High Country Baking column: Ginger-oat squares
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Have you ever traveled to England’s Lake District? It’s in this picturesque countryside, with beautiful gardens and quaint villages, that I discovered a delightful little cookie, Grasmere Gingerbread, (named after one of the towns in the area). We wouldn’t categorize it as gingerbread in the United States; it’s more like a moist, chewy, not-too-sweet shortbread, with the slight crunch of oatmeal and a strong ginger flavor. The taste and texture can prove addictive; I kept returning to them for one more nibble.
I began my attempts to duplicate the memorable morsel as soon as we got home. After combining ideas from several recipes, adding a few twists of my own and making adjustments for altitude, I came up with these ginger-oat squares.
They are very similar to the Grasmere cookies; the only difference is that the Brit’s version has a more distinct taste of butter, due to their impressive and, I think, unmatchable dairy products.
I’m happy to report that the squares are very easy to make. The dough is produced entirely in a food processor and can be in the oven in about five minutes once the ingredients are assembled.
What should you keep in mind? Don’t overprocess the dough; it shouldn’t really come together but, rather, remain rough and crumbly. And, leave it that way when you pat it into the pan; resist the urge to make it smooth and pretty.
Make in an 8 inch-by-8 inch metal baking pan
Adjusted for altitude
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon cream tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 level tablespoons crystallized ginger
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (one stick plus one tablespoon)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, letting it hang over the edges of the pan on two opposing sides so you can use it as handles when removing the baked cookies.
If using regular foil, grease and flour it or spray it with a vegetable oil-flour mixture. Set the pan aside.
Put the whole-wheat and the unbleached all-purpose flours, the sugar, the oats, the ground ginger, the cream of tartar, the baking soda, and the crystallized ginger in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are well combined, which takes about 10 short pulses with my machine. Cut the nine tablespoons of cold butter into at least nine pieces and add them to the bowl of the processor. Pulse until the mixture is uniformly moistened and crumbly. It should progress from looking like dry meal to evenly moistened pieces of dough about the size of raisins. Stop pulsing a good bit before the dough smooths out or forms a ball on top of the processor blade. You want it to have a rough texture.
Dump the dough out of the food processor into the prepared pan. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, gently spread and pat it until it is level and even. Don’t press hard as you do this and don’t try to smooth the dough; it should have a surface that remains slightly pebbly. Bake until the top turns a pale golden brown and the entire top is set but not hard. This takes about 16-20 minutes in my oven.
Remove the pan from the oven. If the edges of the dough have puffed up (making shoulders), gently push them down with your fingers or the back of a spoon so they are even with the rest of the baked dough. Let the shortbread cool in the pan on a rack until it is warm, but no longer hot. Carefully cut it into squares and use the aluminum foil handles to lift them out of the pan. Serve them warm or at room temperature. Once they are completely cool, you may store them, well-covered, for three days or freeze them for a month.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.