My house smells amazing right now. It’s because I’ve been experimenting with the fall spices all week: cinnamon, nutmeg, gloves, and ginger.
Smell is the sense most strongly associated with memory. When I smell ginger, I don’t think of gingerbread cookies or holiday mulled cider, but the spicy Korean dishes my mother and aunts and grandmother would cook every week. Or the ginger candies they would eat in the car on long road trips. My family loved its ginger.
Not me, though. I always resisted its spicy, medicinal taste. I was a picky eater, a willful only child, and there was no way I was going to eat something that came out of the ground looking like that, all knobbly and warty.
After several years on my own, carefully refining my taste and tasting everything I had resisted in my childhood, I found that I still didn’t like the taste of raw ginger. Still too spicy for my palate, and still strangely bitter. It reminded me of the medicinal Asian soups that my grandmother would force me to drink when I was sick, full of dried dates and spices and, if you will believe it, slivers of antlers. It reminded me of being miserable and feverish in bed.
Then I tried crystallized ginger and things changed. Boiled for nearly an hour before being saturated with sugar, nearly all of the bitterness of the ginger was gone, but a zingy spiciness remained, tamed by the sweetness of the sugar syrup. For several months, I would buy up bags of the stuff at Whole Foods before figuring out that it was so much cheaper to make it at home, and about as easy as boiling pasta.
I use it for everything in fall. Whenever a sweet recipe calls for dried ginger powder, I just grind up some of this stuff in a spice grinder and cut out a tablespoon or so of the sugar in the recipe. I eat it whenever I have an upset stomach, as ginger is said to be good for such maladies. I simmer it in spiced ciders and chop it up for carrot cakes and ginger cookies.
Adapted from Alton Brown.
Makes as much as you like.
fresh ginger root
Peel as much ginger as you intend to candy. Slice it into thin slices or dice into chunks, whichever is your preference (see Note).
Place the ginger in a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Place over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 45 minutes. Allow the ginger to cool in the water.
Drain the ginger in a colander, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger on a kitchen scale and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger, sugar, and cooking liquid to the saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue to cook, stirring, as the sugar syrup reduces significantly and begins to recrystalize, about 20 minutes. Once the sugar looks almost dry, transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and separate the pieces of ginger. Allow to cool.
The ginger and it sugar can be stored in an air-tight container for at least a month, probably longer.
The way you cut the ginger will affect its outcome. Thin slices will result in a harder, crispier candy that is sweeter all the way through. Larger chunks will be more moist and chewy, but also more spicy.
I like to store the candied ginger and the sugar that falls off it once it dries together in the same jar, but you can certainly sift out the ginger sugar from the candied ginger pieces. Use it for sprinkling on baked goods or ice cream, or in hot spiced drinks.
Music to cook by: Would That Not Be Nice [The Divine Fits // A Thing Called Divine Fits]