Fairy Gingerbread with Black Pepper and Pine
Sometimes, when no book will put me to sleep, I resort to channel surfing. Long past the witching hour the other night, I landed upon an episode of America's Test Kitchen. I secretly adore the blind product tasting segments on ATK. Don't judge, that's like a game show for the food nerds (surprise, you chose the cheap mega-mart bacon over the $35/lb imported variety! or fooled you! we slipped a homemade version into the tasting and that's the one you like best, ah-hahaha!). But in general, the recipe segments lose me. I mean, the whole business of testing a recipe hundreds of time, the precision, the frequency with which they whip out rulers (and not even for spanking), the intellectual approach to cooking, while I appreciate it, ain't exactly my bag. I was about to click away when I perked up at the recipe tease - fairy gingerbread.
Ok, you've sucked in another insomniac, Cris Kringle, er Kimball. Turns out that fairy gingerbread is a thin version of the beloved cookie meant to be presented like a snackable deck of cards during a game of Euchre. Hunh, who knew? Charming, though, don't you think? No rolling, no man-shaped cookie cutter-ing, no elaborate decorating required. I'm in!
I did my best to scribble down the recipe by the light of the moon, and recreated it the next day. I omitted the powdered ginger, because I had none. Instead, I used only freshly grated ginger, then amped up the spiciness with black pepper, and corkscrewed in resinous and citrus notes with the addition of pine needles. The result is a wafer-thin, brittle, super spicy cookie, the kind that just begs to be served with a strong cup of tea.
Fairy* Gingerbread with Black Pepper and Pine
5 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
9 Tbsp. brown sugar
4 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
3/4 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. +2 Tbsp flour or gluten-free flour blend of your choice**
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. finely ground black pepper
2 tsp. finely ground fragrant pine needles
1/4 c. milk
1. Cream together the butter and sugar until it looks as if the sugar has mostly dissolved, and the butter has become a little fluffy.
2. Stir in the grated ginger and vanilla.
3. In a small bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and pine.
4. Add half of the milk to the creamed butter, and stir to combine. Add half of the dry ingredients, and stir the batter until it is smooth. Stir in the rest of the milk, then the rest of the dry ingredients.
5. Use an offset spatula to spread half of the batter onto each of two parchment-lined half sheet pans. Spread it over the paper as thinly as possible in the shape of a rectangle. If you are chronically anal-retentive, like the cooks on America's Test Kitchen, then you will be able to execute a perfect rectangle. Also, you will have already marked your parchment paper with a ruler with guides to cutting the cookies after they bake. If you are like me, you'll slop out something rather rectangular-ish, and call it good.
6. Bake the cookies in a 325 degree (F) oven for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pans midway through that time. Keep a very close eye on the cookies as they bake. Being so thin, they go from looking raw to overcooked in a jiff. Yes, I just said jiff. I'm bringing jiff back. Watch out, I'm also bringing back spiffy. But I digress... Look to pull the cookies out of the oven when they are mostly medium brown.
7. As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, use a greased pizza wheel to cut them into rectangles. Again, if you are prone to gettin' all OCD in the kitchen, you will have pre-measured your parchment so that you can cut your cookies into perfectly little rectangles the size of playing cards. If you are like me, you will end up with rectangles of every size, and not much care.
8. Once the cookies have completely cooled, carefully go back over the cuts with a pizza wheel or a paring knife. Do this gently because they will be prone to crumbling at this point. Then, all that remains is to peel them off the parchment paper.
*No fairies were harmed in the making of these cookies
**I used a gluten-free combination of sorghum flour, rice flour, arrowroot, and xanthan gum