The Ginger Chronicles
Is anyone else feeling the long dark days and the bitter cold of February already?
Luckily, I have a fetish for fresh root ginger, so I’m designating February ‘Ginger Month’.
Irresistibly soulful, gingerbread exudes that exotic warmth that immediately transports you to the Middle East , enveloping you with heady aromas and sultry flavours. But gingerbread is also a huge matter of taste, like a Crème Egg. (How DO you like yours?) Crisp and crunchy? Soft and spicy? Hot? Sticky? It always fascinates me that so many young children like it. Let’s face it, ginger is quite the acquired taste.
As a relatively new baker, I’ve been through so many ‘phases’. There’s been the fondant-iced-large-decorated-cake phase, the cupcake phase, the biscuit phase, the hunt-for-the-perfect-vanilla-cake phase, the pastry phase, the classic bakes phase etc etc. Now, each one has been thoroughly enjoyable. But I’m starting to find my niche…
Natural flavours, fresh ingredients, experimental tastes.
The recipe below is one I always used, however it was never soft enough or flavoursome enough. Certainly not enough to excite the palate. I wanted to awaken the taste-buds, to push the plain old children’s gingerbread into the grown up version (with a little childlike addition – a single Smartie!).
So, what is in gingerbread? Ginger, of course! Never having used fresh root ginger, I researched recipes that included it and settled on a rough amount.
My first batch included 40g but it didn’t zing. So, in this batch, I added 55g. Why not? Half a fresh chilli added a grown up twist, along with the addition of some hot black pepper.
The mixture is very wet and well hydrated but who wants a mouthful of dry ginger biscuit anyway? It’s worth the effort it takes to cut out the shapes from a sticky mix, it really is.
Spicy Gingerbread (14 – 16 biscuits)
½ egg plus 1 egg yolk (beaten lightly)
110g lightly salted butter (Morrison’s ‘Best for Baking’ is good)
100g dark brown sugar
90g golden syrup
55g fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
½ fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
5g ground ginger
2g ground cinnamon
1g cracked black pepper
280g plain flour
1/8 of a tsp bicarbonate of soda
zest of ½ small unwaxed lemon
* Beat the egg lightly and set aside.
* Put the butter and dark brown sugar into a mixing bowl and beat (I got the best results by doing this by hand). Then add the golden syrup and beat again.
* Beat in (by hand) the eggs.
* Add the spices to the batter and mix in.
* Grate the lemon zest into the batter and mix. (It will look curdled – this is okay)
* Mix in the flour and bicarbonate of soda.
* The dough will now be forming – it will be sticky. Gather it together (you’ll need to use your hands) and then wrap it in cling film. Put it in the fridge to chill for an hour or so.
* Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.
* Grease and line two baking trays.
* After an hour, lightly flour the worktop and a rolling pin. Take half of the gingerbread and lightly coat it with flour. Roll it out to 1 – 1.5cm thick. It WILL stick to the rolling pin – be patient. The gingerbread will be softer and more delicious if you can retain the moisture. If it is far too sticky, knead a little flour into the dough.
* Cut out gingerbread shapes, place onto tray and pop into the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the tray at 8 minutes for an even bake.
* When baked, remove from the oven and add a Smartie to the centre of each flower (or add as buttons and eyes to gingerbread people, etc) whilst hot. Leave to cool for five minutes on the tray, then remove to a cooling rack. For a more grown-up look, add some cinnamon sugar to the top, or dust with a small amount of icing sugar. I might dip them in some dark chocolate next time… 🙂