, put me in the mood to start "cleaning out." You know, cleaning out my clothes closet, cleaning out the refrigerator and cleaning out the kitchen pantry.
I uncovered all kinds of things I had forgotten about. A flat plastic box of crystallized ginger was hidden way in the back of a pull-out shelf in my pantry, buried under a bag of aebleskiver mix and some semolina flour. A friend had given me the spicy-sweet dried slices of ginger late last winter. She bought them at a little market in Phoenix during a winter vacation. When she got home with the box that held almost a pound of crystallized ginger, she discovered she didn't like it one bit. I like it a lot. And that's how it wound up in my pantry.
There were a few pieces that had disappeared as I grabbed a slice now and then to eat like candy or to drop into a cup of tea. But, due to its vanishing act, there was still plenty remaining.
Ginger comes in several forms. Fresh ginger is an edible root, full of gingery juice. You'll find it in the produce department of your grocery store.
Crystallizing ginger is a traditional method used for preserving the fresh root. Fresh ginger is boiled in sugar syrup, tossed in sugar and dried. It can be used in all sorts of ways, from adding welcome zing to granola or a bowl of hot oatmeal, to mixing unexpected brightness into quick breads, scones and cookies, as well as adding depth of flavor to savory sauces, chutneys and curries. Crystallized ginger is often found in the aisle with baking products or in the candy or natural foods section.
I put a call out to my food-loving Facebook friends asking for their favorite ways to use crystallized ginger. I collected several interesting ideas: create ginger-infused cognac or vodka, add to gingerbread, ginger cookies and oatmeal cookies, add it to homemade chocolate bark, cheesecake, chocolate cake, oh my. In other words, crystallized ginger is versatile.
It was the mention of chocolate that got me thinking of cookies. I had visions of melt-in-the-mouth fudgy cookies bursting with chunks of macadamia nuts and a little bit of spicy honey-sweet ginger.
I pulled out my favorite chocolate cookie recipe that has survived the test of time. I was ready to give it a few tweaks.
Chocolate Marvels get a double-whammy of chocolate with cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate morsels. I accidentally discovered a nut mix with roasted and salted macadamia nuts, cashews and almonds in the snack aisle of the grocery store as I was searching for macadamias. As it turned out, it was just the right combination to coarsely chop and add to the cookie batter. Melting the butter and bringing it to golden brown adds to the rich, nutty flavor of the cookies. A couple of tablespoons of minced crystallized ginger added just enough vibrant flavor without overpowering the chocolate. At first bite, you may think Chocolate Marvels have a bit of peppermint flavor. The faint heat of ginger is similar to that of mint.
It's a good thing crystallized ginger has a long shelf life when it is stored in a tightly sealed container. I'll be making these Chocolate Marvels for months. And, who knows what the next pantry find may turn into. There are still a couple more shelves to "clean out."
Chocolate Marvel Cookies
1 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
In a sauté pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Bring butter to golden brown by allowing it to bubble for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar. Scrape butter mixture into a pie plate and let stand in refrigerator for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
Scrape chilled butter mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add granulated sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and ginger. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed to blend. Add nuts and semi-sweet chocolate morsels and stir to combine.
Roll dough into balls, using about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough for each ball. Place on lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remove cookies from oven when they are still soft in the middle, but brown on the bottom. Allow to cool a few minutes on baking sheet, then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
Yields 4 to 4 1/2 dozen.
Tips from the cook
--Use any nuts that suit your fancy when you mix up these cookies. I found a can of roasted and salted macadamias, cashews and almonds. The mix of textures and flavors added to the lusciousness of the cookies.
--Chop the crystallized ginger as tiny as you can get it. Pretend you are mincing garlic.