The holidays are all about the joy of giving. We give presents so that we can see the joy on people's faces when they open them, and to show them how much we care for them. I prefer to show my love through baking, which sometimes means that I bake things not because I enjoy eating them, but because it will make somebody else happy to eat them. Such was the case with the first thing I remember learning how to bake -- lemon bundt cake. My Aunt Lois was staying with me while my mother was out of town (with Dad working long hours as always, someone needed to be there when I got home from school), and we decided to bake something for Dad that he would like. Dad had had Lois' lemon cake before and liked it, so that's what we made that day, and for several years, it was the only thing I knew how to bake, which is ironic, because I don't even like lemon. I've lost track of how many times I've made that cake -- lemon is always a crowd pleaser -- and while I always enjoy the process of baking it, never once have I enjoyed eating it. It is something that I only do for the benefit of others.
Similarly, when I was curating the list of cookies to include in my annual Cookie Bonanza, I was trying to achieve a balance of flavors. I already had chocolate and peppermint, in the form of my Chocolate Peppermint Cookies; maple in the form of my Maple Pecan Shortbreads; I knew I was going to make some decorated sugar cookies utilizing my new decorating set, and some spritz cookies using my new cookie press; I wanted a spice cookie, and that left me an opening for one more. I wanted to make thumbprint cookies with a chocolate filling (I don't care for fruit in my cookies), but I already had a chocolate cookie in the mix. Going through my spice shelf for inspiration, I came across a bottle of crystallized ginger that was nearing its expiration date, so I started looking for a recipe to use it up. Lo and behold, I found one for a lemon ginger cookie. I don't care for lemon, but I knew that the people receiving my cookies would probably appreciate a lemon offering, so I made up a batch.
The unusual dough contained no leaveners, resulting in a sandy, crumbly cookie, accentuated by the crackly coating created by the pre-baking dip in egg white and sugar. The cookies were refreshing, and not exceptionally ginger-y, besides some residual heat on the palate after consumption. I'm sure the ginger flavor would have been more pronounced if I had used a fresher bottle of crystallized ginger. Since I knew I was doomed to dislike the cookies due to their flavor combination, I brought a few to work to test out on Natasha, a self-professed ginger enthusiast. They won her stamp of approval, so if you like lemon, feel free to treat yourself to a batch of these. If you don't like lemon, consider making them for someone in your life who does. They'll appreciate every tasty morsel.
Ginger & Lemon Cookies
adapted from The Best of Fine Living: Cookies, 2008
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. plus 2 T. granulated sugar
3 T. finely grated fresh ginger
finely grated zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. pure lemon extract
11 1/4 oz. all-purpose flour
2 T. finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, grated ginger, lemon zest, and salt, and beat on medium speed until well-blended and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla; continue mixing until well-blended, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the flour and mix on low speed until the dough is blended and just comes together.
3. In a small bowl, combine crystallized ginger and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in eggs whites. Dip the tops of the dough balls in the sugar/crystallized ginger mixture, and set the balls 1 1/2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
4. Bake 11-13 minutes until cookies are light brown around the edges. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to complete cooling.