ISHPEMING, Mich. -- The most requested recipe from our kitchen, especially this time of year, is gingersnaps. We always serve them after dessert at holiday suppers, and on the sideboard for buffets, and they always get eaten up completely, even when we quadruple or sextuple the recipe. On those few occasions when we have guests and don't offer these gingersnaps, we hear nothing but complaints from people who have come to expect them. So now to get those hungry cookie monsters off our backs, and to provide readers with a taste for one of our all-time favorite things to eat, here is the gingersnap recipe once and for all. Try it and see if you don't agree that these uncomplicated cookies are just about perfect.
They come from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and we discovered them completely by accident several years ago while on a trip looking for pasties. You know pasties, don't you? They are the robust meat pies northern Michiganders eat -- whole, hefty meals of meat and potatoes and onions wrapped inside a flake-tender crust. Originally devised so miners could carry their lunch, heat it up on the end of a shovel and eat it without utensils, pasties have become something of a local passion among the descendants of the miners in the upper Midwest; there are pasty shops throughout the area.
Our favorite place for pasties is a little diner that has been around for years, first as Madelyne's, then as Lawry's Pasty Shop, and most recently as Lawry's Pasty and Pizza. But don't let the name changes confuse you. The specialty of the house is pasties, handmade and delicious, served so hot that steam fairly erupts from inside as soon as you crack the crust.
Pasties are a meal all by themselves, but of course you want a little something sweet after eating one. The cookies are unspectacular, ordinary-looking discs made with the most basic ingredients. We took a bagful of sugar cookies and gingersnaps to eat on the road after our first visit to Lawry's, and by the time we hit the Straits of Mackinac, we had resolved to get the recipe from Nancy Lawry. She obliged, telling us the gingersnaps were her grandmother's specialty. We've been making them ever since.
If you insist, you can add a fistful of raisins to the batter of these cookies, but we don't recommend it. Their charm, we contend, is their melt-in-the-mouth simplicity. As we mentioned, the recipe can be doubled, quadrupled, octupled or otherwise multiplied about as far as you want to go. We usually make big batches just to have some around. They will keep well in a cookie jar for several days (provided the cookie jar has a pickproof lock).
Makes 16 big cookies.
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 cups flour
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening and 1 cup of the sugar. Stir in egg and molasses. Stir in all remaining dry ingredients except 1/2 cup sugar. Form dough into 1-inch diameter balls and roll in remaining sugar. Place 2 to 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 12 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets until firm. Remove carefully with spatula.
Lawry's Pasty Shop, 2381 U.S. 41 West, Ishpeming, Mich. 49849; (906) 485-5589.