Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Molasses Spice Cookies

I've been busy at work--I know, that is the generic excuse for every blog hiatus--but really, I HAVE been busy at work. So updates may be a bit spotty until after Christmas.  I have, however,been in the kitchen because the holidays don't wait until life makes it convenient to bake cookies.

I was going to blog on Friday but given the events of that terrible day, writing about food didn't feel right. I considered writing a post about my feelings on the various issues that have been connected to the subject of school violence. Yet it felt so forced: "gun control...and cookies."

I do have to say, though, that there is one thing that did annoy me about the media and social media coverage of the event, and that is the well-meaning reference to the victim as 'little angels.' 

People, these were kids, not angels.  I'm not a mom, but I can tell you--I know lots of kids I like very much and NONE of them are angels.

Kids, even six-year-olds, are complex, thinking individuals. Yes, there is something about children that is naive and unshaped by culture that is wonderful--and can be annoying or terrible, given how it manifests itself--but children are NOT angels.

Calling the victims angels reminds me of what I always liked least about Victorian literature--those perfect little girls like Little Eva and Little Nell who you just know are going to bite the dust of some vague, wasting illness within three paragraphs of meeting them. A 'little angel's' death is inevitable--they are just too good for this world to live. And there was nothing inevitable about the death of these all-too-real children.

The coverage I liked best came from NPR.  If you want a good read, I strongly suggest you read this, which is a biography of the some of the victims of the shooter. If nothing else, it is a reminder of how strong even a very young child's personality can be, like Emily Parker, who is described as "bright, creative and always willing to try new things, except food."  Almost immediately, you can picture the girl in your head--the frustrating kind of kid who is willing to help PREPARE the food and wants to know why it is made the way it is made, but won't eat anything but Wonder Bread, Skippy creamy peanut butter, and grape jelly day after day.

However, even when things are rough it's nice to go back in time and try some old favorites.  I'll wager if you asked someone what his or her favorite cookie might be, the response won't be 'molasses.'  Molasses is kind of a 'grandma' cookie flavor, and another interesting NPR piece on molasses cookies revealed that even an attempt to recreate an early 20th century molasses cookie was not pleasing to our 21st century taste buds, because our preferences for sweetness over spice have changed so much.  But because we cling to traditions--even if they are not our own traditions, for I never ate a molasses cookie until I was an adult--I decided to make them this holidays season. I loved them, as did the (adult) recipients, but some adventurous kids would like them as well.

I strongly advise using shortening for these cookies, as molasses cookies do tend to spread.  These are great for holiday cookie baskets, because they are easy to veganize.  Make one batch for the vegans on your list, another for everyone else.  I made two batches with eggs, one with flaxseed, and there was no discernible difference between the two versions.

I would like to say that this is the type of cookie that young Emily would have liked, but I doubt it. It is a strongly flavored, rich-tasting cookie and from her description, she strikes me as more of a sugar cookie or Oreo kind of girl. But perhaps with time, she may have learned to appreciate molasses cookies.  We will never know.

Molasses Spice Cookies

3/4 cup vegetable shortening (I used Earth Balance Shortening)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 beaten egg or 1 tablespoon flaxseed and three tablespoons of water
1/4 cup mild, unsulfured molasses

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspons salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger

White, granulated sugar for rolling


1. Using a hand or stand mixer, mix the shortening, sugar, egg (or egg substitute), and molasses together.

2. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. 

3. Incorporate the wet and dry mixtures.  Chill overnight.

4.  Scoop mixture out into balls, rolling in white granulated sugar before putting them on parchment-lined baking sheets  approximately 2 inches apart (cookies will spread somewhat). Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes at 375F.

5. Remove from oven when cookies start to 'crack' and 'crinkle.'
That's the dog's dish on the floor.  And yes, she did get a cookie that I ACCIDENTALLY dropped on the floor.


  1. My frustration with people in times like this is the sheer amount of misinformation, and political posturing that explodes on my Facebook feed. People just can't seem to focus on what really matters, that people, children have died. Instead it's just a means to try and sway opinion one way or the other or simply let everyone know where you stand. Being an argumentative person, I find I have to stop myself from replying, lest I offend someone.

    I've never made anything using molasses, other than gingerbread (which was just the past weekend), and I do enjoy the flavour as long as it's not overpowering (which I found out the hard way). I could definitely see dropping some butterscotch chips in these, for that hit of creamy, rich sweetness. Mmmm.

  2. @Adam--yes, events like these do become cultural Rorschach tests of people's beliefs--the project onto them what they want to see, and sadly the real, human loss of the events are often forgotten. The victims--adults and children alike--were people, not symbols, and should be remembered as such.

    The idea of butterscotch in these chips really intrigues me, and I might have to make them again! Raisins, white chocolate, caramel chips are also ideas I'm entertaining...

  3. Although I keep hearing that this is the event that will make us get serious about gun control, I feel like this is the event that shows that we won't ever have any kind of rational discussion about gun control. As long as there are people who are less worried about dead children than they are about being able to buy whatever kind of gun they want, there's no reasoning to be done. I'm staying out of it on social media because that way lies madness.

    Just a couple of hours ago, I put two bottles of molasses in the trash. Because I was born in the Year of the Rabbit, my sister always gives me rabbit-themed items for Christmas and I feel it would be rude to tell her to stop even though there are only so many things having to do with rabbits that I actually would want to have and she exhausted those options roughly 30 years ago. Hence, the two bottles of Brer Rabbit molasses she gave me maybe seven or eight years ago, which have sat in my cupboard untouched all those years. I assumed it had expired ages ago, but he surprising thing was that when I checked the "Best By" date, it said 2011. I could have been having gingerbread all this time!

  4. @Flurrious--I agree that people will make of this incident what they will--an admittedly unscientific poll of my FB feed yielded everything from: "this is why we need gun control" to "I'm glad I have a carry permit so I can take out anyone that messes with me." Other than posting one or two news articles I liked, I tried to stay out of the fray, because if I responded to every status update, then I would have no time to work, blog, or do anything useful...

    That's hilarious about your sister--my stepmother similarly has a baffling habit of getting me a fluffy sweater every year with dangly, frilly bits that bears no resemblance to the turtlenecks and plain cardigans I favor. Some people seem to view gift giving as a private joke they are telling to themselves...either that or they hope that if they keep giving people the same type of thing, eventually they will wear out the recipient...