Pythagorean Ginger Cookies

For the last several months, I have been working hard on getting my masters thesis written. This is a somewhat tedious activity—the research phase is essentially done, and now I have to get everything typed up all nicely. Other interests have taken something of a backseat. One of the things that I have managed to do in order to stay sane is make a lot of cookies. I have been experimenting with recipes, and came up with something pretty good this week.

The most basic of all cookie recipes is the 1-2-3 recipe. This refers to the fact that the dough consists of one part sugar, two parts fat (butter), and three parts flous. This makes a delightful shortbread, and can be infinitely varied with the addition of chocolate chips, lemon, cinnamon, and so on. However, I was feeling a hankering for a spice cookie this week—something more like a snickerdoodle—and the 1-2-3 recipe doesn’t really work for that. A proper spice cookie, in my opinion, requires a looser, airier crumb and a softer bite.

The way to alter a cookie is to adjust the ratios of sugar, fat, and flour, and after consulting a few books, it seemed to me that nearly equal ratios would be about right. After writing down a recipe, it struck me that the ratios were nearly a Pythagorean triple (three integers \(a\), \(b\), and \(c\) such that \(a^2+b^2=c^2\)). I decided to go with it, and created the Pythagorean Ginger Cookie. They turned out quite well, so I thought I might share the recipe.

Pythagorean Ginger Cookies


  • 3 parts sugar
  • 4 parts butter
  • 5 parts flour
  • baking soda
  • crystalized ginger, minced
  • ground ginger


  • Preheat the oven to about \(375^\circ\text{F}\), and line a cookie sheet (or sheets) with parchment.
  • In a mixer (or by hand), beat the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and airy. Add the ginger, and keep beating. Seriously. You want a fluffy mixture.
  • Mix in the flour and soda. I am sure that most cookbooks would tell you to mix the soda into the flour in another bowl, then mix that into the butter. I’m lazy, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Your milage may vary. Get everything mixed really well—unlike a pastry, I don’t think that it is possible to overwork this dough.
  • Form little balls of dough and drop them onto the cookie sheet. My cookies started at a diameter of no more than an inch, but you may want larger or smaller cookies. They will spread some while cooking, so leave a little space.
  • Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until they start to brown. Once they come out of the oven, let them cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer them to a cooling rack.
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