I've never been interested in baking, mainly because it's such a regimented process -- and that doesn't appeal to my nature (beer bread is an exception to this rule, not surprisingly). Unlike the carefree cooking method of chopping, tossing together and seasoning various combinations of whatever you're in the mood for, baking requires a strict adherence to recipes. From what I've read, the slightest deviation can lead to disaster -- not exactly my idea of a good time in the kitchen.
But, as is usually the case when one forms an uneducated opinion, I was wrong. The right ingredient? Good company.
My good friend Alvis just celebrated a birthday, and, like most of us, he enjoys certain things on his special day: good beers with close friends and his favorite Latvian treat, gingerbread cookies, a tradition in his family for generations. His one other birthday wish was that everybody lend a hand in making them, which we happily did, and in so doing, I learned the secret to a having fun while baking. With multiple people paying attention to the delicate situation, everyone could relax, beer in hand.
And there were plenty of beers on hand, but I had brought one over specifically to drink with the cookies. It had taken me a while to pick one, since beer isn't exactly a conventional beverage of choice with such a domestic dessert. I eventually settled on Crooked Stave's Wild Wild Brett Orange, a sour ale brewed with Minneola tangelos, orange peel and coriander; it's part of a series of beers fermented with brettanomyces yeast and inspired by the colors of the rainbow.
I haven't always been the biggest fan of American sour beers. They are often one-dimensionally sour, but as their trendiness dies down, sour beers are becoming more and more refined, and I'm finding the local selection to be quite versatile with food.
And that was certainly the case with the Orange. Tart and fruity, with a creamy body and not too sour, it was lovely alongside the buttery treats. Strange as it sounds, the pairing was reminiscent of milk and cookies. But I'd never had ginger cookies like these. Thin and crisp, spicy and sweet, they were brittle in a good way and dangerously snackable. And snack we did -- not just on cookies, but also on the bacon pierogis Alvis had bought at the Latvian center earlier that day, which were as good as they sound.
Anyhow, I very much enjoyed baking cookies with friends. You might say I was as giddy as a schoolboy when the first batch came out of the oven, and I'm not at all ashamed to admit it.
Here's the recipe:
1/3 cup molasses 1/3 cup brown sugar 1 1/2 sticks butter 5 cups flour 1 teaspoon ginger 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 teaspoon clove 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon cardamom 1/2 teaspoon coriander 2 eggs, lightly beaten
1. In a large pot, over medium heat, add molasses, brown sugar and butter. 2. Stir constantly until butter and sugar are completely melted, making sure not to burn the mixture. 3. Remove from heat and add spices and 2 1/2 cups of flour. 4. Stir to combine and set aside to cool to lukewarm. 5. Add eggs, and stir to combine. 6. Once the dough cools completely, add remaining flour, a little bit at a time until a thick, sticky dough is formed.
Mixing the dough can be hard work, so it helps to have some extra hands.
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7. Place dough in a large mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap (so that the wrap is pressed against the dough), and refrigerate for at least a few hours. 8. To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. 9. Using a rolling pin, roll out a handful of dough on a floured surface until paper thin. 10. Cut into shapes, place on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 6 minutes. 11. Remove and let cool before serving.