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Experimentation, rebellion, and ginger molasses cookies

Working at a cooking school that emphasizes “no recipe/follow your inner chef-style cooking” and going to professional culinary school classes has me fascinated by the ways recipes are developed and written. I don’t know where we’d all be without recipes to guide the way we cook, but I’ve started to see how limiting and confusing recipes can be. No wonder people are overwhelmed and confused by cooking, when recipes state things as law and generally don’t explain why you’re doing things that way or what other options you have. Of course I understand that cookbooks wouldn’t sell very well if recipes included all of that information and blossomed to paragraphs upon paragraphs of notes and instructions – but I do think that recipes as written can be sort of counter-productive in teaching people how to cook. (And full disclosure, here: I’m about to give you two recipes. Part of the problem, I am.)

All this is to say that I’ve started to notice a bit more rebellion and a bit more of the scientific process – two generally dormant parts of my personality – coming out in the kitchen. As I understand more about the potential techniques and options that can go into the making of a cookie, for instance, I start to question the instructions of various recipes. I start to wonder what would happen if I took the baking technique of one recipe and added it to the dough of another. Or what would happen if I chilled the dough. Or if I added a bit more spice. And then I start to experiment.

Ginger_cookies

And then suddenly I’ve made twelve batches of ginger molasses cookies in ten days (no joke), each slightly different from the other with regard to a specific variable of ingredients or baking technique. Because I’m convinced that through this scientific process I can discover the world’s best ginger molasses cookie. Or if not the world’s best, then at least “the one,” what I’ve started calling those recipes that make it into my quickly-growing portfolio of repeatable go-to options.

Ginger_dough

So I baked four different ginger molasses cookie recipes, in sub-batches of varying levels of spice, on various types of baking sheets (buttered, silicone liner, and parchment), and with various chilling times on the dough.  And then I tasted them all. (And then I tasted them some more.)

And I did it! I found “the one.”

Actually, that’s a lie.

I found “the two.”

Ginger_cookies_2

When it came down to it I had trouble deciding between what ended up being two pretty different cookies (well, as different as you can get when comparing two chewy ginger molasses cookies). The funny thing is, the recipes are almost identical – but the fat source and the chilling times make a world of difference. Different flavors, different thicknesses, different textures.  When it comes down to it, the cookie you make might depend solely on what sort of fat you have in the house and how long you want to wait for the dough to chill before baking. I want you to have the power of that choice, when there are two such amazing cookie opportunities available to you.

Ginger_cookies_3

Recipe #1, with butter (top in the photo above): There’s a pretty distinct butter flavor in these cookies, which I love (big surprise). They’re also a bit smokier with a more distinct molasses flavor. They spread farther (and are thus much thinner) and darken more than the other recipe, and beware that if you let them bake for even 45 seconds too long then can start to get a bit overdone around the edges. Take them out when the cracks in the top are developed and let them cool on the baking sheets for at least a few minutes.  These cookies are soft and chewy all the way through, with super-chewy edges and super-soft interiors (which makes them not as easily shippable or transportable as the other version, unfortunately).

Recipe #2, with oil (bottom in the photo above): These cookies are thicker and a little brighter than the others, with crispy edges and soft middles. The flavor isn’t quite as smoky or molasses-y as the other, which is funny considering they contain the same amount of molasses.  And to be completely honest with you, if you don’t want to wait to chill this dough you can bake them right away. I think the flavor and texture develops nicely when chilled overnight, but they’re still pretty tasty with no chill at all. (That can’t be said for recipe #1 – the chilling is really important to firming up the dough so it can be rolled and baked.) I can also verify that recipe #2 cookies make fantastic ice cream sandwiches, since they’re soft and easy to bite into but won’t fall apart when you bite in. In fact, in order to best provide you with that statement I have eaten two such ice cream sandwiches today. And one yesterday. Don’t tell.

Ice_cream_sandwich

Ginger molasses cookies #1, with butter
Adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter

Makes approximately 30 cookies

  • 2 cups (9 oz.) flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled, plus more unmelted butter for greasing baking sheets
  • 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz.) sugar, plus more for rolling the dough
  • 1/4 cup dark, unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 egg

– Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

– Stir together the butter, sugar, molasses, and egg in a large bowl, mixing until smooth. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing together after each addition.

– Cover the surface of the dough with wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm but not hard, about 30-45 minutes. If you want to chill longer, make sure you leave the dough out to warm up a bit for 20 minutes or so.

– Preheat the oven to 375F. Moderately grease baking sheets with butter.

– Shape the dough into approximately 1-inch balls with your hands or an ice cream scoop. Roll each ball in a plate or bowl of granulated sugar, to coat.

– Place the cookies at least 2.5 inches apart on the greased baking sheets (I baked only six per half-sheet pan).

– Bake the cookies until the tops develop cracks, about 8 to 10 minutes. Rotate and switch the pans in the oven halfway through the baking time. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before  transferring to cooling racks.

Ginger molasses cookies #2, with oil
Adapted from a recipe from my mother-in-law, who says it originally came from Jan Edmonson and that she used to sit in their kitchen listening to The Beach Boys on the radio while making these cookies

Makes approximately 30 cookies

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for rolling the dough
  • 1/4 cup dark, unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 egg

– Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

– Stir together the oil, sugar, molasses, and egg in a large bowl, mixing until smooth. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing together after each addition.

– Shape the dough into approximately 1-inch balls with your hands or an ice cream scoop. Roll each ball in a plate or bowl of granulated sugar, to coat. Place sugared balls of dough on a baking sheet (or other large flat item) with parchment paper, not worrying about separation between the cookies. Refrigerate overnight (at least 6 hours) before removing to bake.

– Preheat the oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

– Place the cookies at least 1 inch apart on the lined baking sheets. Bake the cookies until the tops develop cracks, about 15 minutes. Rotate and switch the pans in the oven halfway through the baking time. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before  transferring to cooling racks.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Okay… I’m going to have to try these. I LOVE molasses ginger cookies.

    February 24, 2012
  2. So informative, Bowen! Wish I could’ve been around for all the trial batches. :) I’m excited to try these out; I love ginger molasses cookies!

    February 27, 2012

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