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Friday, December 10, 2010


The Celtic celebration of the winter solstice has always intrigued me. This ancient pre-christian winter holiday on December 21st marks the longest night of the year, traditionally heralded by orchard wassailing (singing to trees in apple orchards to promote a good harvest for the coming year), house wassailing (singing house to house), gift giving, feasting and bonfires to encourage the sun to come back from its long winter slumber.

While I have no apple trees to wassail, I will invite my friends for a bonfire, rum-spiked hot cider and spice filled treats to celebrate the return of the sun. In Medieval Europe, ginger was an important spice and Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Papparkakor (sometimes called peppernuts) and similar cookies became synonymous with winter festivals from that time forward.

I have been tinkering with various versions of my own ginger cookies for over 30 years and have come to prefer them crispy outside, chewy inside with bits of fiery-sweet crystallized ginger added. If you have never made your own crystallized ginger, it is a simple process with the added bonus byproduct of ginger syrup. The crystallized ginger slices can be stored in your cupboard for up to a year and the syrup refrigerated for months and added to baked goods, hot drinks and cocktails*.

Crystallized Ginger
Expensive to purchase and easy to make, crystallized ginger gives baked goods and jams an extra kick.

½ # fresh Ginger Root
2 cups water

1½ cups water
1½ cups sugar
½ tsp Cream of Tartar

Granulated Sugar for coating

Peel and slice fresh gingerroot into thin slices or strips. Place ginger in a small pan with 2 cups
of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve slices.

Place 1½ cups sugar and equal water into the pan. Add cream of tartar and a pinch of salt. Heat to boiling to dissolve sugar. Add ginger and simmer 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover and let rest at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

Return pan to heat. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling until temperature reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. Reserve liquid. Lay ginger on a rack to dry. 

Slices are ready when they are no longer moist. Toss in sugar to coat. Let dry at room temperature for 1 additional day. Ginger can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container for up to 1 year.

Pour the ginger syrup into
a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

*Try Julia Child’s Gingerbread Baby Cakes from the book Baking with Julia. While still warm from the oven, poke holes in the top with a toothpick and brush with warm ginger syrup.
Cocktails anyone? Ginger simple syrup, a squeeze of lime, fresh mint, Tanqueray Rangpur Gin and tonic over ice is one of my favorite cocktails.

Soft Gingersnaps
These are wonderfully soft & chewy with a spicy zing from crystallized ginger.

1 cup sugar
¼ cup dark unsulphered molasses
1 egg
¾ cup organic shortening*
2 cups flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp baking soda
¼ cup crystallized ginger, chopped

Mix all ingredients, roll into walnut sized balls & roll balls into sugar. 
Bake at 325 degrees about 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown. These cookies freeze well and mail well.
*Organic shortening is made with palm oil and is non-hydrogenated. It is not cheap, but I use very little shortening over the year and it is not a major expense. I have found that substituting butter or other fats do not give me the same texture.  

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