Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soft & Chewy Gingerbread Men

Decked with friendly smiles and swirls of snowy royal icing, gingerbread men are an iconic symbol of the holiday season. The deep molasses flavor of gingerbread is warm and festive in itself, but the spiced aroma of a freshly baked batch, and the familiar sugary designs on the doll-like cookie cutouts are what truly make it feel like Christmas.

Though it always looks so appealing, the problem with gingerbread is that it is often break-your-teeth-status, hard as rocks. I don’t know about you, but when I’m presented with a delicious little man cookie that smells like cinnamon and sugar, I’m tempted to bite the head off of it. And when I can’t? What a tease! A lot of recipes are designed to make the cookies sturdy enough to be used as tree ornaments and decorations, which is perfect if that is what you want to do. However, if eating the cookies is what you’re after, soft & chewy is the way to go.

In search of a cookie that fit the right criteria, I came across this blog featuring the recipe for Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies by Baking/Cook’s Illustrated. With the description of “the perfect man,” I could not resist. As I am often very careful when it comes to baking, I followed the recipe exactly, and the cookies turned out awesome! Just look at them. They’re adorable and best of all, soft and chewy; the texture makes it so easy to savor all the deliciousness that gingerbread has to offer.

I decorated my gingerbread men simply and traditionally with standard royal icing made of confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and egg whites. Because of the stigma attached to eating raw egg and getting salmonella, most royal icing recipes these days will call for meringue powder or egg white powder instead—both pricier alternatives that require a trip to a craft or specialty store. I’ve seen so many recipes like this, that I actually questioned myself for wanting to use real egg whites. Listen, people have been making royal icing with egg whites for years. The chance of getting salmonella from pasteurized eggs is already incredibly low; factor in the ratio of sugar to egg whites, and your risk is even lower.

You won’t be able to hang these soft gingerbread cookies on your tree, but they are too good to be used as decorations anyway. For many, the gingerbread man is the personification of sweet holiday memories. Baking them is a fun project to share with the ones you love, and they make thoughtful gifts as well. They are just the kind of cookies that are sure to put a smile on Santa’s face!

A gingerbread man once said, that you can take anything from him, just “not the buttons; not my gumdrop buttons!” The inspiration to all of my gingerbread aspirations, Gingy! :

Here is the recipe. It is not mine, just one that I recommend. :-)

Soft & Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
Recipe edited. Obtained from; Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies, Baking Illustrated
Yield: About 20 Cookies
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Royal icing for decorating
• In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With food processor running, add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds. (This step can also be done in an electric stand mixer; mix the dry ingredients, cut the dough into the flour mixture by hand, and then mix in the wet ingredients).
• Divide dough in half and roll into ¼ inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Place in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, until firm.
• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
• Once the dough is firm, cut out cookies using a gingerbread man cookie cutter. Place on prepared baking sheets spacing cookies 1 inch apart. Bake until centers are just set and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking until all dough is used.
• Cool the cookies on the baking sheets about 2 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Decorate as desired with royal icing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

40 Clove Garlic Chicken

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Forty cloves of garlic? That’s a lot of garlic!”

Yes, forty whole cloves. Seems like a whole lot of bad breath, a whole lot of peeling, and a whole lot of time trying to get the smell off your hands. At least, that was my first reaction. The sound of having so much of this one particularly pungent ingredient could either turn you on or off. At first glance, it seems that forty cloves just might be pushing the limits of aromatic enticement, even for the smelliest of garlic lovers.

Turns out, this dish is not nearly as intense or as in-your-face garlicky as the name might first imply. And that’s a good thing. That’s because after the cloves are evenly browned in the pan, they are braised along with a seared, whole cut up chicken, reducing them to rich, slightly nutty, sweet versions of themselves that melt into a tasty paste, similar to roasted garlic. You can eat the whole cloves and not even get garlic breath.

So did I peel every clove? Psht. No. Why would I do that, when the grocery store sells whole pints of em’ already peeled? Unlike the chopped garlic in the jar, which has a funny, unnatural smell/taste to it, it is still fresh garlic. I don’t care what kind of culinary purist you are, whether or not you sat there and peeled each clove will not be evident, nor will it make a difference in the dish. There is a trick to quickly blanching the garlic in boiling water to make peeling easier (see original recipe link with recipe), but I personally don’t want to do that either. Save some time and use pre-peeled.

Speaking of the original recipe link, I referenced Ina Garten’s well-reviewed Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic recipe for this dish. She’s not my favorite, but her food is good. Plus, it’s always fun to impersonate her while cooking. “Yeess, I’m going to be bringing to this to a faahbulous picnic in the Hamptons. My wonderful husband Jeffrey’s gonna love it.”

I wanted to alter the recipe more, but it seemed so good on its own. I especially love the addition of Cognac. The main difference in my recipe is that I used cloudy apple cider instead of white wine. Not that I have anything against white wine—apple cider was just more convenient at the time and it worked out deliciously. The chicken came out so tender; it was amazing with the rich garlic clove sauce (made by thickening the cooking liquid). It was great the first time with mashed potatoes, and the leftovers with couscous were even better. I bet you Jeffrey loved this one!

40 Clove Garlic Chicken
Derived from Food Network, Ina Garten, “Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Yield: 4 servings
- 40 cloves of garlic, peeled ( I purchased pre-peeled ones from the grocery store)
- 1, 3-4 pound chicken, cut into pieces
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 3 tablespoons Cognac, divided
- 1 ½ cups cloudy apple cider
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• Clean and thoroughly dry the chicken. Season the pieces liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté the chicken in batches, skin side down first, until nicely browned on both sides, about 3-5 minutes. If the fat is burning, turn the heat down to medium. Transfer the chicken to a plate and reserve.
• Add the garlic to the pot. Lower the heat and sauté 5-10 minutes, turning often, until evenly browned. Add 2 tablespoons of the Cognac and the apple cider. Bring to a boil, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices and sprinkle with the thyme. Cover and simmer on the lowest heat for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
• Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup of the sauce and the flour, then whisk back into the sauce in the pot. Raise the heat; add the remaining cognac and the cream. Boil for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the garlic over the chicken and serve hot.