Friday, September 21, 2007


I'm on a quest to find the best ginger-spice cookies, and I may have lucked out on my first try. The recipe I used is from Family Circle magazine, 7/20/82, and the article is entitled, "Best Cookies from the Best Bakeries." I have no idea who cousin Helen Heavenrich is, but I assume she could be someone who lived c.1732 or thereabouts. This is supposedly a 250-year-old recipe from Vermont, and Nashotah Ovens Bakery outside of Milwaukee was baking them at the time the article was written. (The only problem I have with the 250-year old concept, is that white flour and white sugar were not "invented" then, and the cookie would have been totally different, but nevermind, it makes a good story if you don't dig too deeply.) I made a few changes to the recipe which I have noted below. One of the changes was to experiment with the flours. I was spurred on by the Jacques Torres Secret Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe wherein they mixed bread flour with pastry flour. So I mixed unbleached all-purpose flour with White Lily AP (which is really a pastry flour that is bleached) and a little bread flour (you can use a plain unbleached all-purpose flour like Pillsbury's if you don't want to mess with 3 flours). Since I have not made the recipe with the all-purpose flour that is called for, I can't compare. But I can say that the texture of the cookies is great. The spices are nice; you can definitely taste the ginger, and the lemon flavor comes through nicely also. By underbaking them just a tad, they are soft and very slightly chewy--just enough to make them interesting, not enough to break your teeth. The cookies are crinkled when done, which is a nice effect, and some of the sugar that you roll them in is visible on the tops. This recipe is a keeper and makes up very quickly. I did chill the dough even though the recipe did not call for it, and it made the rolling a little easier. * also put the dough back in the fridge in between baking sheets. Here's the recipe and don't forget to let me know if you try it and how it turns out for you.

Cousin Helen Heavenrich's Lemon Ginger Cookies, adapted
INGREDIENTS: 2-1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour (measure the flour, then sift it) 2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I used sea salt)
3 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used white sugar)
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses (I used Grandma's original)
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup sugar

DIRECTIONS: Sift dry ingredients into medium sized bowl and whisk together to combine. Beat butter with sugar and egg in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and lemon rind until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients, half at a time, blending well after each addition. This will make a soft dough. (At this point, I refrigerated the dough for about 1/2 hour to firm it up, but the recipe does not call for this step.)

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll dough, one level tablespoon at a time, between palms of hands, into balls; roll in granulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. (I used a measuring spoon -- tablespoon size -- it's rounded in shape -- see photo above. With my fingers, I leveled the dough, then removed the leveled amount and rolled it in my hands, then in sugar.)

Bake for about 10 minutes. Cookies will be soft in the center. Do not overbake. (I used the toothpick test and took the cookies out when there was just a little piece of dough clinging to the pick -- it was 10 minutes for me.) Let cookies cool in pan for 3-5 minutes, then with spatula place them on a cooling rack to finish cooling. Store in covered containers at room temperature, or freeze. Yield: 4 dozen cookies (I got 53 cookies.)

11/13/07 P. S. Here's an e-mail I received from Hollis Heavenrich-Jones today: "Hello Judy- I stumbled upon your Website through an Internet search I was doing, and was amused by your write up of Helen Heavenrich’s ginger cookies. Helen was indeed a real person, and she actually baked the lemon ginger cookies, although she didn’t live in 1732 – not by a long shot. Helen’s husband Sam was my father’s first cousin. Sam was the oldest of 13 first cousins and my dad was the youngest. Sam and Helen lived a fascinating life traveling all over the world during their younger years. They never really settled in one place, and never stayed in one country/area longer than about five years. But they owned a 200-year-old farmhouse in Vermont, and always made their way back there. The house had been in Helen’s family for generations. When we (my four siblings and I) met Sam and Helen, they were in their late 70’s, and had finally settled in Vermont. (They also lived in Florida during the winter.) Because Sam and Helen had no children of their own, they sort of adopted me and my siblings as their grandchildren. We used to visit them in the summers and they would regale us with stories of their many and interesting adventures. (In 1952, Sam was a judge for the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant.) In addition to the lemon ginger cookies, one of Helen’s favorite recipes was for popovers. She made them every morning for breakfast. Fast forward a few years to when my mom, a cooking instructor in Milwaukee, opened a cookie factory called Jill Heavenrich’s Nashota Ovens Bakery. My mom decided to see if she could adapt Helen’s recipe for mass production, and it was one of their biggest hits. My mom couldn’t have been more surprised when Family Circle called and told her the lemon ginger cookies had been selected as one of their best cookies. Everyone in my family was so sad when Sam Heavenrich died about 10 years ago at the age of 93. Helen followed within about 2 years at the age of 92. They were an amazing couple who left us with a wonderful legacy. Sorry if I’ve prattled on. But stumbling across your site really brought back some memories. Thanks! And best regards, Hollis Heavenrich-Jones"

No comments: