Top Ten List: Introduction to Ginger (2 of 10)

This is a little bit of an odd Top Ten list, but I thought I’d take you through my baking cupboard (yes, I have an entire cupboard dedicated solely to baking supplies…um, and another cupboard…and a 4-tier rolling rack…but I digress). Since a Top Ten list would make this blog post too long, I’m splitting the posts up into several individual posts, showcasing one spice at a time.

Next up: GINGER!

Ginger is fantastic; used for centuries to relieve all sorts of ills, ginger has been an ancient and revered medicine in Indian and Asian cultures for thousands of years. This knobbly rhizome (commonly referred to as ginger root, though it is not actually a root) is available in several forms and preparations, and is used in millions of medicinals, tinctures, and both savoury and sweet recipes. It is inexpensive in most parts of the world compared to many other spices, and a little goes a long way.

Ginger is considered an herb when used for medicinal purposes, but its fresh, dried, ground/powdered, preserved, pickled. and crystallized forms are considered spices when they are used for flavouring.  For the purposes of this post, I will not be writing about dried, pickled, or preserved ginger, as they are used mainly for either savoury recipes (dried), sushi (pickled) or Asian confections and baking (preserved).
The flavour profile of ginger is peppery and slightly sweet, with a pungent and spicy aroma. Fresh ginger and ground ginger have significantly different flavour profiles, however, and are not usually interchangeable with one another in a recipe, although they can be used together.
As for its medicinal preparations, ginger combats several types of inflammation very effectively, and most popularly has been used to relieve the symptoms of gastric upset since time immemorial; ginger ale (especially flat) calms down an irritated stomach lining and soothes heartburn. For more information on the health benefits of ginger, you can check out this article.
Ginger root is the original plant form, and as mentioned above, it is the rhizome, or underground stem of the plant as opposed to seeds or pods like most spices. Fresh ginger should be firm to the touch, have no darkened, dried out or icky-looking nodules, and be fairly weighty in your hand. Discard any ginger that doesn’t conform to this, as it is either old or diseased.   

Fresh ginger is very fibrous and quite intensely spicy to the tongue; when deciding whether to use fresh ginger in a new recipe, use discretion in how you prepare it. Nobody wants a huge chunk of spicy ginger fibers stuck in their teeth or tickling their trachea!  A good rule of thumb to go by is if it’s to be strained out of the final preparation (for example a tea or an infusion), then sliced or diced is fine, but if using directly in any other good, sweet or savoury, finely grating the root with a Microplane-style fine grater is always best to remove or break down as much of that fiber as possible.

Ground ginger is very common in many baking recipes and Asian cooking, though I’ll only be speaking about baking recipes (so nyeah). I’ve noticed that ground ginger seems to make its most memorable appearances during North American Thanksgiving and European Christmas holiday seasons, starring in such classic favourites as gingerbread men and pumpkin pie. Commercially ground ginger is usually quite good, and it’s worth having some in your cupboards; as always, store in a cool, dry place (not the fridge or freezer!), and use up your stash within 6 months to a year, before the flavour fades.

Crystallized or candied ginger is delicious on its own as a snack, a “natural” breath enhancer, or an alternative to Tums or Pepto Bismol. It’s also great to bake with, as you can imagine! The candying process “softens” the fibrous rhizome slices, and preserves them from drying out or going bad for months.

You can easily make your own candied ginger with little more than a basic kitchen set-up and a couple of hours of your time; here’s a link to a great recipe for Candied Ginger by one of my culinary heroes, Alton Brown. However, if you prefer to purchase your ginger pre-candied, then there are some stores that sell good quality candied ginger.  Try to find an unsulphured version if you can; although it’s not as shelf stable as sulphured ginger, I find it does taste better.  In the US, I believe you can find the unsulphured version at Trader Joes, and in Canada, Bulk Barn sometimes has an unsulphured candied ginger available. For online sources, I would check Penzey’s Spices in the US, and Vanilla Food Company in Canada.

And now for a true ginger recipe that showcases all THREE types of baking ginger; fresh, ground, and crystallized.  I present to you my own creation, Triple Ginger Fruitsations Cookies!

…ok, the name still needs work.  I’m still quite proud of them, however; I created them for a cookie contest back in 2008 and I won 3rd prize, so not bad, eh? *beaming smile* Sadly, the photo of these marvels has been lost to the sands of time, but if I get around to making these again, I’ll be sure to post a pic and update this post!


Triple Ginger Fruitsations Cookies

Original recipe by A.J. York, Owner, Sweet Surrender Desserts

Yield: 36 cookies

  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda, dissolved in 4 tbsp boiling water
  • 2 cups + 2 tbsp cake flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp finely grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely diced
  • ½ cup dried fruit, finely diced (ex. cranberries, apricots, mangoes, cherries, and/or raisins)
  • Extra dried fruit for decoration

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare pans by covering with parchment paper or non-stick silicone sheet (Silpat).
  2. Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy.  Add dissolved baking soda and mix until combined, then flour, salt, ground and fresh ginger.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Add vanilla, crystallized ginger and dried fruit mix to dough and mix briefly to combine.
  3. Form dough into 1 tsp. sized balls and place about 3″ apart on prepared pans (they spread).  Press each ball down with a flat-bottom glass dipped in granulated sugar; decorate each flattened cookie with a small amount of reserved dried fruit and crystallized ginger.
  4. Refrigerate for ½ hour while on pans, or until firm.
  5. Bake for about 15-18 minutes; rotate pans halfway through baking time.  These cookies brown quickly, so keep an eye on them in the last minutes of baking.
  6. The cookies will be very soft when straight out of the oven; let cool on sheet on baking rack for 5 minutes, then transfer gently to rack until completely cool.  Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. 

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