When I was young, my grandmother lived in New York City, and every year she would descend upon us for the holidays bearing bags of exotic goodies—dried golden raisins and dates, softball-sized apples and pears, nuts in the shell, candies, cakes and cookies.
The baked goods usually came from a bakery/restaurant on East 57th Street near Fifth Avenue called Robert Day-Dean's (from what I read online, they appeared to have been high-society caterers in the 1930s through 1950s, but what did I know about high-end anything then?), and I remember all the pastries from there very fondly. The cookies in particular were works of art, and I wish now that I had taken pictures of them.
I had a love/hate relationship with their ginger cookies. They were thin, crisp, and very spicy—almost too much so, to my innocent young tongue. But ever since I've been trying to find a recipe that came anywhere close to them in flavor, and this one is the closest I've found. You'll see why when you look at the variety and quantities of the spices.
Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
4 tsp ground ginger
4 tsp ground cinnamon
12 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp finely ground black pepper (!!!)
12 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and molasses.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt. Stir into the butter mixture.
Divide the dough into thirds and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Chill for about an hour.
Roll the dough 1/8 inch thick between two pieces of wax paper. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheets and decorate with whatever you like (if you want to frost them, wait until after they're cooked). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until crisp but not too dark. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about six dozen cookies, depending on size. (You could easily reduce the recipe in half.)
-- Sifting all the dry ingredients might be challenging—I'm lucky I found a large hand-cranked sifter at a flea market.
--If the pepper appears too coarse, you can make it finer in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder (assuming you don't have a separate spice grinder, which I don't).
--Roll the cookies while they're still cold, or they'll be too soft to transfer to the cookie trays easily. Using wax paper really helps here, because you don't have to add more flour to keep the cookies from sticking, which often makes the cookies tougher.
--The cookies are fairly soft after they're baked, and stay that way (at least, the ones that have survived more than a day are!).
They're delicious, and pretty close to my cherished Dean's cookies. I think it's the pepper.