When I lived in San Francisco, I used to stop at Whole Foods occasionally and frequent the salad bar. Because I’m a big fan of cookies, I’d often grab a cookie for dessert. One day I noticed big, cushy-looking gingersnaps amongst all the other cookies, and picked one out. After finishing my salad, I took the cookie out of the slender brown bag and took a bite.
The cookie was spicy, yet soft – with a remarkable, satisfying chew. It was incredible. And to top it all off, it was nonfat. There was the whole nonfat baking phase and some stuff was okay, and other cookie and cake recipes left me wanting. But those cookies were incredible. And I wanted to reproduce a version at home.
During my baking trials, I landed on The Barefoot Contessa’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies, and noticed they were remarkably similar-looking to those non-fat Gingersnaps. After checking out the recipe, I tried lots of variations, omitting any and all traces of fat and tweaking a few things here and there to get the cookies to where I wanted them.
One secret is plain applesauce. That provides the chewiness, along with a dose of molasses. Folks who live outside of the U.S. can use treacle. True, these aren’t crisp and “snappy” like other gingersnaps, but every bit as satisfying. A handful of candied ginger also helps dial up the spicy factor.
This dough is a bit tricky to shape into balls, so it should be very well-chilled before baking them off. If you can, make the batter a few hours or the day before you plan to use it. I found it easiest to scoop up mounds with an ice cream scoop and plop them right into a bed of sugar. Once they were all formed, I got my hands in there, coating them with plenty of cinnamon sugar, and formed each one into a rough ball. Not to worry: they don’t need to be museum pieces and will spread into nearly-perfect circles once baked.
These cookies also make outstanding ice cream sandwiches, retaining their impressive chew in the freezer. Good ice cream flavors to pair with them out be pumpkin ice cream, cinnamon ice cream, or even traditional vanilla ice cream. The good news is that this means these cookies have the possibility to please absolutely everyone, no matter how you serve them.
Makes twenty to twenty-two cookies
Recipe from Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed Press)
The name ginger-snaps may lead one to think these are crispy, but they’re not. I’m not sure if true gingersnaps necessarily have to be crispy, so I’ll leave that to cookie researchers. A job which I’d be happy to apply for, in case you hear of any openings. If you like thicker, denser cookies, cook 1/2 cup (150g) applesauce down to 1/4 cup (75g), as shown in the picture above, or use apple baby food.
Because these are meant to be soft cookies, watch them like a hawk during the final moments of baking. Since all ovens are different, take them out just when they feel like they’re starting to set and feel just slightly firm in the center, which you can tell by touching one gently with your finger.
1 cup, packed (180g) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (75g) applesauce
1/3 cup (100g) molasses (preferably mild-flavoured)
2 1/4 cups (315g) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 cup (50g) finely-chopped candied ginger
additional sugar (about 1/2 cup, 100g) mixed with a big pinch of cinnamon for rolling the cookies
1. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, applesauce, and molasses for five minutes at medium speed, with the paddle attachment.
2. Meanwhile sift together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.
3. After five minutes, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, and add the egg whites. Beat another minute.
4. With the mixer at its lowest speed, add the dry ingredients until completely incorporated, and mix on medium for one minute more.
5. Stir in the chopped candied ginger. Chill the batter very well.
6. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
7. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
8. Pour some cinnamon-scented granulated sugar in a shallow baking dish. Scoop the cookies into heaping tablespoon-sized balls (about the size of an unshelled walnut) and plunk them down into the sugar.
Afterward, use your hands to form the dough into sugar-coated balls: don’t be shy with the sugar either. It not only helps to shape the sticky dough, but makes a lovely crust for the finished cookies.
9. Put the cookie mounds evenly-spaced on the two baking sheets, leaving room (at least 3-inches, 8cm) between them to spread.
10. Bake for 13 minutes, or until the cookies feel just barely set in the center. Remove from oven and cool.
Variation: Next time I’m going to try smearing the tops with lemon glaze in the future, mixing 2 cups of powdered sugar with a scant tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, stirring and adding more lemon juice, just until it becomes spreadable, but still very thick.
Storage: You can keep the cookies in an airtight container for up to five days. The batter can be chilled for a week, or frozen, for up to two months, well-wrapped.
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