I think there’s something breezing through the entire country, but all I know is that it’s been chilly around here lately. Quite chilly. It’s a little strange when it gets to freezing temperatures here in the Northwest, because I think a lot of people in the area have a hard time comprehending it. Things are usually mild in these parts—mild winters, mild summers, always lots of rain throughout—and people here wear the same type of uniform whether it’s 65 degrees out or 30 (which, among my generation, usually just involves a hoodie or some sort of zip-up waterproof jacket).
Speaking of which, yesterday while I was walking to class I saw one of my peers wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It was 28 degrees at that moment. Shorts and a t-shirt, in 28 degree weather. I don’t know if I’ve been particularly moody or something lately, but I almost found that offensive! It was seriously troubling to me, that he woke up that morning and picked out an outfit, more fit for the summer than anything else, to wear that day. I know I shouldn’t be judging others (or something like that), but what else can one do when something like that happens?
I should focus such negative energy to more positive things, such as baking or cooking. That would be the smart thing to do, wouldn’t you say? And when it’s so cold outside, I really feel like the food we are nourishing ourselves with should be fitting. By that, I could mean nice hearty stews that simmer away on the stove for a good couple hours, or a nice citrus salad that provides us with all the vitamins Mother Nature is not-so-subtly reminding us that we need this time of year. And those are all fine things, good for the soul and body. But what I’m really referring to is sweets. Treats made of sugar and fat that most definitely nourish the soul more so than the body but are necessary nonetheless.
I think this treat fits the bill quite nicely: a dense and buttery shortbread glazed with a spicy-sweet layer of caramel-like icing. The spiciness comes from ginger, and it makes this shortbread both exotic and addicting. David Lebovitz, where this recipe comes from, stated that it tastes “somewhat familiar, but so different from any other kind of bar cookie I know of,” which I would agree with completely. The people who didn’t know I put ginger in it couldn’t quite put their finger on what it was that made this treat so different. At the same time, it tastes comforting and familiar. It’s a strange thing.
I made this twice within the last week I was at home before returning to school—a very necessary thing to do as my father (trying to be nonchalent but failing) asked 4 times in one day only a day after the first batch was eaten up if I was planning to make it again. He liked nibbling on pieces with his coffee, both for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day. The second time I made it, I chopped up some candied crystallized ginger to add to the shortbread base as well as sprinkle on top. While I would keep the shortbread base as in the original, I did love the addition of the candied ginger on top. It not only added another dimension of ginger flavor, but also made a more obvious signal to its tasters what the exotic, elusive spicy flavor actually was.
This last picture represents when I added some candied ginger on top (I also increased the amount of glaze—something I thought sounded intriguing but I wouldn’t recommend it as it throws off the balance). You might notice that this shortbread has a lipped edge to it, which I am attributing to the fact that I added 1/2 teaspoon baking powder too much the second time I made it, by accident. I think the whole thing puffed up more, than sank when cooling, to create that little mutant-like feature. It didn’t detract from the taste though, but it’s not as aesthetically pleasing. Just thought you should know that it’s not the fault of the recipe but rather more my own mistake.
One Year Ago: Chunky Sweet Potato and Corn Bisque
Adapted, barely, from David Lebovitz
Makes 1 9-inch pan
I made mine in a 9-inch cake pan, though next time I would use my 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. As I write below, if using a regular cake pan, it’s handy to line it with aluminum foil first to make a sort of “sling” you can pull the shortbread out with when done. David uses a rectangular tart pan, which I would use if I had one. Feel free to use one if you have one, though.
Also, you might notice that instead of calling it Ginger Crunch as David has, I called it Ginger Slice. That’s because I think both names are common in Austrailia—where the treat originates from—but mine didn’t turn out very crunchy. I’m not sure why, maybe it was due to my substitution of honey for golden syrup or something, but I just throught Ginger Slice was more fitting.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
9 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 tablepoons finely chopped candied ginger, crystallized or not
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or, like me, fit aluminum foil into a regular 9-inch cake pan and then coat that with butter). Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ginger in a medium bowl.
In a bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the mixture, and continue to mix until well-combined, about 1 minute.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough so that it comes together and is relatively smooth. It will be naturally crumbly; don’t worry about that. Press the dough evenly down into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
About 5 minutes before the dough is done, make the icing. Heat the 5 tablespoons butter and honey together in a medium bowl in the microwave until melted, about 15 seconds or so. Add in the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon ginger, stirring until the mixture is smooth and no lumps remain.
As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, pour the warm icing over it. Let sit to set up for about 15 minutes or so, then sprinkle the chopped candied ginger (somewhat) evenly over the icing. Place in the fridge to set up, about 20 minutes. To serve, remove from pan (using the removeable bottom or aluminum sling) and cut into slices. I liked it both cold and at room temperature.
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