Featured in our 2017 Christmas Guide
With its wonderfully aromatic flavor, ginger is a winning ingredient for wintertime baking, especially in cookies. It’s all the same spice, but in its three different guises, ginger is both a versatile team player and a first-string star when it comes to cookies. While I’m a big fan of traditional gingerbread, I also love trying different ginger cookies that reach beyond the expected, using fresh, dried, or crystallized ginger alone or in combination, along with other “helper” ingredients to bring out its best.
Fresh ginger provides a warm, mellow flavor with a citrusy lift in buttery cookies like the Ginger & Lemon Cookies. A hit of lemon zest will enhance this trait in a truly delicious way.
Dried ginger has an earthy flavor that’s a natural with other baking spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, and it gives the Gingerbread Biscotti and the Ginger Snaps the familiar gingerbready and ginger-snappy flavor that you’ll recognize as classic ginger. For the Ginger Snaps, I like to highlight this with a few grinds of cracked black pepper, whose heat turns ground ginger even spunkier.
Crystallized ginger lends sophistication, sparkle, complexity, and texture. I love using it in tandem with dried ginger in the Double Ginger Crackles for a flavor that’s smooth and spicy, with nubbins that offer a satisfying chewiness. Crystallized ginger adds sparkle to the Ginger & Lemon cookies, too.
Shopping for and storing ginger
Look for unblemished, firm roots and avoid the older, wrinkly ones. Fresh ginger keeps in the fridge for two weeks or so. To use, gently scrape away the thin layer of skin from a portion of the root with a spoon. For finely grated fresh ginger, I like to use a rasp-style grater.
Dried (ground) ginger
Like all dried spices, ground ginger’s intensity diminishes over time, so buy in small quantities and use it up within six months. If you’re not sure if your ground ginger is still fresh, smell it: It should have an assertive, spicy, gingery aroma.
This soft, candied form of ginger is sold in many sizes, all of which are found in natural-foods stores, gourmet stores, Asian markets, and increasingly, in supermarkets’ spice sections. Whether you buy 1/4-inch-thick quarter-size rounds (my preference) or chopped or diced crystallized ginger, be sure it’s moist, pliable, and visibly coated with sugar granules. Kept in an airtight container, it will stay moist and fragrant for months.