I may have mentioned this before, but I have to say it again: I love the holiday season. From mid-November to New Years Eve I’m all about holiday movies and baking – the latter of which is a particular joy because this is one of the few times of year I can bake gobs of goodies, then give them to people without getting funny looks. There are no “What’s the occasion?” questions or awkward “Gosh, do I have to give her something now?” moments. No, it’s just me, the local baking fanatic, who likes to give away cookies and breads to celebrate the season. It’s great.
In the past my go-to gifting items have been cappuccino chocolate chip cookies, coconut biscotti, marble molasses pound cake and apple-honey challah. These treats will certainly make appearances this year as well, but there are also new items like chocolate-chip pumpkin bread, pulla and coffee-glazed chocolate chip scones that I’m eager to give to people. The newest addition? Molasses spice cookies from foodblogger Anita Chu’s new book, the Field Guide to Cookies. I made these babies last week and took them to the office, where everyone raved about them and asked for the recipe. Since I knew I was going to be writing about Anita’s book today as part of her official blog tour, I was happily able to respond: the recipe will be online next week!
Anita is one of the most recent bloggers to turn her hobby into an official food career, and not only am I thrilled for her but the cookbook world is better for her contribution. The “Field Guide to Cookies” is Anita’s first publication and is filled with tempting recipes for things like chocolate crinkles, cowboy cookies, maple glazed cookies and peanut butter whoopie pies. Choosing which recipe I was going to share with you was very, very difficult, but I have a particular weakness for spiced cookies with that decadent, chewy texture that only molasses can bring. I will most definitely be giving tins filled with these cookies as gifts this year.
Anita’s cookies have a rich, soul satisfying flavor that comes from the combination of spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice with molasses. Molasses is a thick syrup that’s made with juice that is a by-product of turning sugarcane into sugar. Stalks of sugar cane are harvested and stripped of their leaves, then their juice is extracted by crushing them together. The resulting juice is boiled down to a syrup, and depending on how long that syrup is cooked you get different kinds of molasses:
- 1st boiling: boiling the syrup once produces “light molasses.” It is the sweetest variety and is often used as a syrup for pancakes or waffles.
- 2nd boiling: processing the syrup a second time produces medium or dark molasses.
- 3rd boiling: processing the syrup a third time results in “blackstrap molasses.” This is dark molasses that has a slightly bitter, robust flavor. It has significant amounts of vitamins and minerals, and is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Whole Foods has an interesting article about all the health benefits of blackstrap molasses here.
Molasses made from young green sugar cane is treated with sulphur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, during the sugar extraction process. However, molasses made from mature sugar cane does not require treatment. Unsulphured molasses has the best flavor and is what I used to make the delicious cookies featured in this post.
Molasses has a tragic (but fascinating) past in the United States. In 1919 an event later known as the Great Molasses Flood took place when a molasses storage tank holding over two million gallons of molasses broke. Its sticky contents came pouring into the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, traveling as fast as 35 miles per hour in waves as tall as 15 feet. Property was destroyed, 21 people were killed, and 150 people were injured. To this day residents claim that on a hot summer day the area still smells like molasses.
The Japanese call molasses kuro mitsu, which means “black honey,” while the British call it by the somewhat unappealing name of treacle. It is a Japanese import but has been used for centuries in British cooking. People used to buy it in bulk and made all kinds of cookies, puddings, gingerbread and fruitcakes with it. When molasses was imported to colonial America from the Caribbean Islands it became the most popular sweetener because it was far less expensive than refined sugar. It was added to baked beans, soups and squaw bread – not to mention all the desserts the colonists brought with them from Europe. It was also used as a glaze for meats and a sweetener for strong black coffee. In the south, molasses became a key ingredient in shoofly pie – a dessert I’ve never tried but have been curious about for some time. The name “shoo-fly pie” first appeared in print in 1926 and is often thought to originate from the fact that the molasses in the pie is so attractive to flies that they have to be constantly “shooed” away.
As Anita notes in her book, “although many cookies made with molasses and ginger in America were based on recipes from the Old World, the molasses spice cookie appears to be a uniquely American distillation – its round shape and soft chewiness are much more typical of American baking.” You can sample other cookies from Anita’s book by visiting this page, which lists all the other blogs that will be sharing recipes, or by visiting the links below. Also, one copy of Anita’s books is up for grabs in this month’s book giveaway.
- Blog Tour Schedule:
Nov. 11th – Jen of use real butter
Nov. 12th – Ari of Baking and Books
Nov. 13th – Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy
Nov. 14th – Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice
Nov. 17th – Helen of Tartelette
Nov. 18th – Veronica of Veronica’s Test Kitchen
Nov. 19th – Aran of Cannelle et Vanille
Nov. 20th – Bea of La Tartine Gourmande
Nov. 21st – Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
Molasses Spice Cookies
Reprinted with permission from the Field Guide to Cookies: How to Identify and Bake Virtually Every Cookie Imaginable, by Anita Chu. One copy of this book is up for grabs in the November giveaway!
Baking Notes: Be sure to use spices that are as fresh as possible, as much of the cookie flavor depends on them. The type of molasses used also affects the intensity and depth of flavor. Light and dark molasses are the most common types found in stores; both work well in this recipe.
- Ingredients: Makes about 4 dozen cookies
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup dark molasses
- Extra sugar for rolling
Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and spices into a bowl and set aside.
In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugars on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Add molasses and mix until combined.
Add flour mixture and mix on low just until incorporated. Cover dough and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. (Note: I found that 30 minutes worked best.) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Roll 1 1/2 inch balls of dough in the reserved sugar. Place cookies on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating cookie sheets halfway through. For crispy cookies, leave them in for another minute or two. Cool sheets on wire racks for about 5 minutes before transferring cookies directly onto wire racks with a spatula to finish cooling.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.