Here's an easy and very tasty cookie if you're looking to do some Christmas baking. Thanks to the molasses, this is a soft, slightly chewy cookie, which softens more in the day or two after baking. Although I've seen the same basic recipe referred to as "ginger cookies," they are not crisp and ultra-spicy like gingersnaps.
Seasoned with ginger, cinnamon and cloves, they have a mellow spiced flavor, but the soft texture and sugared surface is what sets them apart for me. This is a fairly old recipe. My mom's cousin in Pennsylvania made them, and I tried them at her home when I was a kid. I went crazy for these cookies. Hoping to find the same recipe she would have used, I did a bit of research.
First of all, you absolutely should not use blackstrap molasses in these (or any other dessert), unless its harsh, bitter flavor is what you're looking for. The recipe has been around since at least the 1960s (and I imagine much earlier)--it appeared in Gourmet magazine in 1965. Back then, blackstrap molasses (originally, and still, marketed as a health food product) was probably not available in every natural food store and most supermarkets.
Today, regular old unsulphured molasses isn't so easy to come by. Grandma's brand is the most ubiquitous. It's usually kept near the maple syrup, and my grocery store seems to only stock it for the holidays. Unlike blackstrap, it has a sweet, rich molasses flavor without that icky bitterness. Perfect for baking.
When I finally got my hands on that yellow jar of Grandma's molasses (trademarked slogan: Get your Grandma out more often!), I saw that the company had conveniently printed the classic molasses cookie recipe right there on the jar. I felt sure it's what my cousin would have used, and it's identical the Gourmet recipe.
Grandma's calls for shortening (Crisco), and that's what I used. I LOVE butter, and I know that many bakers today turn their noses up at shortening. I think this is ridiculous. It makes important contributions to texture in certain recipes, like pie crust, and it's perfectly safe since there's no trans fat. There may not be any difference in texture if you substitute an equal amount of unsalted butter here, but frankly, I didn't care enough to try. I just wanted to bite into the same cookies I loved as a kid!
Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies
Adapted from Grandma's Molasses
These cookies should be soft, so watch them carefully when baking. They will look very moist and underdone, but I promise you they're fine and will set up completely while cooling. I found one recipe in my research that called for sliding the parchment paper onto the counter top to cool the cookies rather than transferring them to a cooling rack. Supposedly, this would keep them optimally soft. I'm not sure if I buy this, but I'm happy to do it. For cookie baking, I prefer insulated cookie sheets to prevent undersides from over browning.
Makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. (generous) salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
3/4 cup shortening, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the shortening, brown sugar, egg and molasses on medium high speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on lowest speed to moisten. Increase speed to medium and beat until combined, scraping down bowl as needed. Chill dough in freezer for about an hour or in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons and roll between your palms into 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll in sugar and place on baking sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart.
Fill a glass with cold water. Dip your fingertips in the water and sprinkle each ball of dough with a few drops (this makes the crinkles). Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for 8 to 9 minutes, or until cookies have spread, but still appear quite moist (they will not look "set" or done, but they are). Slide parchment onto counter top and cool completely.