Chewy Ginger Spice Cookies with Ras El Hanout

Chewy ginger cookies with the depth of ras el hanout.
Chewy ginger cookies with the depth of ras el hanout.

After seasoning a lamb dish spectacularly, my leftover ras el hanout had been languishing forlornly in my pantry.

Remnants of this aromatic and punchy Moroccan spice blend were badly in need of a purpose and home.

Thankfully, the ideal one arrived in the form of “Chewy Ginger Spice Cookies with Ras El Hanout.”

Ras El Hanout is Arabic for “top shelf.” Like liquor at a bar, it connotes the best a mixologist or spice shop owner has to offer.

It’s a blend that can consist of more than a dozen spices, including cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, coriander, peppercorns, paprika, fenugreek, turmeric, fennel seeds, aniseed, and galangal.

I’ve always associated it with savory cooking. But this clever cookie recipe demonstrates just how well it takes to sweet preparations, as well.

The recipe is from the new cookbook, “Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi‚Äôs Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.

It’s by Christine Sahadi Whelan, the fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi’s in Brooklyn, a Middle Eastern specialty food store and cafe that garnered a James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classic” award.

Paradise Crystalized Ginger.
Paradise Crystalized Ginger.

This lavishly photographed cookbook traces the history of Sahadi’s, first established in Manhattan’s “Little Syria” in 1895 before moving to Brooklyn in 1948. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a time when tubs of hummus weren’t sold in every supermarket around. But before Sahadi’s, most people didn’t even know what hummus was. Sahadi’s was one of the few places where one could find sumac, date molasses, Aleppo peppers, and preserved lemons. Nowadays, its locations are chockablock with cheeses from around the world, a huge array of smoked fish, ancient grains, prepared deli dishes, and more than 200 bulk bins of spices, nuts, coffee, and dried fruits.

The recipes center around Middle Eastern classics sold at the stores, as well as favorites that Whelan makes for her family. They include “Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash,” “Harissa Mac and Cheese,” “Syrian Sweet Cheese Pastries,” and “Rosewater Marshmallows.”

Be sure to gently press the candied ginger strips into the dough ball or else they may bake up off-center.
Be sure to gently press the candied ginger strips into the dough ball or else they may bake up off-center.

Besides the ras el hanout, these cookies get even more fragrant with ground ginger and diced candied ginger in the dough. I used a sample of Paradise Crystallized Ginger. The Tampa company has been making crystalized ginger for more than 75 years. Moist, and perfectly sweet-hot, the slices are handy, as you can dice them or cut them into whatever size you need. Truth be told, the crystalized ginger is mighty fine just eaten out of hand, too. It’s sold in 4-ounce tubs for about $4 in most local grocery stores.

The perfect after-dinner treat or afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of tea.
The perfect after-dinner treat or afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of tea.

To make these cookies standout even more, the dough balls get rolled in demerara sugar for a crunchy sweet coating. Because my supply was low, I used a mix of demerara and sparkling sugar to coat my cookies. The crowning touch on each cookie? Two thin strips of candied ginger laid on top in crisscross. Be sure to press the candied ginger strips gently into the top of the dough balls so that they don’t shift during baking and end up off-centered. I added that tip to the recipe below. Even if the strips bake up a little crooked, the cookies will still be fantastic.

They are wonderfully chewy with snappy spice that lingers long on the palate. The ras el hanout adds greater depth and dimension. There’s the perkiness of ginger to be sure, but also a big, wide radiant warmth that’s just perfect for this time of year.

Everyone loves these gingery cookies. Everyone!
Everyone loves these gingery cookies. Everyone!

Chewy Ginger Spice Cookies with Ras El Hanuot

(Makes 3 dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ras el hanout

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1/2 cup finely diced candied ginger, plus more cut into thin strips, for garnish

1/2 cup raw or demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, ras el hanout, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed until light. Beat in the egg, then add the molasses and mix well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and mix again briefly.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and combine just until the flour is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters and use the spatula to mix in the dried candied ginger. Chill the dough for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Pour the raw sugar into a shallow bowl. Roll generous tablespoons of the dough into 1-inch balls, then roll the balls in the sugar. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking sheets, allowing 2 inches between them, as they will spread quite a bit as they bake. Top each cookie with 2 strips of candied ginger, pressing them gently into the ball slightly so they adhere. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are just firm on top when touched with a fingertip and light golden brown.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Adapted from “Flavors of the Sun” by Christine Sahadi Whelan

More: How To Make Your Own Ras El Hanout

More Recipes That Uses Ras El Hanout: Moroccan Lamb, Tomato and Chickpea Soup

And: Roasted Lamb with Apricots, Pistachios, Mint & Pearled Barley

And: Olive Oil Poached Halibut with Chermoula

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