Even a pretty wacked out Ophelia managed to keep her spice cabinet in order. And how did she begin?: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember." Ginger makes a cameo appearance in Shakespeare, too, though not in Ophelia's dotty, dirty monologues. He called it race (from the Portuguese raices or root), and so helped create yet another modern word: racy.
Taste Everything Once is hosting Sugar High Friday this month, with the theme A Recipe for Love, enticing us to cook to (ahem) inspire our lovers. When creating a dessert designed to encourage a racy night to remember, rosemary and ginger are the obvious choices.
This dessert was certainly a labor of love. I decided to candy the ginger myself, which turned out to be a massive undertaking. After (four!) days of candying, there was another day of baking, followed by an overnight cooling and an early morning ganaching (get your mind out of the gutter--ganache is chocolate frosting, you dog).
The homemade candied ginger is good. It's hotter than storebought, which I like. And I'm storing it in its own syrup rather than rolling it in sugar, which I also prefer. But dear sweet Saint Valentine, making the stuff was an obscene amount of work! Unless you are insanely enterprising, or as dumb as I am, you'll probably want to skip the home candying and just buy a packet of candied ginger (or better, a jar of Canton ginger in syrup at an Asian grocery).
The shortbread and ganache, by contrast, are swimmingly easy and winningly delicious. These two little recipes are also quite versatile. Take out the ginger and rosemary, toss in a little vanilla and you have great plain shortbread. (Note: I used to be shortbreadphobic. The dicing of butter seemed scary. But melting is no problem in the age of the food processor, so get to it) Use the ganache for cupcakes, tortes, and cheesecake topping. I've even poured it over a Betty Crocker box cake, with great results. The ganache was an afterthought, because things just didn't seem Valentine-y enough without chocolate. Chocolate, of course, has long been honored as the raciest food of all.
Rosemary Ginger Shortbread
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a food processor, combine and pulse until well-blended and lump-free:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (a bit less if your ginger is heavily sugared)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, very finely minced
Finely chop and set aside:
1/2 cup candied ginger
Dice into small cubes:
2 sticks very cold butter (1/2 pound)
Quickly toss the ginger and butter on top of the flour mixture in the food processor, and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. I'm constitutionally unable to resist the temptation to pulse one time too many, at which point the whole thing congeals into a sticky, unmanageable ball of dough. It still tastes good, it's just a bit more a pain in the ass and the butter sometimes misbehaves. Learn from my mistakes: Exercise restraint with the food processor controls.
Dump the dough into a 9x9ish pan, and flatten it quickly with your fingers. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top begins to color slightly. Cool. Eat straight up, or cover with chocolate ganache.
Makes 12 big chunks, or 24 narrow bars.
Simplest. Recipe. Ever.
Combine in a small saucepan over low heat:
3/4 cup heavy cream
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
(optional) 1-2 Tablespoons ginger syrup (I had some sitting in the pan on the next burner, so I threw it in. Not sure if it made a difference against all that chocolate)
Warm slowly until chocolate melts, then use a handheld (or electric) whisk to combine. The result should be smooth and glossy, not grainy. If, like mine, your ganache takes on an alarming oily sheen and begins to separate, whisk more vigorously. When that fails, very quickly dump the contents of the pan into a blender and whir the hell out of it. Then pour it onto your shortbread fast, before it cools and sticks. Cool for at least 15 minutes. Serve refrigerator cold, or just below room temperature.
Four-Day Candied Ginger
(for the truly committed, or those who should be committed)
Start by peeling the ginger. I found that three mid-sized ginger roots made about 2 cups usable ginger. Peeling ginger is irritating, because each root covered with odd little nobs and protrusions. You have to make your own call about what's worth peeling, and what should just be cut off. Slice the naked ginger in 1/4 inch thick slivers.
Put the ginger in a heavy-bottomed pan, and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender. The instructions said this would take 20 minutes, but mine took about an hour. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar, bring to boil while stirring, then remove from heat. Let rest at room temperature, covered, overnight.
Leaving the lid on, bring ginger back up to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Cut half of a lemon into slices, remove the seeds, and add it to the pan. The recipe I used said to add light corn syrup here, but I used 1/2 cup honey. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and let stand covered overnight at room temperature.
Uncover, and bring the ginger to a boil yet again. Add 3/4 cup sugar. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes. Things will be getting pretty syrupy by now, and you should be stirring often. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand overnight at room temp. Begin to fret about what microbes might be colonizing your candied ginger.
In the fourth cooking, bring the mixture to a boil once more (kills germs, right?). When the ginger seems very tender and looks translucent, you're done. You can just decant the whole panful into a clean glass jar, syrup and all. Or fish the ginger out with a slotted spoon and spread it out on a rack (or wax paper) to dry. Save the syrup. When the ginger is dry, roll it in sugar to keep it from sticking to itself.
The original recipe notes: "This is either a single long-day or an intermittent four-day procedure. If you settle for one day, allow several hours between each of the four cookings." Pick your poison.