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Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

We get a lot of emails expressing disappointment that our website doesn't mirror the cookbook. That you can't find Parker House Rolls or Chicken With 40 Cloves of Garlic. Our answer is necessarily truncated, as we are a small crew of very dedicated folks who are always stretched too thin, and it goes something to the tune of, "We can't give away our content." And it seems an obvious reason to us. After all, what cookbook author can you name who gives away the entire contents of their books for free? Or any author for that matter? We work hard to create good, reliable recipes and reference. To give it away would mean that we couldn't do our jobs. That we wouldn't have a job.

But the longer answer, beyond the economics of giving away the results of one's skilled labor for free, is that the Joy of Cooking isn't a recipe book. At least, that's not what we intend. Ideally, we want our readers to learn enough through the act and practice of cooking that they can rely less upon recipes. And this website revolves around the idea that you can take a recipe and make it your own. Rather than simply giving you recipes straight out of the book, we take recipes and tweak them, giving them new life. We are trying to present new and exciting ideas for your consideration. Of course, it would be a lot easier to just copy and paste recipes from the book, but we don't play that way.

Take, for instance, this recipe for gingerbread. It all started with an idea. I wanted to make gingerbread cookies with a twist. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel by any means--nothing gimmicky--but I did want to do more than just give you a standard issue gingerbread recipe. And so I made a few simple changes that made all the difference in the recipe.

I started by browning the butter. Browning butter is a really wonderful secret weapon in baked goods. Almost any baked good that involves melted butter can be modified to use browned butter. Just melt the butter as directed and keep going until the milk solids have browned and the butter is nutty-smelling. Instant flavor booster.

Then, I swapped out some of the flour for cocoa powder to give the cookies just a little chocolate magic. I personally cannot resist the combination of warming spices and chocolate. Finally, I added the zest of one orange just for that citrus zing that brings so many baked goods to life.

And voilà! You have an entirely different recipe just by modifying a few ingredients.

And so let's begin this holiday season with a new recipe based on a very old one. It's not the recipe that's in JOY, but it may just be a new classic.

Other articles you might enjoy: Molasses Ginger Cookies, Thumbprint Cookies, Viennese Crescents

Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Makes about 20 to 30 cookies depending on the size and shape of your cookie cutters

In a medium saucepan, melt:
           1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
Brown the butter over medium heat until it is fragrant and the milk solids are a deep golden color, about 5 minutes. Combine the brown butter in a bowl with:
           1/2 cup sugar
           1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

Beat with an electric mixer or a wooden spoon until the mixture is just slightly warm or cool to the touch. Add and beat to incorporate:
           Zest of 1 orange
In a large bowl, whisk together:
           1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
           1/2 cup sifted cocoa powder
           1/2 teaspoon baking soda
           1/2 teaspoon salt
           1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
           1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
           1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat to blend everything together. If the dough seems wet and is not pulling together into a ball, add flour a tablespoon at a time, beating until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough seems dry, you may add:
           1 egg yolk
to moisten the dough and bring it together.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead 3 or 4 times on the counter, until smooth and pliable. Wrap well and refrigerate until dough is thoroughly cool. (The dough can be prepared several days in advance or frozen.)
After refrigerating, if the dough feels too soft to roll out, work in a tiny bit more flour. If it is stiff, let it warm up for 10 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets.
Working with 1 portion of the dough at a time, roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies using any cookie cutter you like and arrange about1 1/2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.
You may re-roll dough scraps once more and cut more cookies from them.
Bake, one sheet at a time, until the edges of the cookies have just barely darkened, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool completely and decorate with:
           Royal Icing (see recipe below)


Royal Icing
Makes about 1 cup

*Note: You can also make this icing in the microwave, if desired. Simply microwave on high until the mixture reaches 160°F on a thermometer (it should not exceed 175°F), 30 to 60 seconds.
Alternatively, you may opt not to cook this icing. Simply beat the egg white with 1 to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar until thick. Obviously, this method does not ensure the safety of the egg whites

Stir together in the top of a double boiler until thoroughly combined:
           1 large egg white
           1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Place over simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160°F.
Add and beat on high speed until the icing is cool and holds stiff peaks:
           2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, or as needed
If the icing is not stiff enough, add more sugar.
Color, if desired, with liquid, powdered, or paste food coloring; the color will intensify as the icing stands. The icing can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days; press a piece of wax or parchment paper directly against the surface to prevent drying. The icing can be rebeaten if necessary. To pipe, use a small pastry bag fitted with a fine tip, or cut off the corner of a sealable plastic bag or the tip of a parchment paper cone.

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The butter gets much better after a 30-minute rest in the refrigerator.

Trim and clean:
     6 ramps, scallions, or spring onions
Cut the greens off of the white...