Big Soft Ginger Cookies

To me, it’s not Christmas without gingerbread. It’s probably my favorite holiday cookie. Where people might say sugar, I say gingerbread.

It’s funny because I didn’t grow up with having gingerbread like that, especially for the holidays. Like I mentioned last year, the only time I had anything that even remotely resembled gingerbread was through a famous lady named Little Debbie. Thankfully, not anymore. I feel like though, in this day and age, if I ate one of her gingerbread men I’d probably get the worst headache ever. Processed sugar does that to me sometimes.

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These past couple of years, I’ve made it a point to have a gingerbread something for the holidays. My folks, as usual, are meh about them so my sister and I get to eat most, if not all of the cookies. When I first started baking on theme things, and gingerbread was on the list, I started with this recipe. Allrecipes used to be my holy grail of recipes, and I sometimes go back there for old faves. I even have this very same recipe printed out on an index card, in a feeble attempt at a recipe box! Let me just say, formatting that on Word was a nightmare.

This year, in case you haven’t noticed, the cookie recipes I’ve posted have all been no fuss drop cookies. I swear it was unintentional. I realized this when I looked at my cookie wish list on my whiteboard the other day. I was deciding what to make next when I mentally screamed “WAIT A MINUTE! How come I don’t have cut outs?” I think my subconscious did me a favor by not choosing cut outs. Thanks, brain.

Since these are not cut outs, they are super easy to make. There’s just three things I’d like to point out, though. The original recipe says to use margarine. I’m an all butter household now, and there’s no turning back. Why use margarine when there’s butter available? Unless you have like, dairy problems or something, use the butter. The second thing is, swap out half the sugar for brown sugar. I didn’t this time, because I forgot, but please do. There are molasses in these cookies already but brown sugar is awesome in these sort of things. Dark brown sugar if you can, although either works fine. The last thing I’d note is to refrigerate the dough a little bit. It’s super duper soft, which can be a real pain when trying to shape into uniform balls to dip in sugar before baking. Let them chill out for half an hour or so, then thank yourself for not making cut outs.

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Speaking of sugar, I guess I have one more thing to note. These cookies are rolled in sugar before baking, because why not add a little somethin’ somethin’ extra to these? Well, I upped the ante this year by rolling them in raw sugar. This was the best idea I had since deciding to add twice the amount of chocolate chips in a PB cookie. The crunch on these cookies because of this sugar is unbelievable. I was stunned, as I thought the dough would soak them up. It didn’t and they were fab.

Now, my cookies spread out quite a bit but that’s okay. I want to say that it was partly because of my new sheet pans and silicone liners, but I just don’t know. Either way, the cookies are as fantastic as I remember. Chewy, gingery, and molasses-y; just like a ginger cookie should be. The ginger is subtle but still present, which makes you just want to eat another one. The crunch from the raw sugar adds depth to an otherwise all chew cookie. Since mine spread out something fierce, it also didn’t look too bad if you ate one or five. They weren’t thick so it didn’t count!

Despite the fact that my ginger cookie this year was not in the shape of a little edible man, I still feel like I got in the quintessential holiday cookie. Good thing I can eat them all by myself!

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#CookieCraziness recipes thus far:

Big Soft Ginger Cookies – adapted from allrecipes

Makes 36 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (stick and a half) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar, for rolling

Directions:

  1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, baking soda, ground cinnamon and cloves, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the room temperature butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Remember, you can go as long as you’d like. anywhere from 4-10 minutes; whatever it takes. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix well. Then add the molasses and the water until fully incorporated.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mix, making sure it’s well incorporated before adding more. Fold in the last bit of dry ingredients, making sure to not overmix. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. You can definitely skip this step but a chill will make the soft dough a tad more workable.
  4. After chilling the dough, preheat your oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside. On a plate or in a small bowl, place the 1/4 cup of raw sugar.
  5. Scoop out the dough using a disher, tablespoon, or two small spoons, and place on the raw sugar. Roll the dough ball until completely covered and transfer to the prepped baking sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for at least five minutes before transferring to rack to cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used maybe more than 1/4 cup to roll the dough balls in. Depends on the size of the dough ball, I guess. 
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Pizza Crust Redux

I posted not one, but TWO different pizza crust recipes on here last year. Since then, I’ve made a lot more pizza than I’d like to admit but didn’t use the same crust recipe each time. While the ones I posted were delicious, I started looking for something else. All of a sudden, I had new criteria for the pizza dough I was looking for. As a New Yorker, I’d like to think I know what good pizza (and crust) should look and taste like. I’m not a professional pizza person but I know what I like.

For me, the key to great pizza crust is to have one that’s sturdy, slightly chewy, super thin, toasty and crunchy. Sounds complicated but is actually somewhat easy.

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First thing’s first, let’s talk ingredients. The main difference between this recipe and the one I posted previously is the flour. What’s the big deal here? Well for one, this recipe uses bread flour! I started using bread flour just recently and have completely blown my own mind, which is ridiculous considering I bake bread weekly and have never used it. It’s crazy but I’m like, bread flour 4 lyfe now. The thing about bread flour, that isn’t the same as all-purpose, is that there is more protein in there. More protein = more gluten. The more gluten in your dough, the chewier it becomes. Magical, right? Obviously we want a chewy crust, so bread flour was a little bit of a no brainer.

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From L to R: Bread flour, instant dry yeast, whole wheat flour (with a measuring cup), salt, phone, and bowl. Phones (or binder clips) aren’t required for this recipe

The second difference between both recipes is the yeast. For this recipe, I used instant yeast. Now, there’s not much of a difference between instant and active dry yeast because they both do the exact same thing. However, one is a lot easier to use than the other. For starters, with instant yeast, there’s no need to proof it in warm water before incorporating into all the other ingredients. The yeast can be combined with the dry ingredients with zero issues. That means I don’t have to worry about killing the yeast before I even start the recipe by using water that’s too hot.

The second best thing about instant yeast? You can skip the first rise! Man, I love this part so much! Instead of having your dough proof for an hour after kneading, cover that bad boy for just 10 whole minutes before moving on to part two. Isn’t that great? This means I can get to bread, or pizza in this case, a lot faster than before. One final note about instant yeast is that if you’re subbing it for active dry, the amounts do not change. An envelope of active dry yeast contains 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast, which means that if I were to use instant, I’d use 2 1/4 teaspoons as well.

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Now that we have our ingredients down, let’s talk dough for a second. I make all my doughs by hand. It’s good to get into kneading and making your own dough before letting a machine do it, so you know when your dough is ready. Considering I don’t have a mixer yet (insert tears here), I know my doughs quite well. When kneading, you need to keep on going until it’s no longer sticky, and is smooth and elasticky (is that a word?). It sounds weird but the more you get to know your dough, the easier it is to figure out when you’re done kneading. It’s also helpful to knead as quickly as possible. The faster you move your dough around, the faster it’ll come together and minimize your kneading time. If you’re doing it by hand, this is especially important.

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Since we skipped the first rise, thanks to instant yeast, make sure your oven is hot before you get started. A hot oven is crucial when making the ideal pizza crust. If you have a pizza or baking stone (you lucky duck), this is the best time to use it. It helps get that crispy and toasty thing I mentioned, and it also looks cool in your oven. I don’t have one, so a baking sheet works just fine. Line that sheet with some parchment paper before putting the dough on it. I think you can skip this step for most sheets (maybe a drizzle of olive oil for security) but I like having it on there. Once that’s ready, roll out the dough. There’s two ways to go about this; you can use a rolling pin or stretch it out by hand. I won’t judge you if you use a rolling pin (I’ve done it before) but I prefer stretching it out by hand; makes me feel like a legit pizza maker. You don’t have to do any air tricks or anything, just make sure you’re stretching it out uniformly.

Once it’s stretched and shaped to your liking, sauce and top that beautiful hunk of unbaked crust. Go crazy with your toppings! We kept it pretty clean and simple but use what you like. I’m a fan of throwing greens on my pizza for two reasons: makes me feel like my pizza is ~healthier~ and because I won’t eat them otherwise. I’m terrible like that. When I do add greens, I top my pizza with them during the last five minutes of baking so they won’t burn or dry out too much.

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Does this crust match my criteria? Yes it does! It was definitely sturdy; it held all that cheese and those greens beautifully. It was slightly chewy, thanks to that bread flour. Most parts were thin, crispy and crunchy just like I like, and was ultimately delicious! The crust parts got away from me and got a little too thick but no worries there. It’s subtle in taste as well, which is great if you’re using toppings that should be singing on their own. Since we kept it plain, my pizza tasted like the pizza I was looking for.

Since converting to bread flour and the magical instant yeast, this recipe a keeper!

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Quick and Easy Pizza Crust – adapted from allrecipes

Makes one large pizza (feeds up to four or two very hungry people)

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110F)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Line or grease a sheet pan and set aside. Alternatively, ready your baking stone if you’ve got it. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the warm water and olive oil, and mix until combined.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, up to 10 minutes. Cover the dough either with a towel or the bowl and rest for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Gently deflate the dough and roll/stretch out into your desired shape. Transfer the dough to your prepped pan and top as desired. Bake pizza for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and toppings are cooked. Cool for five minutes before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • If you don’t want to use parchment or oil, lightly dust your pan or stone with cornmeal.
  • Another great thing about this recipe is that it uses less flour. Yay!

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

August is coming to an end, and it’s already feeling like fall. Besides associating the fall with anything and everything pumpkin, fall to me means quality carbs. I’m talking bread, cookies, pies, muffins, scones and anything in between. I mean, how can you not associate fall with carbs? It is the beginning of the baking season; starting with Halloween. Besides it marking the beginning of the holidays, the fall also brings a welcome chill into the air that can be easily remedied with a warm, baked treat. Naturally, humans tend to bulk up a bit for the coming cold season and anything carby and baked is obviously the right answer.

Bread!

I started baking bread two years ago. At the request of my mom, I baked dinner rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I looked for recipes that seemed easy enough for me to do in an afternoon and that did not require a mixer. I did find recipe gems that required a mixer but I attempted them anyway, even without the luxury and ease of one. While I am still pining for a 5-quart tilt head KitchenAid (in either Cobalt Blue or  Silver Metallic) with all the accoutrements, I brave these recipes and complete them by hand.

Bread dough is a finicky thing; more so if you’re a beginner, are sans mixer, and still don’t know what you’re doing. The most difficult step for me is the kneading. Besides not having any counter space (at all) to actually roll out and knead dough, my dough always comes out stickier than required. I know that with a little more kneading, the dough will stop feeling tacky but I find it hard to do so with a hand covered in dough whilst kneading in the bowl. I have to say, despite the challenge, I have learned how to knead dough in a bowl and figure out when it’s ready to rest and rise.

Even though dealing with dough can be problematic, I love making bread. My favorite part is blooming (proofing?) the yeast. It’s amazing to see this little envelope of powder come to life in a dramatically foamy and aromatic way. I love how these little foamy bubbles become bread. This is one of the things that keeps me going back to making bread every time, despite many failed attempts (most recently, two). The other is obviously the delicious results 😉

Risen and buttered rolls ready for the oven

Risen and buttered rolls ready for the oven

This recipe is usually my go to. It’s easy for beginners with or without a mixer and is easily adaptable. I have tweaked it many times, each with deliciously fluffy and sweet results. It’s great with a little softened butter, or by itself, straight out of the oven. There’s nothing like the warmth of freshly baked bread to welcome the incoming fall (and baking!) season.

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Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls – adapted from Allrecipes.com

Makes 16 dinner rolls

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110F/45C)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  1. Dissolve yeast in the 1/2 cup of warm water with 1 tbsp of the measured sugar. Proof for 10 minutes
  2. Place milk, 1/3 cup of butter, the rest of the sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan. Cook on low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Set aside
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg. Then, add the warm milk mixture and the proofed yeast
  5. Add in the flour mixture to the wet mix a little bit at a time, until fully incorporated.
  6. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is no longer sticky.
  7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rest for 1 hour.
  8. Punch dough down and portion into 16 rolls. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment. Cover and let rise for 1 more hour.
  9. Preheat your oven to 375F. Brush dough balls with melted butter and bake your rolls for 10-12 minutes.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • The original recipe calls for only all-purpose flour and only 1/4 cup of sugar. Feel free to use either amounts of sugar, or types of flour. 
  • I weighed my dough prior to portioning, to ensure even rolls. You don’t have to but if you’re a stickler for accuracy like I am, you totally can. 
  • Make sure your water is not too hot! Water above 110F/45C can kill the yeast. Test the water by touching it, making sure it’s only a little warmer than body temperature. Or use your thermometer, if you have one. 
  • These rolls can easily be frozen. Flash freeze your rolls on the baking sheet after forming them. Thaw and let rise an hour before baking. 
  • The original recipe also calls for heating up your oven to 400F. I advise against this because it has led me to burnt bottoms and pale tops. Check the temperature of your oven to make sure it doesn’t run as hot, and keep an eye on your rolls!
  • If they still have pale tops, put them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes. 

Carrot Cake and Mistakes

I actually wasn’t going to make this post. I messed up a part of the recipe and it didn’t exactly come out ‘picture perfect.’ I thought about it and realized that there was probably a lesson in this failure, which reminded me of how I even started baking in the first place.

In my senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to go to art school. Of all places I could possibly end up, I thought that was where I belonged. Despite not having a single artistic bone in my body, I wanted to go to art school to explore one of my favorite hobbies: filmmaking. I had never even made a film in the first place; the only thing I had really done with a camera was record kids’ birthday parties and graduations. Honestly, I wasn’t even really good at it. I still wanted to pursue it because it was something I liked and people always said; “do something you love and it’ll never feel like work.” I had always loved taking pictures but video was new to me. I fell in love with it in middle school, where I had a film class as an elective. That Christmas, I asked my dad for a video camera and was basically on cloud nine. I loved taping everything and felt that this could have been my future.

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I applied for the film program at the School of Visual Arts and actually got in. Surprised as I was, I really thought this felt right. I went to orientation and got this weird feeling in my chest. I ignored it. “I’m just nervous,” I said to myself. Then came the first day of school. I really was nervous but as I introduced myself in an exercise for my first class, and was laughed at by everyone there, the feeling came back. I wanted to die of embarrassment. The kids in my class already knew each other because they lived in the dorms. I commuted to school so I didn’t have that luxury. I was visibly an outcast. I didn’t look like these kids or share their hobbies. They were really into filmmaking and I was really just a dabbler (by definition, these kids were actually hipsters but apparently, I was too “mainstream” to fit in with them). After spending my years in high school trying to blend in, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was uncomfortable and cried every chance I had. In class, I sat by myself. No one even wanted to sit next to me. I had never felt so unwanted in my life.

I lasted two days at SVA before I told my parents I wanted to leave. They all wanted me to stick it out but I couldn’t do it. I was unhappy. I cried all day, save for those times I was in class. I took bathroom breaks so I could cry and took advantage of those long breaks between classes to cry more. I lost my appetite and couldn’t even sleep. I only slept at night because my eyes were tired from all the crying. I stayed home from school and wrote my official withdrawal notice and sent it. I felt like a failure. My dad was disappointed in me. I felt ashamed and the ‘I told you so’ look from my dad just added insult to injury. I spent a couple of weeks sitting with this feeling and continued crying.

My parents tried to get me to take my mind off things by asking me to make something. I had always liked being in the kitchen but I had never made anything.  My dad was talking about carrot cakes one day and I took it upon myself to make one. I went to allrecipes.com, chose a recipe, and got started. I made several cakes in the four months I stayed home. I started making other things too, but this carrot cake was now my signature recipe. It felt good making something and having everything come out right.

Cake batter

Save for this weekend, where I messed up the recipe. Everything was going great until I was ready to pour the batter into the pan. I overfilled my poor 9″ round cake pan because I did not have a 9×13″ available. The cake’s edges were overbaked, sinking in towards the middle which was underbaked. I was disappointed because I knew better than to do that.

Cooling cake; obviously overfilled and overdone

Cooling cake; obviously overfilled and overdone

Thinking back to how I even got started and my baker’s mistake from this weekend made me realize that even though things may be going wrong, it’ll be alright in the end. I did fail at art school but it led me to a path where I did find something I genuinely have interest and success in. I ended up at the City College of New York; where I studied advertising and graduated this past May with honors. And while I did overfill and overbake this cake, it was still a delicious mistake.

YUM

Carrot Cake – adapted from allrecipes.com

Makes one 9×13″ cake or two 9″ round cakes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan or two 9″ round pans. Grate your carrots.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the oil with the white and brown sugar. When light in color, incorporate one egg at a time. Add vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves. Toss raisins and nuts, if using, in a small amount of the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
  4. Add the dry mix into the wet mixture slowly until incorporated. Fold in the raisins and nuts with the remaining bit of dry mix just until incorporated. Fold in the grated carrots.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • You can sub half of the flour with whole wheat flour
  • I have also used margarine, and unsalted butter in place of vegetable oil. Either one works great
  • If you don’t have light brown sugar, all white sugar also works. You can also make your own with some white sugar and molasses. 
  • I tend to add a little more cinnamon than prescribed 😉 use as much as you’d like
  • Remember to mix your raisins and/or nuts in a little of the dry mix; this prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the cake
  • If using two 9″ round cake pans, fill them halfway
  • Cream cheese frosting is amazing with this cake! My folks are frosting adverse so I don’t frost it.