Bak­ing sea­son: From gin­ger to fam­ily recipes, we give ideas

Sprin­kle a lib­eral dash to cook­ies, candy and hol­i­day cock­tails.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Melissa Martinez mmartinez@states­man.com Ginger­bread isn’t the only spiced treat you can make with gin­ger root. Gin­ger cook­ies, gin­ger pound cake balls and can­died gin­ger are de­li­cious ad­di­tions to your Christ­mas dessert ta­ble. THAO NGUYEN / AMERICANST

Christ­mas bak­ing is known for a few sta­ples — roll-out sugar cook­ies, fruit­cake, ginger­bread houses — but not much that deeply in­spires me as a baker. So this year, I de­cided to go be­yond the stale house cov­ered in old can­dies and dis­cover what else gin­ger has to ofier.

Year-round, I en­joy snack­ing on can­died gin­ger and drink­ing bot­tle af­ter bot­tle of strong gin­ger beer for the ex­cit­ing taste and al­leged health ben­ef­flts. I of­ten fflnd my­self look­ing at pur­chased prod­ucts like can­died gin­ger, won­der­ing how hard it really would be to make them in my home.

The process of can­dy­ing gin­ger — peel­ing, slic­ing, cook­ing, coat­ing and dry­ing the gin­ger — turned out to be time-con­sum­ing, but not at all dif­fi­cult. If you don’t mind (or like me, ab­so­lutely love) the bite of gin­ger, the can­died pieces make for a de­light­ful, ad­dic­tive snack.

If those are too strong for your tastes, you can use the gin­ger for your fa­vorite hol­i­day recipes — a soft, sweet gin­ger cookie gets spiced up when you add chopped crys­tal­lized gin­ger. Or, you can take a sim­ple pound cake, vanilla frost­ing and mix it up with the can­died gin­ger, cover it in dark choco­late and sprin­kle more gin­ger on top for gin­ger pound cake balls.

Both recipes sur­rounded by sparkling pieces of crys­tal­lized gin­ger make a beau­ti­ful ad­di­tion to any hol­i­day party or Christ­mas dessert ta­ble. They also can be pack­aged in cel­lo­phane bags or gift boxes for an im­pres­sively tasty present.

If your friends are the DIY­types, you can in­clude di­rec­tions on how they, too, can candy their own gin­ger.

If you’re work­ing last minute, you can fflnd crys­tal­lized gin­ger at most gro­cery stores. One ben­ef­flt to can­dy­ing it your­self is the gin­ger syrup that re­sults — you can use this for a sweet kick in hol­i­day cock­tails or co­coa, or add some seltzer for home­made gin­ger ale — a great rem­edy for tummy trou­bles that pop up af­ter hol­i­day overeat­ing.

An easy trick to peel gin­ger is to use the edge of a spoon. Just place your thumb on the back of the bowl of the spoon, scrap­ing the outer layer of the gin­ger away from you. Gin­ger, as a root, is fairly tough, so with this method, you boil the slices twice be­fore can­dy­ing to ten­der­ize. 1 lb. fresh gin­ger, peeled cups sugar,plus about 1/2 cup for coat­ing Pinch salt

Slice gin­ger thinly and place in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, re­duce heat and sim­mer gin­ger for 10 min­utes. Use a strainer to re­move gin­ger and dis­card the water. Re­fill the pot with fresh water and re­peat this step.

Af­ter the gin­ger has been boiled twice and drained, add sugar, 4 cups water and pinch of salt to the pot with the gin­ger slices and cook for about an hour over medium heat, or un­til the liq­uid is the con­sis­tency of thin honey. If you have a candy ther­mome­ter, cook un­til the tem­per­a­ture reaches 225 de­grees.

Re­move from heat and strain the gin­ger, re­serv­ing the gin­ger sim­ple syrup for an­other use, such as gin­ger ale.

Toss the drained slices in a shal­low bowl filled with about half a cup gran­u­lated sugar. Shake off the ex­cess sugar and spread gin­ger pieces out in a sin­gle layer on a cool­ing rack. (I used a cookie sheet lined with parch­ment pa­per) Leave out to dry overnight. You can store the can­died gin­ger at room tem­per­a­ture for a few months.

Note: Store the gin­ger sim­ple syrup in the fridge for up to three months. You can sweeten tea or other drinks with the syrup. To make home­made gin­ger ale, add four ta­ble­spoons of gin­ger syrup to a large pint glass and top with seltzer or other sparkling water. — Adapted from a tech­nique on Davi­dLe­bovitz.com

Gin­ger cook­ies can be good for gift­ing.

THAO nguyen / FOR amer­i­can-states­man

Can­died gin­ger adds fla­vor and va­ri­ety to your Christ­mas dessert ta­ble.

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