Chez Panisse Gingersnap Recipe

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During my interview at Chez Panisse, as I sat across the table from Alice Waters in the main dining room at the restaurant, she asked me, “What do you eat at home?”

Since I’m not exactly convincing when lying, I told her.

“I eat popcorn, mostly.” And continued, “I’m a restaurant cook. I don’t have time to eat at home.”

(Although I did conveniently omit the fact that it was microwave popcorn…)

In spite of that, or because of my chutzpah, I got hired and worked at Chez Panisse for a long time. What nailed it for me and endeared me to Alice, years later, wasn’t her politics or her philosophy on cooking. It was when I told her, “I really like to drink coffee leftover from the morning, with milk in it, that’s been sitting on the counter all day.”

And she said, “Me too.”


After my Less-Than-Optimal week prior (and that’s being kind), I thought I should start afresh by doing something spiritually-cleansing, and simple, so I made the recipe for Gingersnaps from The Art of Simple Food. It’s a recipe that has lots of spices, whose aroma would hopefully purge my life (and my apartment) of last weeks bêtises.

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At first glance one might think— Who needs this book?

But as I turned the pages, I realized that these are recipes for the staples that people could and should learn, and the book is a complete reference for anyone who wants some solid, well-tested basics new dishes to add to one’s repertoire. Unlike larger and bulkier reference tomes, the recipes in The Art of Simple Food are for the way many people cook today and the book is laid out with a simple design to make it very easy for anyone to follow the recipes. It would also make an excellent gift for someone new to cooking who maybe would like to tackle a Caesar Salad or homemade pizza dough but needs a clue as to where to begin.

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Most of the recipes have just a few ingredients and if you’re anything like me, you’re often just looking for the basic proportions for things can improvise once you’ve gotten the knack of making it—so I appreciate having a recipe for a basic polenta torta, a stripped-down risotto recipe that lends itself to whatever variation one might choose, and recipes for sauces like spicy harissa, basil pesto (with winter-friendly variations), meaty Bolognese and homemade tartar sauce which would liven up a simple roasted dinner of fish, meat or vegetables.

As I read through the book, not only was I charmed by the simple line drawings by Patty Curtain, but by the friendly, approachable tone of the book. There was no preaching, just gentle guidance on how to coax the best flavors from what’s available, which some of the clearest, easy-to-follow instructions on techniques I’ve seen in a cookbook.
Yes, really.

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But most importantly, it bears the message the good food doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive, or hard-to-prepare.

Some of the recipes I’ve bookmarked are the crispy Fresh-Pickled Vegetables, savory Gougères, Herb-Roasted Almonds, and Sushi Rice, which I made for my Chez Panisse Tupperware party at my place in San Francisco and it was a bigger hit, for some bizarre reason, than the cold-cut tree and flaming weenies that guests were invited to roast in a hollowed out cabbage acting as a grill.

Which I don’t recommend, unless you want your house to reek of Sterno for days afterwards.

But there was certainly nothing wrong with the way my place in Paris smelled after pulling a batch of these warm ginger snaps out of my oven.

Gingersnaps

Ginger Snaps
Makes 40-50 cookies

From The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution (Clarkson Potter) by Alice Waters.

These cookies get crisp when cool and are great holiday cookies. I like them coated with lots of crystals of coarse sugar, which is called Hawaiian washed sugar in the US, or cassonade here in France. (Coarse sugar is also available online.)

You can also rev-up the spices, and add ¼-½ teaspoon ground cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or allspice to suit your taste.

  • 2 cups (280 g) flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 11 tablespoons (150 g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup (80 g) mild-flavored molasses* (sometimes called 'light' molasses)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • my optional step: coarse sugar crystals for coating the cookies

1. Stir together the dry ingredients.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter just until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until smooth, stopping the mixer to scrape down any butter clinging to the sides of the bowl.

3. Stir in the vanilla, molasses and egg.

4. Mix in the dry ingredients gradually until the dough is smooth.

5. Divide the dough in two equal portions and roll each on a lightly-floured surface until each is about 2-inches (5cm) around. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; you can neaten them up in a second.

6. Wrap each in plastic wrap then roll them lightly on the counter to smooth them out. Refrigerate, or better yet, freeze the cookie logs until firm.

7. To bake, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

8. Slice cookie dough into 1/4-inch (a scant 1 cm) rounds with a sharp knife. Dip one side and press firmly in a bowl of coarse sugar if you want (you can also use granulated sugar instead), and place sugar-side up on baking sheet, evenly-spaced apart. Leave a couple of inches, about 5 cm, between cookies since they’ll spread while baking.

9. Bake for 10-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway during baking, until deep-golden brown. The cookies will puff up a bit while baking, then settle down when they’re done. Bake on the lower end of the range for softer cookies, and more for snappier ones, depending on your oven.

10. Let the cookies cool two minutes, then remove them with a spatula and transfer them to a cooling rack.

Storage: The dough can be refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months. Once baked, the cookies can be kept in an air-tight container for a couple of days but like anything made with butter, of course they’re best the day they’re baked.

*Outside the United States, molasses is often found in natural-foods stores.

For other overseas baking tips, check my post American Baking in Paris.

38 comments

  • I agree that some of the best foods are the most simple! Thanks for sharing this I hope to try this soon.

  • Oh, how I wish I were one of those people for whom baking purges the evil spirits of technology (or life!) — but, alas, I am not!

  • I’m heading off to order a copy of this book for my son. Thanks for the recommendation. And the gingersnaps look wonderful — I’ll be saving this recipe for sure. Reminds me of the only thing we made in Grade 8 Home Ec that I really, really liked and have long since lost the recipe for.

  • But David, now I’m conflicted!!! My absolute favourite gingersnaps recipe is from your book, Room for Dessert. Are these actually better? (Impossible!) Or just different?

    The book sounds great, by the way – just the kind of gift I’ve been looking for to give my eldest niece, who is at college and can’t cook!

  • “…flaming weenies that guests were invited to roast in a hollowed out cabbage acting as a grill.” I can’t believe anyone else does this. It was the hit of my “gourmet group” retro dinner. And you’re right about the Sterno!

  • *
    I would LOVE to see a recipe for SOFT ginger cookies – hope hope hope you know of one and could let me know ?

    *

  • I thought I was the only one who did that with coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that one.

  • I am with you dhyana rose. How do I make these gingersnaps a little less snappy and a little more chewy?

  • I have to agree with you, it’s a _really_ well written book, I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

  • Thanks for the recommendation, David–now I know what to ask Santa for this year! The NY Times article by the woman who offered to be an Alice Waters test case had kind of scared me off…but taking her cookbook on its own terms as you describe them seems much more appealing.

    Microwave popcorn and old coffee? Haven’t I read lectures somewhere on how EASY and GRATIFYING it is to feed yourself properly on good food? Or have you reformed since then?

  • dhyana rose + Talia: You could bake them less and use brown sugar instead of white sugar. You could also cut the baking soda, although I can’t tell you exactly without making a batch…and I’m a snappy gingersnap kinda guy.

    good enough cook: Hey, that was waaaay back in 1983. Haven’t had microwave popcorn since…well, I don’t have a microwave anymore. And the coffee was fair-trade and the milk was organic…of course
    ; )

    Marcia: You should’ve seen some of the other stuff! There was something called ‘stuffed bologne’ that was the only thing I out-and-out refused to eat. Hope your party was a success!
    (And you got rid of that Sterno smell…)

  • I’m going to have to taste-test these against my famous gingersnap recipe, which I started making as a sprightly teenager. They were the favorite of TWO grandfathers, both of which have unfortunately since passed on to a higher plane of existence but I don’t think you can blame the cookies. Not really.

  • I hate to admit that I had the same initial thoughts after seeing the book. After giving it a few more minutes though, I decided I loved it and it was the perfect introduction to better cooking for me; something I truly needed! Like I said, Alice Waters is an inspiration.

  • When I was in high school, I had a picture of Alice Waters and another one of Martha Stewwart taped to my desk off one of the shelves – friends who would stop by my dorm room, who’ve never met my parents, always asked, “Oh, is that a picture of your mom?” Since everyone knew what martha looked like, few asked about her… Anyway, I tried to explain to people that Alice Waters was just one of those women I wanted to emulate in life – and how her idea of eating made more sense to me than what I was observing about food back then. I was a lot less informed then… Anyway, your story about Alice made me want to meet her even more!!

  • I have been using a similar recipe from Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food- baking. I keep a few of these logs in the freezer for last minute guests and late night sweet urges.

  • I have been looking for a good ginger snap recipe. I am not a fan of ginger sweets but Izzy sure is! And I will definitely be wishing for that book.

  • radish:
    How lucky! You’re the love-child of Alice Waters & Martha Stewart? I bet you ate well…

  • I made the “Chez Panisse” gingersnaps that spread like wildfire after the IMBB cookie swap. This one’s a little different. I wonder which is the real recipe. Oh well, the old version is delicious too.

  • Lydia, I’m afraid I am one of those people for whom baking purges the evil spirits of life, or what have you.

    David, these look wonderful and I’m looking forward to preparing a couple of logs for the deep freeze just to be prepared. I’ll let you know when I bake them off.

    I made your Banana Bread/Cake recipe yesterday. It tastes better each time I make it. And yes, I do add the expresso. Divine!

    Thanks for everything.

  • Hi from Tokyo. I also got the copy right after the release but have not read yet. There are so many good cook books to come in this month !!! But I will take a look soon and try some recipes. Thanks for your inspiring post :)

  • hey! gorgeous post! its beautiful to see your respect for Alice in this post as well as previous ones…. have added these cookies to my pile of things to make!

  • I just bought the book a week ago, they happened to have it in my favorite store (Costco!). I made the simple tomato sauce, it was wonderful.

    For those of you looking for soft, chewy ginger cookie recipes, Williams Sonoma has a good one in one of their cookbooks. It’s either in their “Essentials of Baking” or “Baking”. It calls for crystalized ginger and is wonderful.

  • Love finishing breakfast coffee the same way, and in hot weather I add ice cubes and drink it from a glass. Separated at birth?

  • A few years ago, I read someone else’s blog entry about “auditioning” for Alice Waters (unsuccessfully, though), and it included CP’s gingersnap cookie recipe. Because that site seems to have disappeared, here is the archive link for the entry

    I’ve made these cookies numerous times – they are heavenly!

  • Mmmm, I love these ginger snaps. AND the whole book. I have made braised chicken thighs, tarte tatin, deviled eggs, eggplant caviar, and warmed olives so far, and everything has been just delicious. The book is so lovely to look at and well designed for use. I hope it is also well made, because I can tell it’s going to be out and open all the time.

    I just posted a recipe for chewy molasses cookies that are not strictly ginger cookies but are dark and spicy. It is adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and they are addictive!–
    Here

  • I’ve been in France for 3 weeks now(I’m the pesky person who talked to you at Marche d’Aligre on Sunday)and I talked to my youngest daughter last night. Her comment was that she missed my cooking (she’s at university). I’m going to make these when I get home (they’re her favorites). Another Alice Waters book to buy-yippee. Hope I can get home without paying for excess baggage-tins of olive, aragon, pistachio oil, sea salt and smuggled cheese and sausisson and other goodies sure add up! All of your tips about places to go and things to see in Paris proved invaluable. Off to Normandy now.
    Thanks so much David!

  • Hi david

    Look forward to trying these biscuits – ginger snaps are an English favourite too. Down in rural south west France I’m not sure about finding molasses though – would it be ok to use cassonade?

    You’ve touched on differences between European and American measurements in another post I remember and I thought all was ok now you give grams too but, Oh no, my confidence has been shaken by a post by Marie here which tells me that even spoon measurements are not the same. Perhaps with small quantities it doesn’t make much difference but wouldn’t life be so much easier if we all just used the same system? ( I speak coming from Britain where we manage to have two different systems at the same time!)

  • Hi Derek: Gingersnaps really do depend on molasses for their flavor, so perhaps next time you’re in Bordeaux or another major city nearby, you can pick some up. (Naturalia delivers in France too.) Since you’re British, you could try them with treacle if you have any.

    Yes, there is a difference between spoons, but there’s also a difference between various measuring cups too! Thankfully most recipes aren’t all that precise, in spite of all the dire warnings that recipes must be followed to the letter or the world will open up and swallow us all.

    I post all recipes on the site and in my last 2 books in both, but often it’s an editorial decision out of the author’s hands. The best advice is 1) Write to editors of books you enjoy, or better yet…would like to buy, but aren’t in metrics, and let them know how you feel, and 2) Buy books that are in both to support the hard work of authors who generously write recipes in both formats.
    ; )

    And yes, it would be super if someone greater than all of us could decide which system the world is going to use—and stick with it. I’d take it on, but I’m busy right now.

    And I’m not so great, nor am I all that good at delegating!

  • That stale, tepid coffee is delicious not only with added ice and milk, but also a bit of Bourbon. Probably a wonderful match with freshly-baked ginger snaps too.

    db

  • Aww, I love that story! And you’re just like my brother in law — in fact, cold, day old coffee is what he would always choose if he had his druthers!

  • I’m a new cook and this is one of the first that I got in my Amazon cookbook shopping binge. Since I have a tendency to set things on fire in the kitchen, I figured it would be best if I took baby steps and learned how to do simple techniques first and learn how to do basic things well.

    This book is amazing. Her voice is straightforward and easy to relate to. I never thought I’d be able to successfully make things like a hearty beef stew or a tasty salad (if you had seen my other attempts at cooking before I started really trying to learn, you would be scared!), but Alice Waters’ book has made cooking approachable for me.

    Love it! I’m going to have to make those gingersnaps this weekend.

  • Ok.. if I wasn’t completely smitten before I am now. I live for ginger snaps, ginger bread, ginger beer ok you get me. But my other love, no joke, is the luke warm counter coffee. I have a super tall glass I use for it. Fill it up and dump in half&half till it’s overflowing almost. Yes… I’m a bit of a decadent bitch.

  • I just made a batch of the Ginger Snaps to go along with the Butterscotch Pudding I made from your recipes …………… heaven

  • oh, i’m shameless about that coffee also. but it’s so delicious, cafe viejo. two sugars please; and sometimes through a straw even if it had been iced, now with a layer of water diluting the top.
    i’ve just found you, and thanks!

  • hi david! i’m a little late reading this post, but i was delighted to find as a chef you once lived like i do now. i simply relish the free time i have and don’t usually have the energy to cook something for myself at home. plus, no one is there to share with, so i end up eating a lot of cereal, yogurt or popcorn! and i have yet to admit it, but i do the same thing with my old coffee!! yum

  • Mmmm…gingernuts are the best biscuits hands down. I love ginger and dark chocolate together – I might try this recipe with chocolate chips in.

  • I just made these cookies last weekend. I cut them like I used to do at Chez Panisse, in little triangles. People who taste them go crazy.

    One winner recipe for sure.

    Laura

  • I made these. Without molasses. I mean I *had* to have molasses in my pantry. I remember buying a bottle a year ago and when the heck have I used it since? It’s right ther…oh. No. I lent it out. I actually lent out my molasses to a friend last winter, and now it’s sitting on *his* pantry shelf.

    So, I used honey instead. They turned out pretty well, but I’ll make them again the real way next time. As soon as I get my molasses back.