Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Soft molasses cookies

Soft molasses cookies
I've made the transition to fall -- even though I've still got tomatoes and green beans aplenty in the garden.

I love fall, especially fall in New England, and all the season-changing promise it brings with it: beautiful foliage, crisp apples, cool days, even cooler nights and, of course, cider.

There's something about having just one cool, crisp day -- a day in which a jacket is not optional when you go outside -- that instantly puts summer away for me and makes me focus on fall.

My taste buds seem to change instantly as well. I'm no longer craving tomato salads and lobster rolls; instead, I'm thinking about how many ways I can cram spicy sausage and kale into a casserole or hearty pasta dish.

And that's just on the savory side. When fall arrives, I say move over soft lemon cookies, we need something spicier.

Like soft molasses cookies!

These cookies are quintessentially "cookies" to me. I mean, I think if I had to pick a cookie to define cookies in a visual dictionary or to explain what a cookie is to someone from another planet, I'd pick these. The way they look, the way they taste -- simple and classic.

And understandably so, as I adapted this recipe from a vintage one from the nineteenth-century Shaker village at Sabbathday Lake, Maine. And, to me, there is nothing quite so simple and classic as the handicraft of the Shakers.

(I have a wonderful cookbook, recommended by a friend from Maine, entitled The Best of Shaker Cooking that I love and use as a go-to guide when I want a recipe for a classic dish, especially a New Englandy dish. Sadly, I don't believe is in print anymore but you can get good used copies.)

The cookies are incredibly puffy and light yet chock full of spicy molasses flavor. In the same way that my recent lemon-zucchini cookies remind me of a scone, these molasses cookies remind me of a cakey gingerbread.

The words that come to mind to describe them are homey and comforting. 

I think part of the secret is in the batter. I've never encountered it before, but one of the steps in the recipe is to incorporate alternately a flour mixture with very hot tap water. The water makes the batter silky smooth, as well as very airy when you spoon it onto the baking sheets -- which results in light, fluffy cookies.

You can certainly play with the recipe a bit. I bet that adding some raisins or orange zest would only improve it. Or maybe swap out the cinammon with pumpkin pie spice.

Anything that enhances the gorgeous fall flavor of these cookies.

As always, let me know if you wind up making this vintage recipe: the Ninj wants to hear from you.

Soft Molasses Cookies 
(adapted from The Best of Shaker Cooking by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller)

2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (note: I tried one batch using only 6 tablespoons of butter to lighten the recipe a bit and it just wasn't the same -- don't skimp here)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup hot tap water
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger and cinnamon in bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add in the egg and molasses, beating thoroughly. Add the flour mixture, alternating each addition with some of the hot water, mixing well between additions.

Drop the batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets by large spoonfuls (I use a soup spoon), giving them some space as they will spread. Sprinkle each mound with a little coarse sugar and bake for about 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

(My yield is usually about 3 dozen cookies.)


  1. Molasses cookies are my favorite! I'm definitely bookmarking this one for the holiday cookie tray. :)

  2. They would be good at holiday time, wouldn't they? Great idea, Eileen.

  3. I've transitioned to fall too. Started looking up pumpkin recipes yesterday!

  4. thansk for linking this to friday food frenzy. New member of your site now too. Love your header soo cute and original.