The holiday classic! *indicates a “secret ingredient”.
3/4 cup shortening (I KNOW, I know, but I couldn’t mess with Mom’s recipe, and it does make for a deliciously soft dough)
1 cup of granulated sugar
4 tablespoons dark molasses (not Blackstrap, just dark)
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg*
1/2 teaspoon ground mace*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract* — I just thought this sounded good because I love vanilla, but it is actually not very strong and a little over powered by the ginger and cinnamon. But adding it certainly won’t hurt.
1 teaspoon ground ginger (try to by organic if you can- it really has a much stronger flavor and scent)
1. Cream the shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium. Add the sugar, molasses, egg and vanilla (if using) and beat well until mixed. Scrap the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure the sugar is all incorporated.
2. Sift the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, all the spices (for an easy way, just put them all in the bowl and whisk them around a bit rather then messing with that ol’ sifter or a sieve.) and add them to the mixer, on low and slowly mix until incorporated and smooth.
Now listen. A lot of people think they can’t bake. Their cookies turn to rocks and their cakes turn to bricks. Here’s the trick: don’t over mix! Once that flour gets added, the more you move it around, the more its gluten develops. I’m no Alton Brown, but I do watch him, and gluten is that thing that makes bread and rolls chewy. If you’re into anatomy or biology, think of it like the “connective tissue” of your your baked good. That’s why when you do make bread or rolls you knead the dough to develop it’s gluten on purpose. We don’t want that here. So err on the careful side and only use the mixer up to the point that the dry ingredients are just incorporated, then, if needed, use a wooden spoon or spatula to finish it by hand. This is gentler and won’t turn your cookies into leaden masses that could chip a tooth.
Okay now that we got that straighten out, onward! Now for the fun part- you get to play with your food:
3. Pour about 1/2 a cup of sugar into a bowl. Take about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of dough and roll them in a ball. Then roll the dough ball around in the sugar so that it coats it all over. I just use regular granulated sugar here, I find that for this cookie using that much sanding sugar would make it too crunchy. If you like you could just do a little sprinkle of sanding sugar on top, but you won’t get the same ending visual effect of the sugar looking like sparkling snow on the gingersnap.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and place the balls of dough about 1 and 1/2 to 2 inches apart. You really don’t want these cookies to run together and get misshapen. Bake for 12-15 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through (because I always forget this, I usually set my timer for 6 minutes, that way when it goes off I know it’s time to rotate and switch the top and bottom sheets, then bake for about 7 more minutes. I do this for all the cookies I bake, just dividing the time in half and setting the timer twice. Evenly baked and perfect every time.)
If you have a working oven light (don’t keep opening the door) you can see how wonderfully puffy these cookies get. Mom says, remove them from the oven when they are still puffy and brown, that way you get the perfect crackly tops that distinguish these cookies from the rest.
Let them rest on the hot baking sheet for about 2 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool. These are best when not over cooked and soft. As the baker, you should always eat one cookie warm right out of the oven. This restores you if you might be a little tired at this point.