« my first fancy cake | Main | Pinback »

Sunday, November 21, 2004

IMBB #10: Cookie Swap: Chez Panisse Gingersnaps


It's time for another IMBB.  This time the theme is holiday cookies, and it's being hosted by busy girl Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess.  This one was quite easy, in many ways.  First of all, this cookie is a shoe-in for my favorite holiday cookie.  Second, I already had some in the freezer, so all I had to do was bake some off.

This cookie doesn't look like much, but it really packs a punch.  It's crisp, buttery, and full of spices.  It's also the most addictive cookie I know.  There's a little story as to how I acquired this recipe.  Some of you may know that I'm a pastry cook.  Several years ago, when I was very new to the industry, I tried out for a pastry position at the famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.   I don't know what I was thinking.  I'd only been doing pastry for 3 months.  I knew I was too inexperienced to hope for a job here, but I also knew that I'd regret it if I didn't seize the opportunity, and give it my best.  So, trying out at Chez Panisse consisted of making some cookie dough, baking some cookies, prepping some perfect grapes for dessert, and other things that have escaped me.  I also had to bring in a dessert for them to taste.  I stayed in the kitchen long enough to share staff lunch.  I still remember it.  Wonderful butternut squash ravioli with browned butter and sage.  For dessert, gingersnaps.  I was so taken with these cookies.  I knew I couldn't pig out on them, but was it bad form to request the recipe?  At the end of the tryout, after the interview during which I was pretty tongue-tied, and uttered such jumbled figures of speech as, "I'm kind of green behind the ears, but I'm a quick learner," I knew it wasn't going too well.  So I thought, hell, just ask for it.  So I said, "In case I don't see you again, could I have the gingersnap recipe?"  She said yes!  And now I'll share the recipe with you, with just a few changes.  By the way, I didn't get the job.

Chez Panisse Gingersnaps

8 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 small eggs or 1 1/2 large eggs
1/3 cup molasses
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Cream butter until soft.  Add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs, and beat until fluffy.  Add molasses and beat until well-incorporated.  Sift the dry ingredients, and add to the mixture.  On low speed, mix until it all just comes together.  Line a 9" x 5" loaf pan with plastic wrap, so that some hangs over the outsides.  Press the dough into the bottom of the pan.  Pack it tightly, and try to make the top as level as possible.  Cover the dough with the plastic overhangs.  Freeze until very firm, preferably overnight.  Unwrap and remove dough from the pan.  Slice brick into thin slices, no more than 1/8".  Place on a parchment-lined sheetpan and bake at 350 degrees until the edges turn dark brown, about 12 minutes.

-The dough gets soft quickly, so work fast.
-Because the cookies are so thin, there's a fine line between underbaked and burned.  Keep an eye on them.  And actually I think they taste best when they're very slightly burned on the edges.

*Edited on 12/6/04 to add:  Thanks to a comment left by brian w, I realized that I failed to mention a helpful tip.  Regarding the smoothing of the dough in the loaf pan:  Once the dough is covered with plastic wrap,  take another loaf pan, of the same size, and use it to press the dough flat.  You'll have to move it around a bit to really get into the corners and sides, but it's really easy.


Renee, these cookies sound fabulous! And I love the story of how you got the recipe...ballsy and ingenious, if I do say so myself!

Thanks so much for sharing this recipe with all of us and for participating in IMMB # 10, the holiday cookie swap!

wow, i interned in the pastry department at chez panisse too making these cookies ... one of the best experiences of my life.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Those look so good Renee! Btw, (is it Renée or Renee? :-)

what was the nature of the changes you made to the recipe?

hi Renee,
I was smiling as I read how you got the recipe... heh! I would probably have done the same : )
these look gorgeous!

hi jennifer, it's been my pleasure. and thanks for hosting so many of these shindigs.

yp, when and how long were you at chez panisse? have any good stories?

hi again, viv. yeah, they ARE really good. i just ate some, in fact. btw, it's renee. no accent. my parents are from china and have probably never used an accent mark in their lives.

hi elle, my changes to the recipe are so minor as to barely warrant mention. all i did was increase the amount of each spice by 1/4-1/2 tsp. except for the pepper, of course. though i increased that as well. iirc, the original recipe, while being 4 times the size of the one i posted, only called for a pinch of black pepper. next time i might even increase the pepper to 1/4 tsp.

hey renee, yeah, it was hard to pass up. normally i'm not so bold. i think it was the greedy glutton in me. and thanks.

The recipe looks wonderful. Thank you for posting it, along with its story!

About how many cookies does it produce?

hi megan. hmm, you know, i've never counted. and i've never baked them all at one time. i just slice off the number of cookies i want, then return the brick to the freezer. if i had to guess, i'd say the recipe yields maybe 75 cookies. it sounds like a lot, but they're really thin, and really addictive, so they go pretty fast.

Renee - these sound great - I can't wait to try them! (PS - I just bought that Indian Home Cooking book as well. Haven't made anything yet but lots of things look very tempting!)

hey Cathy, so far i've only tried a few recipes from Indian Home Cooking. the dals i've made have been really tasty, and i love the spicy fried salmon. i've made that twice. the pictures are mouth-watering. one that sticks in my mind is a green bean dish with coconut, but i'm not a huge fan of coconut, so i won't be making that anytime soon.

Just letting you know I just tried this recipe after stumbling upon it a few days ago. I'm a novice baker so they came out just so-so in the looks department, but they taste great! I plan on making another batch closer to the holidays, so I'm sure after this practice batch, they'll look a bit nicer. I think my problem was I had a hard time cutting the dough because my knives are pretty dull at the moment. But anyway, they are delicious!

These cookies sound delicious! I'm going to try making them tonight.

I just made a batch this past weekend and they're wonderfully addictive. I told my sister she could take half of what I made and she said, "They're already in my stomach." Thanks for sharing the recipe!

I just wanted to comment to Megan. I just finished my batch and in theory you should be able to make 72 (1/8inch and 9 inches total). In practice, I got about 70 (with my mistakes and some ultra-thin ones).

They taste *amazing*. Thank you so much for this recipe.

i'm glad you liked them. really, don't worry about the appearance; they're supposed to look rustic anyway. just look at the ones i made.

i hope you like them.

heehee, thanks for the laugh. that's such a cute story.

thanks for keeping count. sometimes when i get those ultra-thin ones, i just pop them in my mouth. it's pretty tasty that way too.

Absolutely delicious! Thank you for posting the recipe.

To get a more even shape, readers might want to try flipping the plastic-wrapped dough over in the loaf pan part way into the freezing process. Maybe after a half hour or so, just long enough to make it solid enough that you could handle it a bit. It's a very sticky dough so it's hard to get a flat top by hand or with a spatula.

And by the way, a huge thank you for the recipe, I found it via Amateur Gourmet (dot com; html isn't allowed in comments) and I made a batch today. They're delicious and the texture is great. And they hold up well to a quick dunk in some tea, too.

I baked off 30 cookies and I can save the other half until closer to Christmas. So easy!

Whoops - I proudly slid a batch of these into the freezer a couple of hours ago, and now I notice that I didn't add the molasses. I thought the dough looked awfully blonde. Will these still turn out, do you think?

thanks for the tip. i've done that on occasion, but there's another method i use. i'll add it at the end of the original post.

j zill,
i think you'll just have to bake them and see. molasses' role is multi-part. aside from adding obvious qualities like flavor, sweetness, and color, it also adds moisture. since the cookie is crisp, the missing moisture might not be a problem. another problem, though, is that molasses is an acidic compound. without the molasses to activate and offset the baking soda, the cookies may not spread and the texture might be off, and there might be a soapy flavor. let me know how it goes.

Wow - thank you for the information. You are dead-on with all of your thoughts on the effects of molassesness. I couldn't resist cooking a test cookie, and oh my goodness BAD BAD BAD. 1) You were right, the cookies didn't spread. 2) The texture was crumbly/granular. 3) MMmm, best of all, without the molasses, these are, as you suggest, soap cookies. Thanks for your reply - I've definitely learned from my mistake and will try to whip up another batch of these tonight!

Mine came out kindof funky too. I didn't forget the molasses but the mealy texture and off taste definitely apply. Any idea what I was doing? I'm at high altitude (7,000') so maybe that had something to do with it. The dough tastes great and I still have most of it in the freezer. So maybe this is a sign that what I really ought to be making is cookie dough ice cream. Thanks!

hi kim-
hmm, i don't have any experience with high altitude baking which i'm guessing is your culprit. you can check this site out:


the text is garbled, but it also provides other high-altitude baking links.

So delicious, it's my new favorite cookie. I've been spreading your gingersnap link to all my friends. Thank you!

how many cookies does this recipe yield (if i cut them like your photo)?

^^^Mip- i believe it makes 72-75 as they mentioned.
OOOOOOOOh wow wow wow! Renee! thanks a million for your selfless sharing of this really amazing cookie recipe. I knew it was good the minutes i saw it and i made it the next day after i read about it. You may want to look at the product of my making! I made them in 4 batches, didnt count how many it made. But i burnt about 2 batches *sobs* but its still edible, had to break of some really really burnt parts. Its still quite heavenly. This makes a very crispy cookie its done the right way, i had some chewy ones because of uneven cutting. As i have high tolerance for sweetness, i found it not sweet enough. And oh, did i mention i replaced half a cup of white sugar for brown and added more spices than it called for and plus some grounded star anise? Thanks again!
Here are the pictures:

i'm so glad you like them. honestly, i haven't met anyone who doesn't like them.

yeah, what crab innard lover said.

crab innard lover,
i'm blushing. though i wouldn't exactly call my sharing the recipe selfless. oh, i checked out your pictures. it looks like you used fresh ginger. that sounds good. i bet it added some heat to the cookie. i think, though, that i prefer this cookie without any chunks. sorry about your burned batches. but hey, at least the cookie is easy to make.

ugh. i just realized that i don't have a loaf pan. any other suggestions? i wanted to make these today. darn.

almost any kind of pan will do. a loaf pan just lends itself well for this amount of dough. what i've used in the past is a half-sheet pan. line that with plastic and try to press the dough into one side of the pan. it won't fill up the entire pan. and it's kind of a pain to make the open side (the side that's not against the pan) nice and straight. another thing is that the cookies will be shorter, but that's ok. i'm sure you could also try this in a square or rectangular cake pan.

these cookies rocked! I made them for a party this weekend, and they were loved by all. I substituted canoleo and egg replacer to veganise them, and they were still delicious. thanks for sharing this recipe.

glad you liked them. i once thought about becoming vegan, but as a former ovo-lacto, and a current pesca vegetarian with meat cravings, i'm nowhere close. plus, the butter. the butter. need the butter.

RE: loaf pan abscence

I've started using these loaf-pan-sized Ziploc disposable containers instead of loaf pans. Since they're plastic and come with lids, you can pour the batter straight into the container, without dealing with messy plastic wrap.

After wiggling it out of the container the next day, I can cut a few slices off of the brick and throw it back into the sealed container. This way, I can bake-off batches of 10-12 fresh ones over an entire week.

hi dave,
that's an idea. thanks for the tip.

My grandmas gingersnaps have clove in them. Has anyone ever added cloves to this recipe?

sorry for the late response. i haven't tried the cookie with cloves yet, but i don't see why you couldn't.

Renee I've added you to my blog list at: http://www.winosandfoodies.typepad.com/

Thanks for sharing this recipe for Ginger Snaps - I look forward to making them soon.

Hi Barbara,
No problem. I know you'll love the cookie. Everyone does.

I look forward to checking out your site when I return from my trip.

Wow! I'm so glad I found your blog. Awhile back I was lunching by myself at Chez, and fell into conversation with the waiter. I was able to help him and the chef with something, and as a reward they gave me a plate of various cookies. All the cookies were tasty, but these gingersnaps were memorable. I've been looking for the recipe ever since. Thanks!

hi DYlin,
you're very welcome. thanks for dropping by. the gingersnaps are good, aren't they. i made them again this christmas. always a hit.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In