So many of the dessert recipes that find their way to the pages of this blog are traditional–old Scandinavian classics that have stood the test of time. But I love discovering new recipes, too, especially when they incorporate some of my favorite Nordic ingredients and flavors. Recently my friend Christy–a fellow Norwegian-American–sent me a recipe she had spotted for candied ginger-cardamom bars. I promptly printed it out and committed to baking them soon.
Cardamom, with its pungent perfume of sandlewood and a grandfather’s cologne, is one of the quintessential spices of Scandinavian baking. Its scent–earthy and exotic–conjures up childhood memories of visiting my grandparents’ midcentury home overlooking Puget Sound. Commonly used to flavor krumkaker, vaffler, cakes, and a variety of other traditional treats, cardamom holds a prominent place in the food experiences of most Scandinavians.
So while the recipe in my inbox wasn’t necessary a classic, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. But first things first: What was I going to do about the candied ginger?
I have mixed feelings about the dry, crunchy, potent nuggets that reside in a canister on grocery store shelves: all at once too strong and sweet–yet strangely addictive. Not a fan of over-processed and preservative-laden food, I set out to make my own.
Candied ginger, it turns out, is easy to make. A little time-consuming, sure, but fun. Techniques vary. Some recipes call for slicing the ginger into coins. Other instruct a matchstick shape. Some cook the ginger in a sugar syrup immediately, while others have you simmer the ginger in fresh water once or twice before cooking it in the syrup in order to mitigate some of the overpowering flavor. The latter is extra effort, but it’s worth it. The resulting candied ginger is assertive yet refined, a more balanced and sophisticated version of its packaged relative.
So much of baking depends on quality ingredients, so when making a recipe like this in which the taste of the ginger will shine, I’m happy to put in a little extra effort. Plus, I now have a bowlful of extra ginger to keep on hand for future baking. It would be a nice addition to homemade granola or even a ginger spice cake. With Christmas coming up in a couple of months, the ginger would also make a welcomed gift for a food-loving friend. Come to think of it, Christy, if you’re reading this, you might just find yourself with some homemade candied ginger soon…
Candied Ginger-Cardamom Bars Adapted from Bon Appétit by way of The Oregonian
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prep a 8-or 9-inch square baking pan by spritzing it with baking spray.
Whirl flour, sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt together in a food processor to combine, then add the butter. Pulse to work the butter into the flour, continuing until you have a course meal. Crack open the egg and beat it; add two tablespoons to the flour, reserving the rest. Pulse some more just until the dough comes together, then add the ginger, pulsing just enough to combine. Turn it out into the prepared pan and press it evenly across the bottom. Brush the top with the reserved egg.
Bake about 40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, until the top of the bars is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (it will be moist but should have no crumbs). Set the pan on a rack to cool.
When cooled, cut into 18 bars by dividing into three long rectangles and then cutting each of them into six bars. Stored at room temperature in an airtight container, these should last several days.
1 pound fresh ginger
5 to 5 1/2 cups sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
Peel the ginger thoroughly, then slice as thinly as you can. Follow the direction of the root’s growth when possible to produce coin-like shapes, but feel free to adjust the angle and slice into long, thin oval when the nubs taper down. Uniformity isn’t crucial here.
Place the ginger in a nonreactive pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Drain the water (you could reserve it for another use if you’d like) and repeat with a fresh batch of water.
Once you’ve simmered the ginger in fresh water twice, drain and return the ginger to the pan with 4 cups sugar, 4 cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. David Lebovitz says to cook until the temperature reaches 225 degrees or until the liquid’s consistency becomes like thin honey. (I allowed the syrup to boil for about ten minutes, and then considered it done–the liquid seemed thin on the spoon but had the consistency of simple syrup when I cooled a little on a spoon in order to taste it.)
Remove the pot from the heat and drain the syrup well, reserving it for another use (hot toddies or herbal tea, anyone?)
Combine the ginger slices with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar in a bowl and toss until the sugar coats the ginger. Shake off the excess sugar (David suggests reserving it for another use, such as ice cream or batter) and spread the slices onto a cooling rack to dry.
If you’re planning to make the candied ginger-cardamom bars on the same day, then you can chop the ginger after a couple of hours. Otherwise allow the slices to dry overnight.