Crispy Ginger Snaps
Cracks that could be mistaken for the canyons of Mars. A satisfying crunch that sounds like a branch snapping on a quiet winter’s day. A spicy blend of flavors that dance like sparks on your tongue. This is the ultimate ginger snap recipe
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (includes dough chilling time)
Yields: 80 (~2” | 5 cm) cookies
Calories: 45 per 10 g cookie
Which do you prefer: crispy or soft ginger cookies? If you fall into the crispy camp (as I so firmly do), this is it. The perfect ginger snap recipe. It wouldn’t be particularly momentous, except that I’ve been searching for a recipe deserving of the title for years. I’ve tried recipes that claimed to be crispy, only to find that they’re merely chewy. I’ve tried to trick recipes into being crispy—higher oven temperatures, longer baking times, leaving the cookies on the baking sheet long after baking, storing them in the open air. Nothing produced a delicious cookie with anything resembling snap.
Until now. What did all the other cookies contain? Too much moisture, the sworn enemy of snap. Too much butter, molasses and sugar, all of which cling to moisture like lint on a wool sweater. To get a perfectly crisp cookie, we needed to eliminate moisture without compromising the structure (or flavor!) of our cookie.
We have a few weapons in our arsenal for doing this! Firstly, scaling down those three moisture holders: butter, sugar and molasses. Easy peasy (we’ll talk about what we did to compensate for the flavor later). Most recipes of this size would use 2 whole sticks (230 g) of butter, but we’ve lowered that to 1 and ½ sticks (175 g). To give the cookies a stable structure in the face of these adjustments, you’ll add an egg yolk to the dough to keep the cookies from being crumbly.
But what about flavor? Surely there’s a reason most recipes contain a certain ratio of butter and sugar; those are the amounts that yield maximum cookie deliciousness, right? The short answer is yes and no. Certainly in cookies that don’t have much else going on, sugar carries most of the flavor load. But in a ginger snap, the spices are what should shine, resting like bright gems on a bed of sugar. So we’ve amped up the spice content; not only is there plenty of ginger, and some cinnamon thrown in for good measure, but also a modest amount of black pepper and sriracha. Those might sound like strange additions, but they really fill out the spice profile and give these cookies just enough firepower to be perfect. But while spices are front and center in this recipe, the mellow backbeat that balances them out is brown butter.
If you’ve never browned butter before, you’re in for a world of aromatic goodness. Browned butter is a classic example of the Maillard reaction, also known as the “browning food is delicious and magical” reaction. It’s what makes your seared steak mouthwatering, your bread crusts crusty and your onions caramel-y. And in our recipe today, it’s what gives us a homemade cookie with snap and an extra layer of flavor.
Heat a protein mixed with a reducing sugar* (lactose in today’s case) at a relatively low temperature for a long enough time and you’ll induce a browning (i.e. Maillard) reaction. When you fry butter over medium or medium low heat, the water evaporates (which will in turn take moisture out of our cookies), leaving behind fat and nonfat milk solids. This is where the magic starts to happen. It’s the nonfat milk solids that brown (they can only do that once the water is gone) and give the butter its nutty flavor and aroma.
*Which includes most kinds of sugar, except granulated sugar (sucrose). Though there are special instances in which sucrose can promote a browning reaction (which is not to be confused with caramelization, a fascinating and not particularly well understood science), so don’t take it as a rule that granulated sugar can’t cause browning. Ah, food chemistry you delightfully tricky mistress.
A final note on the yield of this recipe. When I was first developing it, I went with my normal 20 g cookie, but found those to be too big. Three batches later and 10 g was the clear winner, which gives you the delightful problem of having 80 cookies’ worth of dough. Twenty cookies can fit on a standard baking sheet, so you can either make one batch and save the rest for later or bake the whole shebang and give cookies as gifts! These ginger snaps have a long shelf life for homemade cookies and are very sturdy, so they’re an ideal gift cookie.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together 300 g (2 and ½ cups) all-purpose flour, 1 and ½ teaspoons baking soda and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.
Brown the butter. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 1 and ½ sticks (175 g). Cook until butter is browned (it will smell nutty and you’ll see small brown flecks in it), about 12 minutes from start to finish, stirring often.
Pour browned butter into large mixing bowl or bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
Stir in ginger, cinnamon, black pepper and sriracha and mix at medium speed (4 on stand mixer) until combined.
With mixer still running, gradually add the brown sugar and molasses. To keep molasses from sticking to whatever you’re pouring it from, lightly spray the inside of the bowl/measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray. Mix until fully combined, scraping sides and bottom of bowl as needed.
Add the egg and egg yolk, one at a time and mix at medium speed until fully combined, about 2 minutes.
Turn mixer down to its lowest speed. Gradually add the flour mixture until it’s fully incorporated, about 1 minute.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour
Towards the end of the dough’s chilling time, adjust your oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven and set it to 300 F | 150 C | Gas Mark 2 to preheat.
Line your baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking mat.
One batch is a quarter of the dough. Either refrigerate or freeze the rest, or bake all the dough in staggered batches.
Roll the first batch into 10 g | 1 heaping teaspoon balls, spacing them evenly on your baking sheet. There should be roughly 20 balls.
Place baking sheet on the top rack of your preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, shift the baking sheet from the top rack to the bottom, rotating it as you do so.
Bake for 10 more minutes.
Remove from oven, placing on a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before sliding parchment paper or silicone mat off the baking sheet and allowing the cookies to cool completely.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Gingersnaps