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Monday, March 16, 2009

Ginger cookies for my colleagues

Some time ago, I was given a cookie jar for work. That is to say, I as a journalist was sent this cookie jar as a freebie. It contained some digestive biscuits, which I gave to my colleagues, and I have entirely forgotten who sent it.
Anyway, I keep it stocked with cookies of various sorts depending on whim.
At the moment, the popular vote seems to be for ginger cookies, made with ground ginger, fresh ginger and crystallised ginger (gingery!). I have just restocked the cookie jar with a mini-version of these, spiked with lemon oil, so they are just perfect for my boss, who is coming down with what sounds from the other side of the desk like a very bad cold.
Here's how to make them:

250g plain flour (I use wholewheat)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp star anise, finely ground
4 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt

50g unsalted butter
60ml black treacle
120g caster sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 large egg, well beaten

150g crystallized ginger, finely minced
zest of 2 lemons

50g granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C, Gas mark 4). Line a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, star anise, ground ginger, and salt.

Heat the butter in a small pan until it is just barely melted. Stir in the molasses, natural cane sugar, and fresh ginger. Or put it all into a bowl and microwave briefly until butter is almost melted.The mixture should be warm, but not hot at this point, if it is hot to touch let it cool a bit. Whisk in the egg. Now pour this over the flour mixture, add the crystallized ginger (make sure it isn't too clumpy), and lemon zest. Stir until just combined.

Roll the cookie dough into small balls (1 tsp of dough each is what I normally go for - for bite-sized cookies, halve that). Now roll each ball in the granulated sugar until coated. Place balls a few cm apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until cookies puff up, darken a bit, get fragrant and crack.

Makes about 4 dozen or so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The romantic associations of tea-bread

I'm normally a staunch member of the 'Down with Raisins' fraternity, but there is one exception. Tea bread, which is really cake made with raisins soaked in tea, somehow persuades me it is acceptable. Perhaps this is something to do with having been introduced to it by a very close friend when a teenager - not a boyfriend (always so much less romantic than the imagination), but a boy nevertheless.

For years I carried his recipe for tea bread, written in his characteristically spiky handwriting, in my wallet. It was very slightly more complex than the one I use now, but came out very well too.

My current recipe has the beauty of extreme simplicity.

2 mugs dried fruit
1 mug brown sugar
1 mug hot black tea
1 egg
1 mug self-raising flour.

Soak the fruit and sugar overnight in the tea, mix in the egg and flour, pour into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake at 150 C, gas mark 2, for an hour and a half.

Unable to leave well alone, I add some pinches of spice - cinnamon and clove, even a pinch of star anise I ground earlier - but this is entirely optional.

The important thing is to serve it in thickly buttered slices. Yum!