Thursday, September 28, 2017

Chestnut Gingerbread Cookies

Swapping out some of the usual flour for nutty chestnut flour makes for an incredibly easy-to-use dough that results in a seriously delicious gingerbread.
 

Chestnut Flour Gingerbread

Confession: I started making dough for holiday cookies weeks ago.

It wasn't because I was seeing the never-ending "only X shopping days left" memes on Facebook, nor was it because one of the kids at school was humming "Jingle Bells". Nope, making cookie dough this early is something I do every year for two good reasons: time and money. Truth is, by the time December rolls around, I'm in the throes of report card editing and submission, and some of the recipients get their gifts very early in the season. Also, I give baskets of multiple bakes, candy and canned goods every year, and come holiday season it seems like every bowl and crevice in the fridge is in use. Making dough and freezing it well ahead of time means I only have to carve out a few minutes of oven time and a couple baking sheets before getting out of Dodge and packaging - not to mention I can make my gift tags with ingredients way in advance, only cutting them out when I need to seal the bags.

The second reason is, of course, money. Butter is getting ridiculously expensive these days, and vegan products (which I use for a few of my recipients who are allergic to dairy) more so. Luckily, baking ingredients (including butter, chocolate and cream) tend to go on sale around mid-September and early October thanks to the Thanksgiving rush, so I stock up and either make dough / batter or freeze the ingredients if they're destined for fudge or truffles (two things I always make within a week of gifting). I also stock up on nuts when they're on sale during the fall and freeze similarly. Generally speaking though, all my buying and most of the making is done before the snow falls - then all I have to do is try not to be ambushed by a bag of rock hard gingerbread or sugar cookie dough when I open the freezer.

While I endeavour to make different cookies for my giftees each year (both for their sakes and mine), when I come across a recipe that gets rave reviews across the board and is just unique enough to be "me", I can't help but reprise it. Such is the case with these gingerbread cookies. I made them for the first time last holiday season as a last-minute addition to the lineup, but with the holiday craziness never got around to posting it. However, they were such a hit with everyone - ginger-heads and non - that I couldn't help but make them again.

These dark, spicy cookies have two secret ingredients: the first is cream cheese, which lends a rich and slightly tangy body to the cookies along with a tenderness not found in anything other fat. Cream cheese also works in a way similar to shortening, preventing excess spread - perfect for these as cut-out cookies. The second trick is chestnut flour, which can be tricky to find unless you have a decent Italian market (I found mine in the St. Lawrence Market downtown, since my local shops don't have it). There really is no suitable substitute for it, since the nut itself is rather unique in composition (it's not as oily as other tree nuts, nor is it as fibrous as coconut). Luckily, it is available online, and a little goes a long way - a 1 lb bag can last a few years in the freezer. The chestnuts add a sweet, slightly toasty, buttery nuance to the dough, playing off the strong cloves and nutmeg and accenting the ginger. It also helps create a surprisingly sturdy, yet tender sheet of dough perfect for making boys and girls as well as houses and (if you're a glutton for punishment) castles.

The original recipe hails from Christopher St. Onge via the LCBO Holiday 2016 magazine

Have you started your holiday planning yet? When do you start, and what are your staples each year?

Chestnut Gingerbread Cookies
Makes ~30
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup chestnut flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ cup salted butter, softened
¼ cup cream cheese, softened (not low-fat or whipped, please!)
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup maple syrup (dark amber if possible)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda and baking powder.
  2. Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Beat in spices, salt, egg, molasses and maple syrup.
  4. Add flour mixture and mix well.
  5. Cover and chill 1 hour.
  6. Heat oven to 350°F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.
  7. Roll dough no more than ¼” thick and cut into shapes.
  8. Bake until crisp but not too dark, ~10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 87.3
Total Fat: 2.6 g
Cholesterol: 12.4 mg
Sodium: 22.4 mg
Total Carbs: 16.3 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 1.6 g