Honey Cardamom Cut Out Cookies

I’ve been making a lot of cookies lately. The reasons are varied, but as that’s just where things have been at in the kitchen, y’all can expect a few of the next posts in the coming weeks to be cookie-themed. Personally I think it’s impossible for there to be too many cookie-anything, but that’s just my opinion. And while you’re here, I might as well give another one:

Cut out cookies are the best kind.

What ARE cut outs?

Cut out cookies are cookies that are baked with the intention of holding a particular shape. Mostly, they tend to fall on the sugar cookie flavored spectrum. This is different than say, a drop cookie (like chocolate chip cookies), where the dough is dropped from an ice cream scoop or teaspoon. Most cut out cookie doughs are sturdy and durable in order to be able to withhold being rolled out by a rolling pin and pressed out by cookie cutters.Drop cookies are undoubtedly less laborious than cut outs, as you don’t have to bother with cutting out the shapes. Because sugar cookies tend to be my favorite, I still prefer cut outs. Provided you have a tasty flavored dough, I feel that they are worth the extra effort.

I’ve said it dozens of times before and I’ll keep saying it for anyone who may be reading this post and thinking that cut outs are too hard to attempt: it really does come down to how you treat the dough. Cut out cookie dough (heck, MOST cookie dough) requires very specific treatment in order to get the pretty, magazine quality aesthetics that you want. I’ve baked hundreds (maybe even thousands at this point) of cookies at this point in my baking adventures and I’ve been truly mortified to find that too many of the recipes out there omit what I believe is the most important step in cookie baking:

Chilling the dough.

I just don’t understand it. SO many cut out cookie recipes I’ve seen instruct you to bake the cookies just minutes after putting the dough together.

This is just…not good advice.

In the first place, the fat (butter) in the dough should be thoroughly creamed and softened by the time that you’re finished mixing it. This is what makes the dough sticky. Room temp, sticky cookie dough WILL produce cookies that spread, and spread a lot. This completely defeats the purpose of cut out cookies–the more that they spread, the more that the shapes you spent all that time cutting out will be warped by the heat of the oven. Even drop cookie dough that is baked when too warm will produce cookies that are flat as pancakes instead of puffy, craggy cookies that at least resemble domes. Ask me how I know.

Cookie dough should be VERY cold when it hits the oven. Not warm and sticky. Not cool. COLD. The colder it is, the easier it will be to cut out, and the better your shapes will hold up.Therefore, In almost every single one of the cookie recipes I share, I will tell you to refrigerate the finished cookie dough for at least one hour (but preferably overnight) in order to give the butter in the dough plenty of time to firm up. Additionally, whenever I make cut outs, I take it a step further and chill the cookies for a few minutes after I’ve cut them out. Excessive? Maybe. But I’d prefer to let the results speak for themselves.

I made these primarily because they were a departure from the usual vanilla sugar cut out cookie that I make and I was curious as to how they would turn out. They’re sweetened with both white sugar and honey, and spiced with cardamom and ground ginger. After cutting them out, I also sprinkled the tops with cinnamon sugar to give them a bit of texture. You don’t necessarily need to cut out the middles if you don’t have a tiny cutter, or if you just don’t want to. Just please give your dough the proper amount of chilling time in the fridge so that the shapes you cut them in will hold up.

These aren’t overly sweet, and the spices do most of the work flavor-wise. I also found that they also improve in flavor the longer that they have to sit, so they may taste even better on the second or third day after you make them then they do on the first. Just place a slice of bread in the container you store them in, and they’ll be sure to stay soft (that’s a tip from my bag of tricks that works for any baked cookie, actually).

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #222, co-hosted this week by Antonia @ Zoale.com.

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Honey Cardamom Cut Out Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Bake from Scratch

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

In a medium bowl combine the  flour with the cardamom, ginger, salt and baking soda with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolk, honey and vanilla and combine until just combined. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing until just combined.

Scrape the dough out and onto a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the one.

Sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper or a cutting board) with powdered sugar or flour. Roll out the quarter of dough to your desired thickness (I wouldn’t go thinner than 1/4 inch) Cut into whatever desired shapes you like. I used a 2- to 2 ½-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds and placed on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. I then used a ¾- to 1-inch round cookie cutter, and cut out the centers from half of the cookies. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary. Also don’t throw away the centers, as they make delicious mini cookie bites.

Place the sheet pans in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar, and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Let cool on pans for 3 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks.

Curried Pumpkin and Ginger Scones

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I remember the first time I tried coffee. I hated it.

I’d been wanting to for a long time. My dad would drink a French Vanilla flavored brew and if I close my eyes I can STILL remember the exact smell that would waft out of his coffee cup and into the air of the car as we drove. It was a delicious aroma. I just knew that the coffee HAD to taste as good. I mean, why else would so many adults want to drink it all the time?

I had my first sip of coffee the same way I had my first sip of Coca Cola: in secret when no adult was looking and I really wasn’t supposed to. I walked away from one with no regrets. It may very well be battery acid but all I knew back then was that Coke tasted amazing and it wasn’t fair that my mom wouldn’t let me drink it.

Coffee? Heh. I thought it bitter. Too bitter. Kinda gross, actually. I was so disappointed. I felt let down. How could something that smelled so good taste bad? And why did grown ups guzzle up so much of the stuff?

It took me a while longer before my mind changed andI began what’s been a long on-again, off-again relationship with coffee. I’ve been drinking it for about thirteen years (Yeah, I know. You do the math and it’s a long time. I started too early. It is what it is.) Those first two or three years it really wasn’t that serious: I mostly just stuck with the cold slushy-like frappucinos from Starbucks with only a few shots of espresso and are mostly just sugar and milk anyway. But as time went on, I upped my game and went with the real stuff, learning that it’s an acquired taste that may be slow to develop, but once had, is almost impossible to get rid of.

And believe me, I’ve tried to get rid of it. Multiple times.

Right now I’m in the midst of another one of my relapses and I’m actually okay with that. Life is short, there worse things in the world to be hooked on and I’m not about to feel guilty over having myself a daily cup of coffee….not to mention a little extra something on the side.

Because honestly, doesn’t the coffee taste that much better when you’re munching on something tasty to go with it? You guys know I’m right.

When I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to bake, I like to eat either the spicy Lotus biscuits alongside my coffee, gingersnaps, or some honey-flavored graham crackers. When I’m not in a hurry and do have the time, I’ll make scones. If you guys have been following me for a while you know I’ve got a special love for scones. They’re my favorite accompaniment to coffee and I made up my mind a long time ago to get good at making them for myself so I wouldn’t have to pay $4-5 for one from a coffee shop.

And I have to say, I think I’ve succeeded.

I had a leftover can of pureed pumpkin in my cupboard from Thanksgiving that I never used. I’d also just finished candying some ginger from a batch of ginger syrup I’d made. I didn’t want the pumpkin or the ginger to go to waste, and as they do go together so well, I thought they’d work very nicely in a scone dough. Besides the combination of those two ingredients, there are a few other things I love about this recipe:

It’s given a extra kick of spice by the addition of curry powder and turmeric. I know that those are spices normally used in savory dishes, but trust me: they REALLY do work with the ginger. The bite tempers the sweetness of the scone while the turmeric and the pumpkin also gives them a lovely golden brown color. Second, the crystallized ginger and turbinado adds a layer of chewy/slightly crunchy texture to the top of the scones. I know we’re just now getting into summer, but the smell of these will almost make you wish it were autumn already. I really loved how these turned out and if you try them (even if it’s just to bookmark for later) I think you will too.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #173, co-hosted this week by Lindy @ Love In The Kitchen and Paula @ Her Life Is Love.

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Curried Pumpkin and Ginger Scones

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional, for color)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter or margarine, cut into eight pieces
  • 1/2 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin or squash (canned is fine)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 beaten egg, for brushing on top, optional
  • Turbinado sugar for sprinkling, optional

 

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & lightly spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, the 1/2 cup ginger, curry powder, turmeric and sugar. Mix well with a fork and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the buttermilk with the pumpkin and mix together until the pumpkin has mostly dissolved in the buttermilk.

Using the large holes on a box grater, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. (You can also use a pastry blender or a pair of knives for this, just cut the butter into chunks first.) Mix with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour the pumpkin-buttermilk mixture inside. Using a floured rubber spatula mix together until just combined. (It’s going to be sticky)

On a well floured surface (like a cutting board, pastry mat or a secured piece of wax paper) turn out the dough and pat/roll it into a long rectangle, about  1/2 inch thick. Try to handle as lightly as possible with your hands.

Using a bench scraper, pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into squares and transfer them to the baking sheet, placing them close together. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place a shallow dish filled with about 1 inch of water on the lower rack of the oven about 10 minutes before baking and leave it in there (this will aid with the scone rise)

Brush the scones with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the extra crystallized ginger and turbinado sugar.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temp. Scones can be wrapped in plastic wrap to preserve freshness, then reheated by wrapping in damp napkin and reheating in microwave for 15-20 seconds.

Curry and Ginger Crackers

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I know what you all are thinking.

Crackers. This chick actually took the trouble to make crackers? Like, from scratch?

But…why? For what? There are grocery stores with entire aisles of shelves holding droves and droves of crackers. Good ones. Some, *really* good. So, what is even the point of this post?

I can explain. Not only the why and how of me taking the trouble to make crackers, but why they’re actually something that I think YOU should be taking the trouble to make for yourself as well.

The first reason is that they’re actually not hard to make at all. They come together VERY quickly, the ingredients are not only minimal, they’re ALL recognizable and easy to pronounce–something that can’t be said of many of the mass produced popular name brand crackers out there.

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A few weeks ago, I started making my own ginger syrup. I’ve been drinking water diluted with lemon juice and the ginger syrup to ease some digestive issues that I’ve had for a while; the stuff really works. Maybe I’ll get around to sharing the ‘recipe’ to that one of these days, but the main takeaway for today’s is that to make the syrup I would simmer raw ginger slices in water and sugar until their flavor infused the syrup. The ginger was ‘candied’ by the syrup, then I rolled it in some white sugar and let it chill out in the fridge overnight. Voila: crystallized ginger that comes MUCH cheaper than the pricey stuff in the spice aisle.

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There are many things you can do with crystallized ginger, most involving a dessert of some kind.  My first instincts before resolving to make a cake or gingerbread or something like that, was to see if there was something else I could do with it using the ingredients that were already in my house as opposed to buying extra stuff. A quick scanning of the index of my King Arthur Flour cookbook brought me to this recipe. I’d never made crackers before, but the instructions did look very easy to follow, the flavor combination was intriguing and finally I figured hey…I hadn’t done it before, after all. Why not?

I’ll be upfront with you guys: besides these, I’ve already made 3 OTHER cracker recipes in the last few weeks. This is NOT the last you’ve seen of my homemade cracker endeavors. I’m kinda hooked on it. That’s how much I liked these.

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Look, I know they’re far from pretty. This WAS my first time. I’ve gotten better with practice, but for these, I just cut them out in haphazard shapes with a pizza cutter. But that’s the thing: the recipe is so easy to follow and hard to mess up that you can cut these out however the heck you want, and it won’t make a lick of difference because they’re just so damn tasty. The combination of the ginger with the curry powder is a match made in Heaven: it’s a perfect blend of sweet & balanced spice. There’s a kick in the aftertaste for sure, but it’s a subtle one that’s quite pleasant. ANDAND! Ginger and turmeric are natural remedies for upset stomach/nausea. Sooooo, how cool would it be to have these around for an absolutely delicious alternative to plain ol’ saltines? I’m pretty sure this is a cracker you can’t find on just any grocery store shelf anywhere–and in my humble opinion, these can compete with the best of them. Just saying.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #154. Have a great weekend everyone.

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Curry and Ginger Crackers

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour Baking Companion

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup crystallized/candied ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • About 6 tablespoons cold water
  • Coarse sugar or salt, optional

 

Directions 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a blender or food processor, combine 1 cup of the flour and candied ginger. Process until the ginger is very finely diced.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour-ginger mixture, the rest of the flour, salt, curry powder, turmeric, sugar and cayenne pepper if using. Cut in the butter using a fork, working it into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms small and even crumbs. Add enough of the water to form a smooth, workable dough.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each out to a flatness of about 1/8 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, a bench scraper or a sharp knife, cut the dough into squares and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Freeze the crackers for about 15 minutes. Using the tines of a fork, prick the crackers evenly, pressing down all the way through to make holes. Sprinkle with either the coarse salt or sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until they’re a very light golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cranberry Pumpkin Gingerbread

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We’ve been having a somewhat unusually “temperatured” Holiday season so far here in Michigan.

And by unusual, I mean it’s been predominately in the upper 50’s-60’s. It’s weird having it be this close to Christmas, but without snow or even cold air to give you any kind of sense that it’s winter. Especially when you live in the Mitten State- where we’re used to having snow at Christmas by now.

Not that I’m necessarily complaining either, mind you. I like having snow on Christmas like just about everyone else- but the “other” part of it? The part where I have to shovel snow, wake up early in order to drive slowly on the road and still get to work on time?

That I really don’t mind doing without. At all.

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Granted, I do recognize that the cause of this warm weather is global warming (which is needless to say, not a good thing) and that I should kinda be more worried/concerned/unhappy that we’re not getting the “right” type of weather for this time of year.

Also, any life-long Michigander knows that in this state, it could be a sunny, warm 60 degrees one day and literally a snowy, freezing 20 degrees the next. Our weather is hardly ever predictable, and as such we just may get our White Christmas after all.

But for now, I’m chilling with this warmer weather.

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Day 4 of the 12 Days of Christmas series is here and boy, did I need this here pick me up. This past weekend I spent in a complete tizzy of Christmas baking, trying to get as much done as I could.  It left me pretty tired as I headed out to work this morning and I literally just walked into the door a few minutes ago before sitting down to crank out this post. I looked at the pictures and just gave a big smile as I remembered this recipe.

Because gingerbread ALWAYS makes me smile. Always.

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I didn’t make actual gingerbread for Christmas last year.

That was a major fail on my part. Major MAJOR fail. My sister Jas called me out for that and rightly so. Christmas to some degree IS about gingerbread, after all.

So, this year I decided to overcompensate for last year’s omission by throwing two gingerbread themed recipes at y’all for the series.

The first was yesterday’s post of gingerbread flavored caramel corn, which is delectably delicious. But today is actually the real thing, with a twist.

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I recently bought a new springform pan because there were two recipes I wanted to try that specifically required it (It was only $9, so I would hardly call that a splurge.) The first recipe was a deep dish chicken pot pie, which I fully intend on following through with.

The second one, was this recipe. And based on the outcome of this gingerbread alone, I can tell you that this was a worthwhile investment.

Pumpkin and gingerbread are a WONDERFUL combination, you guys. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like  chips and salsa. They go together like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong.

(Extra credit points if that last reference didn’t go over your head. It’s from a musical.)

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But back to the gingerbread: one thing that surprised me about this recipe was the method of distributing the butter. It’s meant to go in much in the same way that butter is ‘cut’ into flour for biscuits or pie crust; I literally ran the stick of butter over my box grater like I do whenever I make biscuits or pie crust and it distributed the butter much easier than cutting it into small chunks and trying to dice it up with a knife or pastry cutter.

The smell of this cooking up alone is everything I love about the flavors of baking. That one springform pan baking in the oven perfumed my whole apartment and the hallways outside. The canned pumpkin really adds to the ‘kick’ of the rich, spicy ginger flavor here. Dried cranberries are included in the batter that give it a touch of tartness that it needs. But I think my favorite part is the addition of the crumbly topping to the gingerbread. It’s like a crunchy streusel topping that gives a wonderful compliment of texture to the softness of the gingerbread.

Make this one, guys. It’s one of a kind…Like dip da dip da dip doowop da doobee doo. 😉

12 Days of Christmas Banner Second

Day 1: Springerle Cookies

Day 2: Speculaas Cookies

Day 3: Gingerbread Caramel Crunch

Day 4: Cranberry Pumpkin Gingerbread

Cranberry Pumpkin Gingerbread

Recipe Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup butter, cut up
  • 1 15 ounce can pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup full-flavor molasses
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan; place pan in a shallow baking pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl stir together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Remove 3/4 cup of crumb mixture; set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together pumpkin, eggs, molasses, buttermilk, and baking soda until well combined. Add pumpkin mixture and the cranberries to remaining crumb mixture. Stir just until moistened. Spoon batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle top of batter evenly with the reserved 3/4 cup crumb mixture.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a long wooden skewer inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool gingerbread in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove sides of pan.

Curried Ginger Scones

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The coffee shop near my job is really kinda depressing to me for several reasons.

First, their coffee usually just isn’t that good. Believe me, I’ve tried giving them the benefit of the doubt several times. I’ve bought multiple items on their menu just in case it was a fluke recipe; lattes, cappuccino, hot chocolate. NONE are really worth writing home about- or the $3.00 + change they charge for them. They’re not disgusting just…blah. Bland. However, since they’re the closest thing available to me, and more importantly because I have to feed my coffee addiction (or else bad things happen) I do still get a drink from them on the regular.

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I had to mix things up, though. The barista there and I have a special understanding; she swaps out the regular vanilla syrups used in one of the lattes on their menu (it’s not good) with butterscotch syrup just for me, which really makes the drink taste a world of a lot better.

I kinda wish they would give me the credit for the new drink. Name it in my honor and put it on their menu or something. I feel like I did them a major favor. It actually tastes like it should cost $3.18 now.

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Second thing about the coffee shop that depresses me? There’s no hot barista guy working there that I can flirt with in the morning to shake me out of my boredom. Y’know, the guy who gives me the extra shot of espresso free of charge with a commercial-worthy wink “just because” and calls me by my first name and always asks me how my weekend was or what my weekend will be like.

This should be basic elementary coffee shop stuff 101, amIright?

But even more depressing than the just-below-average coffee and absence of a hot barista guy named Wes in the coffee shop are their “baked goods”. The quotation marks were intentional. I’m really not even sure if I should call them that- seems like an insult to be honest. There’s nothing “good” about them. It’s that bad, you guys. I almost don’t even know where to start. They over bake EVERYTHING. I mean, good Lord. Whoever they’re paying to be their baker/pastry chef needs to be fired. or at least they should let me sit down and talk to them about some basic fundamentals of baking.

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Cookies shouldn’t be completely flat and sunken in the middle when they set up. And they should not, should not, SHOULD NOT be dark brown across the top. That’s a burned cookie. It will crumble- and not crumble like Chips Ahoy, either. It’ll crumble like sawdust. Gross.

The scones are really what make me want to burst into tears though. Those poor, poor scones that never did anything to hurt anyone. Those poor scones that just wanted to be great. Those poor scones that have go through such cruel and unusual punishment. They’re over baked to the point where the inside of the scones looks like biscotti. They’re way too brown, I feel like if I squeezed it, it’d crumble into sawdusty crumbs. You’d never be able to tell that there was any butter layered in that overworked, over cooked dough. It’s a travesty.

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Scones are one of life’s greatest joys. They deserve better. They deserve to BE better.

They deserve to be these Curried Ginger scones. I so wish I could sit down with the baker at the coffee shop near my job and teach him or her how to make these. I feel like I could change their life.

Curry and ginger is a marvelous combination; there’s just enough bite, spiciness, and sweetness in both to balance off of one another. Pair this up with a cup of coffee, and you’re more than good to go. You’re ready to face the world.

I’m taking these scones to Fiesta Friday #70, co-hosted this week by newbies Dini @ Giramuk’s Kitchen and Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau. See you guys there 🙂

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Curried Ginger Scones


Recipe Courtesy of The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 stick butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream

Directions

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the ginger, mixing to distribute, then the curry and sugar. Cut in the butter till the mixture is crumbly.

Add the buttermilk (or yogurt or sour cream), stirring till the dough just holds together. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and pat it into a 10-inch square, about 1/2-inch thick.

Cut the dough into triangles, and transfer them to a lightly greased baking sheet. Place the scones in the freezer for 30 minutes to allow the dough to firm up (this will also make the scones rise higher)

Bake the scones in a preheated 425°F oven for 20 minutes, or until they’re golden. Remove them from the oven and paint them with ginger syrup, if desired.

Giant Molasses Cookies

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Show of hands: how many of you guys ‘believed’ when you were little? Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus. Let me see how many of you believed in him when they were kids.

Don’t be shy or embarrassed. My hand’s up.

I don’t regret my believing in him- in fact, I think that it made Christmas all the more exciting for us when me and my sisters. I’ll even admit that when I stopped believing in him, Christmas did kinda lose some of it’s magic for me. I was actually depressed for a while when my mom finally told me the truth.

Not that I’m not still in love with Christmas. I definitely am. This is gonna sound corny, but I’l say it anyway: it was hard to let go of the mystery and enchantment that’s behind the idea of Santa for a little kid. Believing it was just a lot of fun.

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Plus in my defense, if you guys knew what the lengths the adults in our house went to just to make the three of us ‘believe’, you’d understand why I did. They SERIOUSLY went out of their way.

First of all, our house didn’t have a fireplace or chimney. You’d think that would present an issue for the grown ups in trying to explain how Santa would get inside our house. I mean, we had an alarm system that got turned on at the end of every night. And Santa didn’t know the code, so we would’ve seen straight through that fib.

But nope; we got told that OUR house was very special, and that there was a ‘secret room/passageway’ that only Santa and the grownups knew about so that he could get in without setting off the alarm or using a chimney. I can still remember my mom smiling and giving me ‘hints’ about where the secret room was and how they accessed it. I also remember spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to find the secret lever, switch or button she told me was in the wall to find it for myself.

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One year we woke up on Christmas morning and got told to go outside and see ‘something’. Our roof was low enough so that if we took a few steps back from the house, we could see on top of it. When we went outside, we saw that there were 9 (yes 9, for every reindeer in the team) sets of ‘reindeer hood prints’ made in the snow on the roof, as well as boot foot prints that walked in a path.

C’mon, be honest. If you were a little kid wouldn’t that have convinced you a LITTLE bit?

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I wrote letters to Santa, but rather than ‘sending’ them to the North Pole ahead of time, my mom encouraged us to instead leave them for him to pick up on Christmas Eve night. Why? Well, because I didn’t write Santa telling him what I wanted for Christmas. That part wasn’t as interesting to me as was the ida of being to communicate with a ‘magical’ person. My letter for Santa was more like a game of 21 Questions: “What’s your favorite cookie?” “What’s Mrs. Claus’ first name?” “Why didn’t you two ever have your own kids?” “Are you and Jesus friends?” “Where’s the secret ‘switch’ in our house?”

Toys weren’t as important to me as finding out all that stuff. Because I was just weird like that.

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I have a very clear recollection of one year in particular where on Christmas morning, I woke up to the cookies being gone, and a detailed letter written to me in an unfamiliar handwriting answering every single one of my questions in a warm, appropriately jovial tone. There was even a little porcelain Christmas ornament next to the letter that Santa left for us as a ‘special gift’ from his ‘personal workshop’.

(Wasn’t my mom the greatest?)

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Day 4’s recipe of the 12 Days of Christmas Series on the blog is one of my personal favorites and another one that I’ve known I was gonna do for weeks. If I were to try and summarize Christmas in one bite (no small task), it would be in this cookie right here. Which is probably why the cookie isn’t small. It’s huge. Incidentally, so are the flavors; molasses and spice lovers will be doing Snoopy Dances with this recipe. And even if you’re not a molasses and spice lover, I still feel pretty confident that you’ll be dancing.

Just a reminder: if you’ve missed the other recipes we’ve done so far in the series, I’m including a list of links to them below. Until tomorrow!

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Cranberry-Clementine Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

Day 3: Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

Day 4: Giant Molasses Cookies

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Giant Molasses Cookies


Recipe Courtesy of Taste of Home Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup coarse sugar

Directions

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and molasses.

2. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Refrigerate dough overnight or at least for 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Scoop 1/4 cupfulls of dough and roll in coarse sugar. Place 2 1/2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9-10 minutes or until tops are cracked. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Orange Spice Banana Bread

Orange Banana Bread1

It seems strange for me to think of now, but there was a time when the thought of cooking really and truly intimidated me. The idea of actually cooking something that wasn’t a pre-made mix, or didn’t involve using the microwave was crazy. I knew that the raw meat that I saw my mom, grandmother and older sister buy from the grocery stores ‘somehow’ turned into delicious cooked dinners like fried chicken, roast, stews, and stir fries- but I didn’t have a clue how it was accomplished.  Baking was a complete enigma filled with things like measuring cups and spoons, ovens, cake tins and flour- things I didn’t want to have any part of, for fear I would mess something up.

Orange Banana Bread2

Cooking became to be almost like math to me- I was in awe of the people that were good at it, but was fairly convinced that it would always be something that was completely beyond me. It was something that I would only embarrass myself at when attempting to do,  and that try as I might, I just didn’t get it.

It didn’t bother me at first, but when I got older and went to college, it did. I know that this may sound anti-feminist or sexist, or whatever politically incorrect terminology that you want to use, but not knowing how to cook began to make me feel like ‘less’ of a woman. That’s not to say that men can’t be great cooks (I know some myself) it’s just that I come from a line of traditional Southern women and in my family, the women cook. And they cook well. Not being able to share in that tradition kinda got under my skin for a while, until one day I just decided to swallow my insecurity and try to do something about it.

Orange Banana Bread3

I remember when I first started to really try to learn how to cook, my mom told me that cooking boiled down (no pun intended) to one all inclusive rule: follow a recipe, then when you get confident in your knowledge of ingredients and spices, change it to whatever you want. So that’s what I did. And I practiced. A lot. I wish I could say that there was more to it, but there really wasn’t. Beginning cooks just need to stick to those 2 rules, and you’re bound to get good: practice, and follow recipes. Then when you get comfortable enough with spices and ingredients, do whatever you want with them.

Orange Banana Bread4

This bread is a prime example of those rules. I had a bunch of brown bananas sitting on my table that I knew I didn’t want to let go to waste, but I wasn’t in the mood for straight banana bread. I wanted to do something a little bit different. I also happened to have a small bottle of orange juice in my fridge, and the idea of bananas with oranges was an interesting flavor combination to me. I found a recipe on Taste of Home that seemed to suit my purposes, but I still wanted to add more flavors to the bread to give it a kind of ‘kick’. So I decided to add in some spices that I would normally see in a spice cake- ginger, cardamom and coriander- and hoped for the best.

It was a winner. In fact, even now as I am writing this post, I’m rather pleased to announce to all of you that the bread you see in the pictures is now completely gone. It’s been devoured by my appreciative family. Not gonna lie, I’m a little irritated seeing as I only got one slice out of the entire loaf. But there’s always the option of making more, isn’t there?

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Orange Banana Bread

Recipe Adapted from Taste of Home

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 medium ripe bananas, mashed (about 1-1/4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract or orange oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

Directions

1. In a bowl, combine the sugar, oil and eggs; mix well. Stir in bananas and orange juice.

2. Combine the dry ingredients; add to banana mixture, beating just until moistened.

3. Pour into two greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pans.

4. Bake at 325° for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to a wire rack to cool completely.

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