Sunday, 11 December 2011

Gingerful biscotti

It’s nearly Xmas, which I am very bah-humbuggy about, but I admit that it allows great scope for the foodish aspect of life. I’m not sure why ginger-related things are very often also Xmas-related, but as I’ve had a bag of crystallised ginger taking up precious cupboard space for some months, I’m prepared to take this opportunity to use it up as a nod towards the season. After all, I like ginger, and I’m looking for recipes that take it beyond a spoonful of bland dry ground stuff and into the chewier, sharper crystallised realm.

I had the idea that chocolate and ginger would play well together, which led me on a search for ginger brownies. Dorie Greenspan has Ginger-Jazzed Brownies in Baking, but they only have ground and raw in them – appealing, but not of much relief to my cupboard-space issue, so I’ll do those another day. I was amazed that I found so few brownie recipes involving crystallised ginger – there were only a couple on obscure websites such as this one, and packet mix was involved. So I imposed ginger on a basic good brownie recipe as a replacement for walnuts. Since I’m not recommending it to anyone, I’m not even recounting the method here. And I didn’t take any photos – the bits of translucent golden ginger failed to stand up to the dark chocolate brownie in cross-section.

I can’t quite figure out why it wasn’t on the money. Was the chewy texture of the ginger not enough of a contrast to the fudginess of the brownie? Did the ginger and the chocolate remain two separate parts in terms of taste that didn’t form a pleasing whole? (The poor Saucemaker would concur with this – she was nibbling on her piece and getting along with it okay until she came to an unexpected bit of ginger and was deeply disconcerted.) I love bits of crystallised ginger enrobed in dark chocolate and sold in fancy shops, but clearly this doesn’t translate to a cakier context.

Anyway, so I moved on to Maida Heatter, whose Gingerful Biscotti (Maida Heatter's Brand-New Book of Great Cookies, p20) are the Xmas favourites of many on Egullet and Chowhound. These were more like it. Pleasantly bitey with the extra kick of white pepper; not overly sweet, not overly rich or luxurious, but that’s probably all for the best and allows for the less-guilty grabbing of handfuls.

120g crystallised ginger
200g raw almonds
375g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon bicarb soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
100g sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup honey

Cut up ginger into bits the size of peas; set aside. (Maida comments rather acidly and uncharacteristically that ‘Yes, cutting ginger is boring.’ This seemed curious, as I can think of many tasks I find much more boring and onerous than spending about 30 seconds chopping up soft ginger.)

Toast the almonds in the oven at about 180C oven for 15 minutes, until lightly coloured, shaking once during toasting. Don’t forget about them, as I almost always do in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind fashion until the reek of charring almonds breaks through my haze of preoccupation. Even slightly burnt almonds taste ghastly, second only to hazelnuts, which one often thinks one has escaped with as one rubs off their burnt skins and exposes the pale nut beneath – but alas, they burn to acridness deep in their hollow middles. Anyway, set your perfectly toasted almonds aside to cool.

Into the Kitchen Aid bowl sift the flour, bicarb soda, baking powder, salt, pepper, ground ginger, cinnamon, mustard, cloves and sugar, and beat together. Stir in the crystallised ginger, then the almonds. Separately beat the eggs with a fork and add the honey, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until the dry ingredients are completely moistened.

Place two 40cm lengths of cling wrap on a work surface and form two strips of dough down the middle of each. Spoon half of the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls in the middle – down the length – of each piece of plastic wrap, to form strips about 30cm long. Flatten the tops slightly by wetting a large spoon into water and pressing down on the dough with its back.

Wrap the dough, and press on the plastic wrap to smooth and shape it into an even strip about 35cm long, 5cm wide and 1.5cm thick. Place the wrapped strips strips of dough in the freezer for at least an hour or until firm enough to unwrap (or as much longer as you wish, like days and days until the craziness abates long enough to allow you to be home and available to the oven for a few hours while frantically tidying the worksite midden that was once your house because people are coming over. By the way, this is currently and seemingly eternally the outside of said house).

To bake, adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 160C. Line two large baking trays with silicon liners or baking paper, and place the unwrapped strips diagonally across them, or however they fit. If your trays are big enough you might be able to lay the two strips side by side on only the one, but remember they’ll spread a bit. Bake for 50 minutes, reversing the trays top to bottom and front to back once during the baking to ensure even baking. They’ll turn quite dark.

Reduce the temperature to 150C and remove the tray/s from the oven. Although hot, carefully and gently peel the paper away from the backs of the strips and place them on a large cutting board. Slice into 1cm strips with a serrated knife while they’re still hot, using a tea-towel to save your steadying hand if you like. Slice on an angle; the sharper the angle, the longer the cookies, and the more difficult it will be to slice them very thin without the ends breaking away – happy days. At least this makes a lot, though: 70-something.

Place the slices on a cut side down on the trays and bake for about 25 minutes until the cut side is golden. Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking. Bake just until dry. (You have to cool one to know if it’s crisp.)

When done, cool and then store in an airtight container. They’ll keep for weeks. Pretty please, either dunk them or prepare to face your dentist – they’re seriously as hard as rocks, and I can’t imagine why they never come with a warning in recipe books. As a long-time bruxist who must now wear a mouthguard (I know, hawt) to bed for the rest of my days or at least until I get dentures, I’ve got sensitive incisors with edges described by my dentist as ‘like glass’, but still.

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