I’m going to show you how strange and cool this fresh ginger thing is! And how easy it is to create a small batch of homemade caramelized ginger for super special treats or for holiday kitchen gifts using just fresh ginger and sugar! Hold on to your hipster hats – ’cause we’re going to kick up that old-fashioned slow food tradition a flavor notch or two!
What a gnarly start to a charming sweet treat!
The Problem: I stumbled onto the idea of creating these exotic sweet-and-savory morsels from scratch with an invitation from the Culinary Historians of Southern California to bake a clove cake for their annual potluck banquet dinner. I was given an historic cake recipe to bake (coming next on the blog) that required a sprinkle of candied ginger on top of the cake.
BUT (confession coming), I don’t like the taste of commercially prepared candied ginger. Frankly, I have never tasted candied ginger that I didn’t want to, well, spit out! Reminds me of spicy gum drops in a bad holiday fruit cake. Too thick, too chewy (okay, rubbery), too spicy and, um, too gingery. ha! Also, I can’t say that I’m fond of granulated sugar sprinkles on anything.
Let The Sunshine In! After many kitchen experiments, we fixed everything that I think has gone wrong with candied or crystalized ginger. Repair tweaks: super-thin in twisty little strips, golden caramelized, lightly sweetened and slow-toasted to tone down the spice a tad and punch up the sweet-and-savory tang.
Now I’m pleased to sprinkle them about on my turn-of-the-century clove cake. Are they weird and cute or what?
And I have become a confirmed candied ginger convert! Yep! I’m totally hooked on these mysterious little bites! Drop a morsel in your next cup of hot tea and I guarantee your eyebrows will raise and a faint smile will appear at the corner of your lips.
Ancient and nutritious: Okay, you got me. This type of fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not actually a root (I lied in the title). It’s an underground rhizome (“rye-zome”), which means its the underground root stem of the ginger plant (aka rootstock). Each little knob holds the birth rites to a new ginger plant. Fresh ginger “root” has some interesting nutritional properties, including vitamin C, B6 and iron. Though I’m not certain about all the health claims (yeah, Henry VIII thought ginger would cure the plague), ginger has been touted over the centuries to have an amazing array of health benefits. It has been said to cure nausea, aid in digestion and help with colds, aches & pains. Some cultures even claim it for aphrodisiac powers. So it’s a sexy little devil. One thing’s for certain: when it’s fresh instead of powdered, it brings the most amazing kick to your culinary creations (in the same way that fresh-grated nutmeg is worlds better than powdered nutmeg).
Flavor Enhancer: You may have some ground ginger in your cupboard for a pumpkin spice cake or some snappy ginger wafers. But if you go fresh, you can bold-up the flavor quotient of your ginger recipes. And you can use the run-off syrup from this recipe for the-real-deal ginger ale and cool cocktails and zippy apple pies or even zippy apple pie cocktails. So — let yourself gravitate to this twisted little root in your farmers market or grocery store produce section. They’re very common nowadays in so many varieties.
Okay! Let’s DO this sweet and zippy ginger thang from scratch — right in your own charming kitchen!
1. Peel These Little Monsters: Wash and scrape a few ginger roots with a teaspoon (the skin slides right off). If the ginger is very young and totally white, you might not even have to scrape it away.
Tip: Choose ginger roots that are young, heavy and firm, light in color and not too wrinkled. If you select old ginger roots, the insides will be very stringy. Get more exotic with Hawaiian Blue-ring Ginger, pungent Thai Ginger or aromatic Austrian Ginger (or go Jamaican, Brazillian, African or Chinese).
Trim off any end pieces. Here’s our little pile of fresh ginger, all ready to roll…
2. Super slice ’em: Slice the peeled ginger using a slicing tool like a good mandoline or a food processor with a super thin-slice tool attachment. Pretend you’re creating paper-thin cucumbers slices.
Mandoline Safety Tip: When using the mandolin, I use the plastic hand guard that came with the tool. If you don’t have a hand guard, then my cheffing buddy, Cathy Arkle, advises to wrap a kitchen towel around your hand to protect it from the razor-sharp edges of the mandoline.
Overfill a medium-sized bowl with very thin slices of fresh ginger. This is about 3 cups of sliced ginger root. Pick through it a bit and use about 2 cups of your best slices for this project.
Use a sharp knife (and a little patience) to julienne the slices into little strips. Just stack the largest of the ginger pieces as best you can then cut them into even strips and adjust the uniformity of the strips a bit at the ends. No need to be perfect because they will all curl up in the end.
Tip: You can refrigerate the unused ginger for 3 weeks (patted dry, wrapped in paper towels and plastic bagged) or freeze it for 3 months or more.
Optional Overnight Pre-soak in Saltwater Brine: If you want to go old school, then add this optional pre-step. After rinsing the strips with fresh water in a colander, place them in a glass container and cover them in fresh water (perhaps 3 cups depending on the container) with a Tablespoon of sea salt or kosher salt (not iodized table salt) and let them soak overnight in the refrigerator. The next day strain the ginger strips, throw out the salted water and rinse them well in fresh water before moving to the next boiling step.
Brine note: I can’t really tell the difference between pre-brined and non-brined except that the strips get a little darker in the overnight soak and they might crisp up a little more as an end result. Let me know in the Comments if you have experience with this step. In any event, you can skip this step and move on to the next one if you’re short on slow food kitchen time.
Tip: This is a similar method to the homemade maraschino cherries that we soaked overnight in a salt water brine.
4. Make That a Double Boil:
Using a colander or strainer, rinse the ginger strips in fresh running water.
Place about 2 cups of the rinsed and sliced ginger strips in a pot and cover them with about 3 cups of fresh cold water.
Over medium-low heat, bring them to a low boil for a minute or two.
Tip: I’m using a small (1-1/2 quart) vintage enameled cast iron dish to boil up the strips of ginger. The white helps to check the color of the caramel. If you use an aluminum pot for this project, it might stain brown.
Repeat low boil: For a second time, use a colander or strainer tool, drain and dispose of the water then return the ginger strips to the pot, cover them with fresh water and bring them slowly to a boil for a minute or two.
Tip: This double boil thing is common in many varieties of home preparations. We did something similar for our homemade hibiscus syrup recipe after receiving guidance from the elders (okay, elder than me). 🙂
5. Carmel up the pot with Ginger Syrup: Drain the ginger strips of all water, return them to the pot without any water and add 1 cup of super-fine sugar. Stir and turn the heat on medium-low. We’ll slowly take these puppies to a golden soft caramel stage.
Tip: There is no water in the pot now with the ginger and sugar. When the sugar gets very hot, it will melt and make it’s own lovely ginger-flavored caramel.
Watch over your baby and cook down the sugared ginger strips on low simmer until the ginger looks like it is bathed in a golden syrup. It could take up to 20 minutes.
Important aromatherapy note: Your kitchen will fill with a heavenly aroma so invite your friends over at this stage to share the experience. 🙂
If you’re using a food thermometer, take it to a temperature of about 235 degrees.
MOLTEN HOT SAFETY CAUTION: Caramelized sugar is a molten hot juice so please be absolutely careful not to touch these little babies when they’re fresh from the boiling pot.
Here’s a closer look at our strange little beauties in their bubbling golden syrup…
6. Drain and Save the Syrup: Drain the syrup (liquid gold), reserving it for awesome cocktails or club soda flavoring, etc., with an emphasis on et cetera.
Tip: Be sure to let the syrup strain off nicely so that they are not dripping or soggy with syrup.
7. Toss the Ginger Srips in Super-fine Sugar: Use tongs or a fork to separate and drop the hot strips of ginger onto a baking sheet lined with about 1 cup of super-fine sugar. Toss the little darlings with your tools to lightly coat them.
Tip: Super fine sugar (also known as baker’s sugar) is imperative to get this particular almost glazed texture. You can spin granulated sugar in a food processor for a while to break down the grain if you don’t have super-fine sugar on hand,. Or just try it with regular granulated sugar for a different and more traditional texture.
8. Bake These Puppies: When they’re coated and cooled to room temperature, place the sugar-coated strips on a baking pan lined with aluminum foil.
Now let’s toast these little darlings in the oven until they’re just lightly golden and crisped a bit. Keep a close eye on them and bake them on a foil-lined baking pan at 250 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes (times vary by thickness, sugar coating amounts and oven variations). You may have to gently toss them half way through to ensure a rather even light golden color.
9. Cool and Store: Let them sit on the baking pan to cool for at least an hour before you fill cute little jars for kitchen gifts. When they’re room temperature you could also place them in small vintage bowls next to the sweet n salty nuts to delight your house guests.
10. Hog Them to Yourself or Share: Just know that your office is never going to let you live this down if they find out you didn’t share. 🙂
Here’s a little collage highlighting the main steps we took to make our sweet and tart little darlins.
I’m hoping I’ve inspired you to grab a few of these bruisers when you’re at the store next for a fun little kitchen DIY. Your buds are going to love you more when you give them a hug and a jar of these treats. Add a kitchen-made gift tag by clicking here. And selfie just might love selfie more — cause you’ll become — the Neighborhood Ginger Master!
Join me soon for a way-old-fashioned clove cake (sprinkled with candied ginger, of course) and for a lovely vintage spice cake made with just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon running through it (perfect with a dab of chocolate sauce and homemade vanilla ice cream). Hope to see you on Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram for fun photos and chats.
Happy vintage baking!
You may also enjoy:
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Yosemite Clove Cake (bakethiscake.com)
Fairy Gingerbread aka Homemade Graham Crackers (bakethiscake.com)
Honey Ginger Spice Cake (bakethiscake.com)
Roasted Pumpkin Spice Cake (bakethiscake.com)
Roasted Pumpkin Bread Country Style (bakethisbread.com)