Yes, it is possible to cream butter and sugar by hand. These delicious cookies bite back with the assertive flavors of ginger, molasses and black pepper.
I was looking for a holiday cookie that would challenge the kids in my "food appreciation" classes but still come out of the oven quick enough that they could actually try some before their hour was up.
Spice cookies fit the bill perfectly. But since we try not to use electric gadgets in our classes--the better to give our kids a solid grounding in the basics--it was a bit of a challenge to follow the recipe using only hand tools and manual labor. The object is to roll the finished batter into balls, dust them with sugar, then bake them just long enough that the tops crack but the interior is still a bit soft.
To make 2 dozen:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack placed in the middle. Grease a large baking sheet (you probably will need to bake two batches).
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (preferably a lower-protein flour such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted, room-temperature butter
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup molasses
Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, pepper and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
Beat butter with brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy (this can be done by hand with a stiff spatula or in a blender). Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add molasses (grease inside of measuring cup to ease cleanup) and beat until incorporated, scraping sides of bowl. Add flour mix and beat, scraping sides of bowl, until everything is thoroughly blended and a uniform dough is formed.
Place 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a bowl. Have another bowl with water nearby to moisten hands. Scoop a heaping tablespoon mixed dough and, with moistened hands, shape dough into a ball. Drop into sugar and dust all over. Place on greased baking sheet, spacing balls at least 2 inches apart.
Bake until cookies are browned and still puffy, the edges have begun to set and the centers are still soft, about 11 minutes. The tops of the cookies will be cracked in random patterns. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack.
These cookies pair extremely well with a lively glass of red wine, but your child doesn't need to know that.