i think a great recipe is made even greater if it has a history of good memories behind it. this is one of those recipes.
‘the enigmatic ginger crunch’ recipe came into my life when TDHH and i were exploring the maritimes this summer. a spate of unseasonably cold and wet weather froze and saturated our usually more rugged selves and had us neglecting our tent in favour of a warm and dry b&b. by the time we made it to lunenburg, nova scotia, we were beginning to lose hope in tourist accommodations. we had come across too many sadly dated pastel colour schemes, surfaces covered with dead-eyed porcelain dolls and bowls of synthetic potpourri (IDS was not amused). even TDHH, who has and will sleep anywhere, found the plethora of lace doilies and forced conversation with too-keen hosts eerily unpleasant. then we found ‘1775 solomon house’ (one of the oldest historic homes in lunenburg) which was, by vast leaps and bounds, the most brilliant b&b we’ve ever experienced. authentic, antique, welcoming and instantly comfortable. the host, janet, artfully curated our time in lunenburg, ensuring we found the hidden beaches and out-of-the-way bakeries. it turns out janet knows her way around the kitchen, too.
when we arrived late in the evening, we found a dainty dish of these mysteriously delicious bites of glory awaiting us. they didn’t look terribly exciting, but after one bite, i had to have the recipe.
thankfully, janet was willing to share. i learned that janet is a former cafe-owner/chef from saskatchewan, who received the recipe by way of a new zealander customer of hers who traded it for a recipe of janet’s which she coveted. going back a little further, i’ve read that the recipe originated many years ago in scotland and made its way to new zealand with what must have been a very discerning, food-loving scot. such a convoluted path!
so now for the enigma explanation. when i first tasted these, i was sure that they involved browned-butter. others have queried cardamom or lavender. no one who has tried them (in my presence, anyway) has correctly identified the flavour. it turns out it comes simply from powdered ginger, butter and a splash of vanilla.
like most of the recipes i return to again and again, these ingredients create a fabulous flavour that belies their simple origin. the combination of the thin ginger shortbread base and the smooth, subtly gingery fudge topping is a knock-out. people have literally swooned when tasting them, and i daresay you will, too. you may even taste the maritime architecture and the atlantic air.
• • •
ginger crunch, aka kiwi crunch (i found the same recipe in gourmet, december 1999)
for the base:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 or so pieces
for the topping:
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 tbsp lyle’s golden syrup (corn syrup will do in a pinch)
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla
•sift the base ingredients together (i just whisk them) and blend in
the butter until it resembles coarse meal (i use my stand mixer). press evenly into a greased and parchment-lined 9×13″ metal pan (i learned that part the hard way – definitely line your pan). bake at 350°f for 15-25 minutes until golden and crisp (i know that’s a wide range in terms of time – what it means is don’t take your eyes off of it after the 15 minute mark – it browns quickly).
•just before the base is done (about 5 minutes if you can time it), melt the topping butter in a heavy pot, then whisk in the remaining ingredients until smooth. bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring, for about 30 seconds. remove the golden base from the oven and pour the topping over-top, tilting the pan to cover evenly. cool in the pan on a rack and cut into small squares or rectangles while cooling (for me, i wait 5-6 minutes so they’re cool enough that the topping is starting to set but not so cool that they crack). cool completely in pan.
yields about 2-5 dozen, depending on size cut. squares keep at least 3 days in an airtight container.