Ginger nuts are a favorite store-bought biscuit in most parts of the UK and Ireland, but homemade ones are way better. And somehow or other I seem to have made these three times in the last week and a bit, so I think I’ve acquired some expertise.
If you want to make some holiday-ish biscuits/cookies that aren’t a lot of trouble, especially for gifts, these are an excellent bet. They’re crisp and flavorful and very more-ish. They’re also a good sort of bikkie to make if you want to let children or those who are normally a little baking-challenged assist (meaning it’s the kind of thing you can do sitting around the table with a bunch of adults and a bottle of wine, gossiping while you do the slightly repetitive work of getting them ready to bake).
Making the dough takes twenty minutes or a bit more, depending on how long you spend creaming the sugar and butter and flour together. After that it’s just a matter of how quickly you feel like assembling each baking sheet’s worth of cookies / biscuits. The dough refrigerates nicely for short periods, but because ginger nuts are raised only with baking soda / bicarbonate of soda, I wouldn’t keep the dough unbaked for more than 4-6 hours. The recipe makes between four and five dozen gingernuts, depending on how large you roll the pieces.
The ingredients and method:
- 200 grams / 7 ounces caster sugar / granulated sugar (extra fine if you’ve got it)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 150 grams / 5 ounces butter, cubed and slightly softened
- 1 egg
Cream all these together with a beater until light and fluffy. This is the most labor-intensive part of the process if you don’t have a mixer, but whether you do or not it’s worth while taking your time over it until everything is as fluffy as it’s going to get. Do the sugar, butter and salt first, and then when they’re well creamed, add the egg and beat like crazy until everything goes very fluffy.
Meanwhile mix together:
- 125 grams cream flour / cake flour
- 125 grams strong white flour / all-purpose flour
(You can use just all-purpose flour if you don’t have both kinds. The mixture, though, produces a slightly more delicate / crisper cookie.) Add to the flour/s:
- 1/2 rounded teaspoon bicarbonate of soda / baking soda
- 1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 rounded teaspoon ground cloves
If you’re a real ginger fan, kick it up to a teaspoon and a half. However much you use, stir until the spices are blended all through the flour.
When you’re finished creaming the butter, sugar and egg mixture, slow the beater right down to a crawl (assuming you’re using one) and start adding the flour and spice mixture in large spoonfuls until it’s all combined. Stop the mixing process and scrape down the bowl once or twice if necessary, rather than mix any more quickly: you don’t want to take the chance of toughening up the dough.
When the dough is ready, stick it in the refrigerator for half an hour or so to make it easier to work with (as it’s fairly soft when it’s initially finished mixing). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 C / 350F and start preparing your first cookie sheet by lining it with baking parchment. (It seems likely you could use a baking-silicone mat for this, but I didn’t have one of the right shape and so haven’t tested that.)
Ginger nut dough is one of those kinds of cookie dough that likes to run all over the place while you’re baking it, so all the next steps are about controlling that tendency. Get ready:
- A little bowl with four or five tablespoonsful of granulated sugar to roll the cookie dough balls in
- A drinking glass to flatten them with (a heavy-bottomed one is best. We use a Pernod glass for this, but any tumbler will do.)
There are two schools of thought about ginger nuts. Some people like them big enough to dunk in tea. Others prefer to be able to eat them in one bite. (There’s something to be said for this approach, as these are quite crisp when baked.) You can make these either way, or both ways, depending on how large you roll the individual pieces.
If you want the dunking-size biscuits, start scooping out the slightly chilled dough from the mixing bowl with a teaspoon and rolling it between your hands into balls about the size of a big “shooter” marble (usually just shy of an inch in diameter, though who knows, your marbles may vary). After rolling each piece, drop it in the little bowl of sugar and roll it around until covered: then place it on the baking sheet. For smaller pop-in-your-mouth ginger nuts, roll each piece to the size of a small ordinary marble (about 3/4 inch in diameter), roll it in sugar as above, and sit it on the baking sheet. Whichever size you go for, this is the part of the process in which small children, or idly gossiping adults, can be enrolled to best advantage.
Once all this is done, use the bottom of the glass to gently flatten each of the balls a little bit. Don’t overdo this: they just need to be flat enough to stay put on the baking sheet.
Slide the baking sheet into the oven with some care (because the little flattened discs will still slide around on the parchment if you let them) and bake for between 5 and 6 minutes until the edges are just starting to go a little brown. When I was baking these I found that 5 minutes 30 seconds was the right time for our oven. Yours obviously may differ, so when you’re doing your first batch, check them at 5 minutes and see how they look.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and move the baking parchment off the sheet and to a heatproof surface for five minutes or so. After about that long, use a spatula to remove them from the baking sheet and let them finish cooling on a rack.
Repeat the dough-rolling, sugar-rolling and ball-flattening process on another parchment-lined baking sheet, and keep going until all the dough is shaped and baked.
Once baked and completely cooled: immediately put the biscuits / cookies in a paper-lined tin or other airtight container and seal them up. They’re really hygroscopic, and will quickly go soft if you leave them out. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.