Monday, April 28, 2008

Cakes and Ale

In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch says, "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Gosh, I hope not! The Bard was referring to the good life when he wrote of "cakes and ale". The phrase, however, made me think of how much I like Gingersnaps with beer. I've eaten Gingersnaps, and their thinner spicier Swedish cousin, "Pepparkakor" for most of my life. I always liked them, but most of the time I'd have preferred something chocolate. Then one day, a young man with whom I worked suggested the idea of Gingersnaps with beer. Dennis is half German, half Greek and has a most discriminating palate. I tried it and discovered a match made in heaven.

I like a spicy Belgian or Belgian-style ale with Gingersnaps. A good choice might be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Another option might be Blue Moon Belgian White Ale, which is flavored with coriander and orange peel. I'm not a beer expert, so I'll leave the choice up to you. Among the hundreds of beer and ale offerings, there's a brew for everyone.

These Gingersnaps have a bite, providing your spices are fresh. Open the bottles - if you don't smell anything, discard them! While you're at it, check the expiration dates on all of your herbs and spices - if they've been in the pantry since the Gulf War, it's time to replace them. Crystallized ginger can be found in the spice or bulk foods section of most full-service grocers. It's also available at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, and The Ginger People (see link).


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 cup crystallized ginger, very finely chopped*
1/2 teaspoon non-iodized salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (I use Crisco® sticks)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup light molasses (I use "Grandma's Original")
Grated rind of one medium orange and one lemon, colored part only
1 cup granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Sift the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and salt into a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

Combine the butter, shortening and brown sugar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add the egg, molasses and citrus rinds and beat until combined. Add the crystallized ginger. Reduce the speed to low to incorporate the chopped ginger and then add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, nonstick foil, or nonstick baking liners.

Roll the dough into 1" balls and then roll each in the granulated sugar to coat evenly (an easy way to do this is to put the sugar in a shallow disposable food container with a lid, put 5 or 6 balls in at a time, snap on the lid, and shake back and forth).

Arrange the cookies 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for about 11-12 minutes, until the cookies are puffed, light brown around the edges and cracked on top.

Cool for 5 minutes and carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies may be stored in an airtight container for 1 week. Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

*Note: lightly coating or spraying your knife with cooking oil will make chopping the ginger easier.