I have a quirky habit that most people don’t even notice, but when they do notice me doing it, they kinda look at me like I’m a weirdo. I'm sure it does seem weird, but this habit saved my recipe from certain destruction this weekend!
I smell my food. And my drinks. And just about all of my baking ingredients before I use them (barring flour, sugar, and salt because, well… I’m just not THAT weird).
I really love the way modern alimentation smells, and I use scent as a way of prepping my tastebuds for the awesomeness that’s about to happen (or to prevent them from being absolutely terrorized if there is even a hint of banana in the air). Whenever I edit my Baking and Boozing videos, one of the first things to go is the footage of me sniffing absolutely everything, and subsequently asking my guest if they, too, had sniffed whatever I just sniffed. To which the answer is always no, and then I ask them to smell it and we talk about how good things smell. I can’t stop myself!
It’s one of my favorite senses, and I’ve gotten really good at it. I have a dear friend who was a barista at the big name coffee shop, and she once mentioned to me that she could smell two cups of coffee and identify which one had sugar in it. This was in my pre-pastry chef days, so I was flabbergasted about this talent at first, but she told me that I just needed to try it and I would be able to do it, too. And she was right! From there I became more and more curious about the information I could gain from smelling things (it definitely got weird), but now it’s just a habit of mine to sniff my food/drink/ingredients before the first bite/sip/usage in my recipe.
Which is how we got to “almost” gingerbread cookies for this week’s dessert. My gingerbread cookie recipe consists of normal cookie ingredients, plus molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin pie spice. (Just so you know, my whole post is going to be a "tip of the week" about using replacements in this recipe.) So there I was, happily sniffing away at all of those amazing spices like a maniac, when I unscrewed the top of the molasses jar and dove right in - nose first.
As I quickly ripped the jar away from my face I thought, “well THAT’S not what molasses is supposed to smell like!”
That’s when I realized that it’s been TWO years since I bought that jar of molasses, not one. I guess 2020 was such a waste of time that I forgot it even exists. Also molasses goes bad, which is somehow something that I forgot exists, too. Side note: Typically I go through my ingredients so quickly that spoilage is not something I worry about. However, I don’t use molasses often, so I guess it’s understandable that this happened.
Not one to be deterred, I quickly started researching baking replacements for molasses. Fortunately, maple syrup is right at the top of the list, so I grabbed my little step stool and rummaged around on the top shelf for the maple syrup.
I don’t use maple syrup for anything either (breakfast isn’t really a thing in my household) so it lives on the top shelf right next to the molasses. Of course, the first thing I did when I found the maple syrup was to pop the top off and take a deep whiff.
What on earth!? Honestly, I can’t even remember what I bought the maple syrup for in the first place, nor can I remember when that purchase actually happened, so we may be looking at a years-old bottle of maple syrup. Who knows?! All I know is that this bottle went directly in the trash, too.
Next up on the list of replacements was treacle, of all things! Do you remember last year’s scary adventures with treacle? I knew I didn't use the entire can of treacle when I made that Frankenstein of a cake, but given the way things had been going with my ingredients, I was very wary of it as I searched for it. Turns out, I tossed the treacle out a while ago because I didn’t think I’d ever use it again and didn’t want it to spoil. Yay, me! I’m 1 for 3 on the ingredients management this week.
But now I was down two different types of inverted sugar and still needed to figure out a replacement for the molasses. Back to the research I go! Next on the list of molasses replacements was honey. I knew I had fresh honey from a recent road trip I took with the Man Candy™. We stopped at a roadside stand for some avocados and fresh fruit when we happened across a jar of avocado honey and decided to try it out. Now, something that this article mentioned a few times is that if you use certain molasses replacements, such as treacle or honey, the color of your recipes will be much lighter than it would typically be if it were made with molasses. Fortunately, avocado honey is extremely dark for a honey, so even though my recipe is much lighter than my usual gingerbread, it’s still pretty dark.
Plus, brown sugar contains molasses, so it’s not like the cookie dough was completely devoid of molasses. But since there is a deficit in the amount that should be there, I feel like I can’t entirely call this batch gingerbread cookies. They’re almost gingerbread cookies.
I made these cookies for a weekend in wine country. My Man Candy™ and his global crew of running nut jobs (no offense!) all signed up for a wine tasting half marathon that I actually considered signing up for before the reality of how much I hate running hit me and I decided to only join them for the wine tasting after-party instead of participating in the torture fest, too.
Some of this crew have knowledge of my baking talents and made it known that they were excited about whatever I baked for this weekend (it’s very frowned upon if I show up anywhere empty handed these days).
Unwilling to disappoint anyone, I baked the cookies during my work from home day, and decorated them when I got up the next morning, pre-caffeine. I’m actually rather impressed with myself that I was able to pipe something even remotely resembling Christmas trees and snowflakes without the aid of my favorite legal addictive stimulant. It was touch-and-go for a minute there, but I pulled it off, even if all of my Christmas trees are comically lopsided.
The piping was done with French buttercream and the snowflake designs were coated with silver coarse sugar sprinkles, while the Christmas tree designs were a mixture of chocolate sprinkles (jimmies) for the tree trunks, and red, green, and white nonpareils for the tree decor. The sprinkles really make all the difference with these cookies.
Additionally, I decided to make my super amazing brown butter, cinnamon, and cream cheese frosting (henceforth to be known as BBCC frosting) so I could make some cookie sandwiches. #NoRegrets
They’re freaking amazing, if I do say so myself.
And there you have it - my almost gingerbread cookies that are "sleighing it" on the Christmas baking scene/wine country run course this weekend.
Happy eating, y’all!
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