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Holiday Blogging: Gingersnaps

As I type this, I am eating one of these cookies, so that should be an endorsement. We often make these during the holidays – I found the the recipe online about fifteen years ago (source lost, as you’d figure, even if it’s still up somewhere), and it’s been a reliable performer. The ingredients are flour, sugar, butter or shortening, powdered ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, molasses, and an egg.
Take 2 1/3 cups of flour (about 290g), 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons dried powdered ginger (10g – just weighed this out myself to check), 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, 7g), 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (2.5g), 1/4 teaspoon of allspice (0.5g), and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (use 3g – the traditional conversion would say more like 4g, but if you’re cooking by weight in grams, you probably find the American habit of putting salt in sweet baked goods a bit strange, too). Combine these dry ingredients in a bowl.
In a mixing bowl, take 3/4 cup (173g) of shortening (it can be butter or vegetable shortening, or a mix. The pure butter version, in my opinion, takes away from the ginger flavor a bit, but de gustibus non disputandum est). Cream this until soft, and then add one cup (200g) of granulated sugar, in portions, beating this until you have the usual fluffy mixture. Mix in one large egg, and 3/4 cup molasses (260g) to this, mixing well, and then add the dry ingredient mixture to this, gradually, blending it well.
Here’s the only “eyeball” part of the recipe. The mixture at this point will be pretty wet and sticky, so it needs to have some more flour added, so that you can take a ball of the stuff and roll it in your hands without it sticking to you. Around a quarter of a cup (35g) should do it, but determine this empirically.
Heat an oven to 350F (180C, gas mark 4). You’ll be forming one-inch (2.5 cm) balls of the batter, and then rolling them in some granulated white sugar on a plate (this makes the cookie surfaces crack in the traditional way). Space them evenly on a sheet (they’ll spread) – if you have some baking parchment paper, that’s a good surface for them, although they’ll usually come off aluminum foil pretty well, too). Bake them for about 10 minutes – the cookies will be slightly domed, and just barely brown around the edges. They’ll flatted back out as they cool, and get harder. A ten-minute baking time will leave them somewhat chewy, even after standing, but if you’d like them hard and “snappy”, given them another minute or two in the oven, and they’ll get there on standing.

24 comments on “Holiday Blogging: Gingersnaps”

  1. newnickname says:

    The recipe seems pretty good but I’m worried about this part: “1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)”. “Sodium bicarbonate” sounds a lot like a CHEMICAL. Can’t you come up with a healthy, safe recipe for ginger snaps that doesn’t contain any chemicals?
    Well, maybe next year. I hope it’s a Happy One!
    [sarcasm alert for those who don’t recognize it: I know that food is chemicals. I read Pipeline, July 1, 2014, “Chemical-Free Products: The Complete List”]

  2. Anonymous says:

    @1: I am wondering as to how ‘Food babe’ would react to this recipe after learning that sodium bicarbonate is being used.

  3. gippgig says:

    Many people would benefit from eating more potassium (and get ample sodium). It would be interesting to try substituting potassium bicarbonate (it’s used in baking and is GRAS (generally recognized as safe)) for baking soda.

  4. biotechtoreador says:

    I did try K2CO3 in this ( printen recipe, and it did work well. Trying same recipe with baking soda resulted in hockey pucks.

  5. Tim McDaniel says:

    Derek, that’s fine for a lab bench, but you’ve not addressed the process/scale-up issues for industrial production. What about exothermy? Stirring? Purification? Reproducibility?
    Have you even THOUGHT about flow here?

  6. Anonymous says:

    That sounds like a single serving right ?
    I will experiment with additional spices e.g. Habanero infused

  7. Hap says:

    Potassium chloride is supposed to have a more metallic taste than sodium chloride, even with the similar saltiness; I don’t know but might worry that there might be similar differences with other sodium-to-potassium salt switches.

  8. adam says:

    Never trust a chemist who can’t cook.

  9. Sam Adams the Dog says:

    @3 If using KHCO3, presumably you’ve got to increase the quantity to 9 g….

  10. gippgig says:

    #4: K2CO3 is a stronger base than potassium bicarbonate and could be harmful if you use too much. Be careful.
    #9: 8 1/3 g by my calculations (100/84).

  11. gippgig says:

    That should say multiply by 100/84
    (which is the MW of KHCO3/MW of NaHCO3).

  12. RD says:

    This is a little different from my family’s recipe for gingersnaps, which I’ve decided to turn into a _secret_ family recipe so I won’t write it out in full here. What I will say is that after they’ve cooled down, I like to spread melted chocolate on mine. Half of them get milk chocolate, half get dark chocolate, just on the flat side (the side that was face down on the baking tray). Lovely.

  13. Patrick says:

    Digital balance in the kitchen? Every home should have one.

  14. Silentsword says:

    Just made a batch with this recipe, waiting for them to cool now. They smell delicious, though!
    #13 – darn right everyone should!

  15. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    I have an off-topic question that I think people following this thread might be able to answer.
    I’m using an old-fashioned vaporizer — the kind where 120 volt current passes through the water between two electrodes to boil it. Because it keeps the water hot, molds don’t grow inside, though the accumulated minerals do have to be cleaned out from time to time. The water here is fairly low in dissolved ions, so I have to add some table salt (NaCl) to reduce the resistance so it makes steam. In fully understand why the salt is needed.
    What puzzles me is, why do I have to keep adding salt when I just adding water? People have been making salt from seawater for centuries by evaporating the water. So where is the salt going? I suspect it’s got something to do with the fact that electrical current is going through the water so maybe hydrolysis is happening. But if it were liberating chlorine gas, wouldn’t I smell it? And if it were making NaOH then what remains in the tank would be alkaline, maybe even dangerously so, and it’s not. So where are the Na and Cl ions going?

  16. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    I agree with Patrick that everybody should have a digital kitchen scale. For a relatively modest price you can find plenty scales good to well under 1% — not as accurate as the expensive analytical balances at my workplace, but very useful for culinary purposes. I also recommend purchasing a test mass of the sort used by government inspectors to check scales at retail shops. My test mass actually cost more than my scale did, but it’s the best way to calibrate my scale. I also check its linearity by placing several objects on it one at a time and in various combinations to verify that the total is close to the sum of individual readings.

  17. markm says:

    Anon: I’m a EE, not a chemist, but I can answer part of that. The reaction you are thinking of is, per Wikipedia:
    2 NaCl + 2 H2O → Cl2 + H2 + 2 NaOH
    Cathode: 2 H+(aq) + 2 e− → H2(g)
    Anode: 2 Cl−(aq) → Cl2(g) + 2 e−
    For that to work, the Cl2 and H2 have to be kept separate. Your vaporizor not only lacks a separating diaphragm, but it is probably feeding the electrodes with AC stepped down to a few volts rather than DC, so Cl2 and H2 are even being produced at the same electrodes. (You said “old vaporizer”, so I assume it dates back to when a small transformer was cheaper than an electronic circuit. Nowadays, I would have to estimate whether rectifying 120V directly to DC and then chopping the current to drive a smaller high-frequency transformer would be cheaper.)
    I guess that most of the H2 and CL2 recombine into 2 HCL while still in the water, and that of course neutralizes 2 NaOH. But if the salt has to be replenished, either a little gas is escaping (either as hydrogen and chlorine, or as HCl), or some of the sodium and chloride wind up elsewhere. Perhaps there are reactions with the electrode materials?

  18. pjcamp says:

    Take your basic ginger snap recipe, maybe back off the sugar a bit. For the dough into an 8 by 12 flattish log (2 if you have lots of batter). Bake and allow to cool for about a half hour. Cut into 1/2 inch slices with a serrated or electric knife. Bake a second time, flipping them half way through and allow to cool again.
    Now you have ginger biscotti and it is totally awesome dipped in your morning coffee.

  19. gippgig says:

    #15: Trapped in the mineral deposits?
    #17: Those vaporizers don’t step down the voltage; they apply 120V AC directly to the water (so don’t touch the water (i.e., if it’s leaking) when it’s plugged in!).

  20. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    Gippgig is right that this vaporizer has no transformer, it sends 120V wall juice directly through the water. Markm is right that because it both lacks any separating diaphragm and feeds AC through the water, there’s no way of keeping any Cl and H2 liberated apart — which is precisely what befuddles me.
    Maybe gippgis is right and the NaCl is just getting trapped in the stuff accumulating at the bottom. I presume those mineral deposits are mostly some mixture of magnesium, iron, and calcium — the most common minerals in tap water.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Gonna try this with duck fat and lard.

  22. ErrHuman says:

    @5 Microwaves surely? There must be some magic at work there…

  23. ErrHuman says:

    @5 Microwaves surely? There must be some magic at work there…

  24. Gippgig is right that this vaporizer has no transformer, it sends 120V wall juice directly through the water. Markm is right that because it both lacks any separating diaphragm and feeds AC through the water, there’s no way of keeping any Cl and H2 liberated apart — which is precisely what befuddles me.

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