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The Flavor of Things Past

There happen to be a few perfectly good recipes for ginger cookies in the Joy of Cooking. To add another to the repertoire may seem fruitless and redundant, but I am willing to take that chance for this recipe. Mothers possess a magical gift, which no celebrity chef, food guru, or culinary scientist can replicate. This gift is the ability to make food better than it can possibly be.

Because we attach importance to memory and link memory and the emotions we were experiencing at the time, that four-layer chocolate cake made from a box mix and love that Mom made for your birthday every year is the best chocolate cake you can remember eating no matter how many high-end, gourmet slices of chocolate cake you have consumed since. They don't taste as good as when she made it. This may seem irrational, but try asking your friends and family members if there is one thing in particular that their mother (or father) made that no one else's recipe can rival. Be it rice pudding, buttermilk biscuits, or lasagne, mother's command over a particular handful of recipes is inexplicably powerful.

One recipe from my childhood whose deliciousness cannot be usurped by any other is my mother's Molasses Ginger Cookies. Perfectly crisp, not too sweet, and as simple as all cookies should be, these deep brown lovelies are beyond perfection with a cup of strong coffee. 

Molasses Ginger Cookies
About 28 3-inch cookies

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment. Melt in a small saucepan and let cool to room temperature:
                  ½ cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
In a medium-sized bowl, combine:
                  1 cup all-purpose flour
                  ½ cup whole wheat flour
                  1 cup sugar
                  1 teaspoon powdered ginger
                  ½ teaspoon cloves
                  1 teaspoon baking soda
                  ½ teaspoon salt

                  Melted and cooled shortening
                  1 egg
                  ¼ cup unsulphured molasses
Fold in: 
                  ¾ cup rolled oats
Fill a small bowl with:
                  ¼ cup granulated sugar
Roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheets, leaving two inches between each ball. Dip the bottom of a two to three-inch drinking glass or bottle into the bowl of sugar. Press the glass down on each ball of dough to flatten it, dipping the bottom of the glass in the sugar before pressing each cookie. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for two minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.


Olivia's picture

This is good.
Cathy's picture

Can butter or coconut oil be subbed for the vegetable shortening? Also, what would happen if you were to use non unsulphered molasses? I am in the UK and it is hard to find so generally use black treacle. Thanks.
meg's picture

Hi Cathy--Yes, you can substitute melted butter or coconut oil for the shortening. The shortening is included in the recipe to achieve a certain texture, but butter or another fat will not hurt anything. Just fyi, shortening is 100 percent fat, while butter is only about 82 to 86 percent fat (although you may have some higher quality butters in the UK that have a higher butterfat content). So, when a recipe calls for shortening and you want to replace it with butter, you may want to use a smidgen more. However, coconut oil would probably be perfect here. As for the molasses, black treacle will work fine, as would sorghum syrup or even a dark maple syrup. The flavor may be slightly different, but they will still be delicious!
Cathy's picture

Hi, Not sure of the butterfat content of most butter here. Most, or all of the spreadable ones have some sort of oil in them to stop them going hard, but I don't usually buy that type. We have some fantastic butter here, including some amazing French salted butter, with different types of sea salt. Re molasses, can you explain the different types of molasses? Blackstrap is more easily found than any other type but I believe that it is the same as treacle. How would a recipe be affected by using blackstrap instead of unsulphered for example? I would love a good recipe for a gingerbread cake if you have one, the old fashioned kind that you can serve with whipped cream or lemon sauce, made in a square pan. Thanks!
meg's picture

Cathy, Blackstrap molasses is the darkest form of molasses--it is the most caramelized. Sulphured molasses is also very dark but has some bitter undertones that a lot of people dislike (this is due to a sulphuring process--sulphured molasses is made from immature sugarcane and needs a preservative added to it to make it shelf stable). Unsulphured molasses is made from mature sugarcane and does not tend to be bitter. Sorghum molasses (to further complicate things) is made from a variety of sugarcane called sorghum--it ranges from being honey-colored to being just as dark as dark molasses. It is very sweet, with no bitterness, and it is commonly made in communities in the rural American South. For the purposes of this recipe, blackstrap molasses will be fine. You simply want a dark-colored sugarcane product. As for the gingerbread, I have just the recipe. Stay tuned!

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Reprinted with permission from Cookie Love by Mindy Segal (Ten Speed Press). Copyright (c) 2015.

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