Step-By-Step: The Best Gingersnap Cookies

Crisp and hot gingersnaps. [Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

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I love gingersnaps with the burning heat of a thousand suns.

Now, you might be wondering whether I love gingersnaps with the burning heat of a thousand suns, or whether I love gingersnaps with the burning heat of a thousand suns, and the answer to either question is yes.

In fact, the intensity of my love for gingersnaps is directly related to the intensity of the gingersnap itself. It's not that I want to flame out on the first bite, only that I expect a cookie named after ginger to pack a certain punch. It should start off cozy and warm, gradually building until at least one eyebrow is raised in appreciation: wow, that's got some kick.

And let's not forget the snap.

So far as I'm concerned, the crunch should be deafening, resonating in your ears with every bite. Not just crunchy, which I think of on a macro-level, but crispy too, delicate in the spaces between its beautiful crumb.

Gingersnaps should be buttery like shortbread, hearty like Biscoff, and small enough to eat by the handful. (Too big, too thick, and gingersnaps get hard. Tough.) It's a lot to ask from one little cookie, but with the right ingredients it's no effort at all.

The Ingredients

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The only wildcards are fresh ginger, molasses, and whole wheat flour; everything else is likely in your kitchen right now.

Compared to ground ginger's earthy depth, fresh ginger is aromatic and bright, almost citrusy. Layered together, they hit all the highs and lows, delivering ginger across the spectrum, with a heat that lingers long after the cookie itself is gone.

Crystallized ginger lingers in the worst possible way, sticking between your molars as if your mouth's been tarred and feathered with cookie crumbs. And besides, most grocery store brands are priced like foie gras and taste like window cleaner, so good riddance. (Crystallized ginger can be delicious, don't get me wrong, but it belongs with soft and chewy cookies.)

Malty sweet molasses balances the double-ginger heat. It's an acid, which means it reacts with baking soda to give the cookies their delicate crumb (it also lets us doctor the dough with a precision brown sugar won't allow). Like maple syrup, molasses varies in quality and flavor between national or local brands, but in the context of a cookie, any brand will do, so long as you avoid anything called blackstrap (literally, "black syrup"). This thick and inky substance comes from the final pressing of sugar cane, giving it a significantly higher mineral content than other types of molasses. Not only is it intensely bitter and acidic, every tablespoon contains 30 milligrams of sodium: a full percent of our recommended daily intake.

Stick with plain, unsulphered molasses. If you don't live in a part of the country where it's locally made, grocery store brands like Grandma's or Brer Rabbit will do in a pinch. Otherwise, hop online and buy a jar of sorghum instead. It's a similar product, made from a grass of the same name, with a bright, almost orangey flavor to balance the darker notes of caramel and malt. Sorghum's an artifact of my upbringing in Kentucky, a personal preference rather than any sort of make-or-break secret ingredient. That distinction goes to whole wheat flour.

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It provides the same depth of flavor we love in graham crackers, but it's also both hyper absorbent and lousy at forming gluten. Those two factors make the dough thick but weak, so it spreads less and cracks more, for gingersnaps that bake up invitingly thick yet tender. Plus, it bakes to a chestnut hue that puts white flour to shame.

I make gingersnaps by creaming the butter and sugar a full five minutes. This provides tons of fine, evenly distributed air pockets for the carbon dioxide to inflate, giving the cookies a slightly more even crumb (and more pronounced cracks across the top).

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You wouldn't notice any difference in flavor if you skipped the creaming process, though the crumb would be slightly irregular and the gingersnaps more crunchy than crisp. Both versions bake about 2 1/4 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick, but resist the temptation to rush through!

You also get a bonus from the extra creaming: Aerating the dough forces it to physically expand, so much so that it yields 48 tablespoons of dough. Simply stir all the ingredients together and the dough is so heavy and dense with molasses that number drops to 38. What's an extra five minutes compared to the tragic loss of ten spicy gingersnaps?

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Once the dough is portioned and ready, the final trick is to coat each piece in granulated sugar. It partially dissolves as the dough begins to melt, forming a sugary shell to enhance that gorgeous cracking across the top. Plain granulated sugar will do, but the larger crystal size of turbinado or raw cane sugar will add an extra layer of molasses flavor and crunch.

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Get the recipe below, or see it all with our step-by-step illustrated instructions.