You know you’ve stayed in Canada for a long time when someone asks you about the weather and you reply nonchalantly “It’s not too bad today. Just hovering around -10°…” only to be met with nonplussed silence.
I remember my first day here very clearly. It was the beginning of March and my friend had told me that it had stopped snowing a week ago. On the plane ride over, I found myself silently wishing “Please, please let there be a little snow.” Coming from Bombay where winter temperatures average around 28°C, snow was a magical entity I had never experienced, much like Santa Claus. Well, I must have been a very good girl that year because I stepped out of the airport into what was apparently one of the worst snow storms Canada had seen in decades. My body was ill prepared for the temperature difference of nearly 50°, the bitterly cold wind swirled around me and I was knee deep in the snow I had so wished for. A week of three layers of clothes, heavy boots, gloves, scarf, hat, chapped skin, numb fingers and I’d had enough of the stuff.
But I’ve long since grown used to it and watch in silent amusement as visiting friends encounter a Canadian winter for the first time. (“Why! I don’t understand this. It makes no sense!” wailed a friend on a recent visit from North Carolina.) There are things I’ve come to love about winter: watching the snow fall silently outside the window, walking out into a world in which all the harsh noises seem to have got muffled by a giant, white blanket, ice skating by the lake, screeching in glee while hurtling down a hill in a giant tube, a mug of dark hot chocolate, a bowl of steaming stew, not having to worry too much about the calories because the lovely purple jacket covers it all up. And cookies.
For some reason, I bake a lot more cookies in winter than I do in any other season. I’m sure you’ve noticed. It may be because they make the best homemade gifts, but there is also something to be said about having trays of neatly lined cookies and a humming oven in the kitchen to warm you up when it’s freezing outside. These chocolate-ginger-molasses cookies are my favorites in this season; the recipe is a delightful blend of Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Gingersnaps and Dorie Greenspan’s Sugar Topped Molasses Spice Cookies.
The cookie is spiced with three types of ginger – fresh, powdered and candied, which gives it a nice kick unlike the sugary-sweet versions found in most stores and cafes. The cocoa serves as a nice counterpart to the spice but make no mistake, ginger is the star here. The dough comes together easily and after a rest in the fridge, is easily shaped into little balls that get rolled in sugar and flattened with the back of a glass also dipped in sugar. The sugar gives the cookies a nice crunchy exterior while the molasses lend their hand towards a wonderfully chewy interior. They may look simple lined up against delicate butter cookies, laden chocolate chip and pretty macarons, but they are addictive little devils. I’m known to occasionally carry them in a zip-lock in my bag and love to have them waiting for me in a cookie jar as I step in from the cold. You now know how I fortify myself – I’d advise you to do the same. (If you live in a place where negative temperatures seem like a bad joke and the beginning of March signals sunshine and warmth, you should still make these; don’t wait for Christmas. And don’t send me a postcard!)
Chocolate-Ginger Sugar Topped Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan and Maida Heatter
1 inch piece fresh ginger
2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground all-spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1 large egg
1/4 cup candied ginger, finely diced
About 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling
1. Grate the fresh ginger and set aside.
2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, all-spice, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl.
3. In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
4. Add the fresh grated ginger, brown sugar and molasses and beat for another 2-3 mins.
5. Add the egg and beat for another minute until completely incorporated.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and beat at low speed just until incorporated. Don’t overwork the dough. If required, use a rubber spatula to mix in any remaining flour at the bottom of the bowl.
7. Add the candied ginger and mix in gently with a rubber spatula.
8. Divide the dough in half and freeze for half an hour or refrigerate for at least an hour. The dough can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
9. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
10. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Starting with one half of the dough, divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball with your hands. Roll the ball in the bowl of sugar until you get an even coating.
11. Place the sugar topped balls on the baking sheet. Dip the bottom of a glass in the sugar and flatten the cookies into discs about 1/4 inch thick.
12. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 mins until the tops are dry to the touch.
13. Let the cookies cool on the sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
14. Repeat with the second batch of dough.
The cookies will keep airtight for up to a week or frozen for up to 2 months.