I'm The Gingerbread (Wo)Man...

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the smell -- that heady mix of cinnamon and cloves that becomes available in potpourri, candles, lotions, and other potions for a few precious months every year. When I was a little girl, Mom would bring out the seasonal potpourri and air freshener and it was always an early sign that Christmas was at hand. I usually stock up on these products during the holidays and use them during the rest of the year, seasonally appropriate or not. Who says it can't smell like cinnamon in my house in July?

My love for the wafting aroma of spices in the air is chiefly responsible for why I am so in love with the idea of gingerbread. With scent so closely linked to our sense of taste, why shouldn't I love a cookie that embodies my most cherished aroma? Unfortunately, I find that my disdain for the flavor of molasses impedes any ability I might have to enjoy gingerbread. I keep trying to force myself to like it, but so far, it's just not happening. Still, even though I don't particularly care for it, gingerbread is somewhat de rigueur when it comes to Christmastime, so I decided to include some in my annual Cookie Bonanza nevertheless.

This particular recipe has been in my repetoire since a holiday party I attended last year, for which I wanted to bring a dessert, but the host had an allergy to eggs. Since most egg-free cookie recipes fall into the sandy and crumby category (as in shortbreads), I thought these chewy gingerbread cookies, enhanced with a hint of cocoa and rich chocolate chunks, might provide a nice departure from what my friend was used to eating. The cookies were such a big hit at the party that I included them in last year's Cookie Bonanza, and when I passed them over in favor of other selections for my cookie exchange last weekend I found myself faced with disappointed guests. This year, I added even more spices than called for in the original recipe (since I had them on hand), which helped mask more of the molasses flavor, such that I was able to enjoy them more than my previous attempts. I must bake what my public commands, but that doesn't mean I can't try to enjoy the fruits of my own labor.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart*

7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 c. plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. unsulphured molasses 1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
1/4 c. granulated sugar

1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, spices, and cocoa powder. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter and fresh ginger until lightened in color, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.
3. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Beat in the baking soda mixture, followed by remaining flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks by hand. Turn mixture out onto a piece of plastic wrap, pat dough out into a 1 inch thick round and seal. Refridgerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 325. Roll dough out into 1 1/2 inch balls (dough will be sticky so work quickly), and place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refridgerate 20 minutes. Roll dough balls in granulated sugar and return to baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes until surfaces are slightly cracked. Cool on wire racks.

*Yes, this is yet another recipe from Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake And Share. That's the fourth one so far this season, for those of you who are keeping track. Before this month, this was the only recipe that I'd tried from this book after owning it more than a year. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to it now, but I suspect it has something to do with the fabulous pictures. I am truly envious of the food styling skills of the Martha Stewart staff...

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