Raising the Bar...

As much as I love to bake cookies (and if the 30 posts tagged "cookies" here is any indicator, that would be a whole heck of a lot), I must admit that I am not a equal cookie opportunist. Indeed, there is one type of cookie that I never make -- bar cookies. Although many fantastic bakers, my grandma included, prefer bars for their speed and simplicity, for me, a cookie isn't a cookie unless it's shaped and baked as its own separate entity. This adds considerable time and effort to the baking process, as only 10-12 cookies fit on a sheet at a given time, so they must be baked in multiple batches. Bar cookies, however, are baked all at once and cut into single portion sizes, which makes them much faster. Although adding a bar cookie to my Cookie Bonanza lineup would free up time to dedicate to something else, I had still never really entertained the idea until this week.

Recently, I had traveled to Whole Foods in search of short-grain brown rice in their bulk section. I'd already torn off a bag, but was unable to locate the grain I was looking for, despite the presence of copious more obscure items. Feeling guilty about wasting a plastic bag at the bastion of sustainability, I looked around for something else to find when I located crystallized ginger at a price per pound that was lower than what I had paid for the tiny glass jar I'd previously had in my pantry. I picked up a pound for the heck of it, figuring I'd find some sort of Christmas cookie recipe to use it in.

The crystallized ginger sat in its baggie in the cabinet for a week, until I needed a treat to bring along to a picnic I was going to today. However, given the time restrictions of my over-scheduled weekend, I needed something I could bake in advance on Friday night that would hold up until Sunday. Drawn, as ever, to Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake and to Share for inspiration, I found a recipe for Iced Hermits, a bar cookie that hails from the East Coast, that were originally baked by sailors' wives for their husbands to take on long voyages. Not only did they have a good shelf life, the recipe called for crystallized ginger; my mind was made up.

I did make one major change to the recipe -- I substituted dried apples for Martha's suggestion of raisins. For me, raisins are a food I would rather eat plain than as an ingredient in something else. If I ever encounter them in a baked good, I always pick them out. To top the bars, I followed Martha's instructions to the letter, icing them with a drizzle of brown sugar glaze (which was so tasty even I liked it, and I almost always find glazes and icings to be cloyingly sweet), and a sprinkling of additional crystallized ginger. Annoyingly, the extra ginger did not adhere well to the icing at all, making the cookies messy and difficult to transport. Also, I found the ginger flavor in the cookies to be a little overpowering, so I resolved to leave the extra ginger off the cookies the next go around.

And there will almost certainly be another go around for these cookies, which received an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone I shared them with. Granted, some of them were avowed fans of ginger, but once I brushed the surplus ginger off, even I liked the spicy punch of these cookies. The make-in-advance capability for this recipe also gives it definite appeal for the holiday season. In my experience, the longer the cookies sat, the softer and more intensely flavored they became. I think I might have found this year's spice cookie for my giveaway...

Iced Hermits
adapted from Martha Stewart

For bars:
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon mace
3/4 c. dried apples, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 c. candied ginger, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 c. unsulfured molasses
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar

For icing:
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 c. powdered sugar, sifted, plus more if needed

1. Make bars: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking sheet with Pam. Line bottom with parchment paper, and spray parchment; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, cloves, and mace in a medium bowl; set aside.
2. Put butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar; mix until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg and yolk, and molasses. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture. Mix in 1/2 cup candied ginger and the dried apples.
3. With moistened hands, s
pread dough evenly onto prepared baking sheet. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until firm, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool completely in baking sheet on a wire rack.
Make icing: Put brown sugar, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until butter has melted and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla and confectioners sugar. If icing is too thick to drizzle, stir in more milk, a teaspoon at a time. If icing is too thin, stir in more confectioners sugar, a teaspoon at a time. Let cool slightly.
Drizzle bars with icing. Let stand until icing has set, about 15 minutes. Cut into 2-inch squares. Bars can be stored in single layers in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

1 comment:

  1. These cookies were damn amazing. And yes, admittedly I am a ginger lover and a cookie lover... so I guess it's only natural that I like these but you never know! And I thought they were delish!

    I also like the extra ginger that you didn't use. <3