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Wishing You A Gingery Holiday

What would the holidays be without a perfect ginger cookie?

A whole lot of blah humbug, that’s what.

When these cookies go in the oven, the spicy fragrance that fills the kitchen is intoxicating.

With one whiff, you just know Christmas time is here.

“Molasses-Ginger Cookies” is from the new cookbook, “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook” (Artisan), of which I received a review copy, by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day. They are the founders of the Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Ga. Cheryl is a former “Soul Train” dancer. Griffith is a funk musician. They met in their early 20s over a love for music, then reconnected 15 years later over a passion for baking.

Their bakery opened a decade ago. They actually got married inside of it, too. The cookbook reflects that very personal touch. It’s filled with homespun treats rooted in Southern tradition, everything from ‘Nana Cream Pie to Plum Custard to Butter Mints.

These cookies are big-fisted, possessed of a crackly sugary top and a chewy-good center — all things you want in a Christmas-time ginger cookie.

Don’t be alarmed by the generous amounts of ground spices used, including a whopping 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. That may seem like way too much. But the resulting flavor in the baked cookies is not overwhelming at all. The taste is spicy, but balanced.

For good measure, I even upped the ginger quota by using a sample of Aftelier Chef’s Essences ($16.95 to $19.95) in Fresh Ginger, available at Williams-Sonoma. These tiny bottles of essential, all-natural oils come in a variety of flavors, including Asian Lemon, Sweet Basil and Warm Nutmeg. Of course, I had to try the Fresh Ginger one, being the ginger fiend that I am.

The essences were developed by Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes in Berkeley. Each 5ml bottle contains about 150 drops. And a drop or two is all you need in a recipe, since the essences are so potent. I tasted one drop on my finger and it was like chewing on a big fresh, juicy knob of ginger. I can’t wait to try using a drop here and there in stir-fries, vinaigrettes and creme brulee. I added two drops to the cookie recipe to amplify the ginger flavor. But if you don’t have the essence, the cookies are still plenty flavorful without it.

You might set out to bake a batch to give to friends and family for the holiday. But after sampling one still warm from the oven, don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to part with them.

Molasses-Ginger Cookies

(Makes 16 cookies)

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/3 cup dark molasses

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 drops of Aftelier Fresh Ginger Chef’s Essences (optional)

1 cup turbinado sugar or demerara sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), beat shortening, butter, and brown sugar together on medium speed until smooth, creamy, and light in color, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add molasses, ground ginger and Aftelier Fresh Ginger, if using, and mix on low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add flour mixture in thirds, mixing just until thoroughly incorporated, no longer than 2 minutes.

Transfer dough to another bowl and finish mixing with a rubber spatula to make sure no bits of flour or butter are hiding on the bottom of the bowl. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (the dough can be refrigerated, wrapped well, for up to 4 days).

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

Put turbinado sugar in a small bowl. Use a large ice cream scoop or a 1/4-cup measuring cup to form the cookies, then roll them into balls. Toss and roll the cookies in the turbinado sugar until evenly coated. Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between them to allow for spreading. Slightly flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand, and sprinkle them with a little more turbinado sugar.

Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The cookies should be golden brown and slightly puffed up. Let cool completely on wire racks. Store cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.

Adapted from “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook” by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day

More Gingery Goodness: Ginger Scones

And: Martha Stewart’s Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

And: Emily Luchetti’s Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon