Homemade molasses cookies make me think of my grandmother. When I was growing up she had a talent for making thick, soft, round cookies that were incredibly lovely and all that I wanted when I saw them in a cookie jar on her kitchen table was to slather them in icing. You see, these were plain cookies. Just molasses. No decoration. Old fashioned and proper and they offended my sugar addicted sensibilities horribly. How could a cookie possibly be a cookie if it didn’t contain chocolate or pastel frosting? So once again my picky childhood persona won out and I would avoid these plump treats like the plague.
Of course now I can appreciate flavors without the aid of a thick layer of buttercream but that doesn’t mean I’d forgotten my childhood desire to taste this particular cookie done up in such a manner. To make this experience as authentic as possible I decided that it would only be fitting to select a molasses cookie recipe from an author who lived and published in my home state of Maine.
Marjorie Standish was a long-running food columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram who spent years compiling her favorite dishes, as well as the best of her readers’ suggestions, into several nostalgic (at least these days) volumes of recipes. As a testament to her taste and skill I’m proud to tell you that I’ve never had anything I’ve attempted from her books fail. Something I can’t say for many of the present day cookbook authors.
I was gifted two cookbooks of Marjorie’s recipes from my grandmother and over the years I’ve come to enjoy Standish’s conversational style of recipe writing. It very much reminds me of the manner in which Nigella Lawson composes her recipes – as though she’s standing over your shoulder offering kindly tips and observations. It’s a nice confidence boost. Especially if you’re attempting a new dish for the first time.
So this week Ms. Standish and I “got together” and made thick, soft, heart-shaped cookies and I painted on a layer of pink icing before dotting them with spicy red hot candies. They looked utterly ridiculous but I standby the cookie itself and assure you that it’s going to become a baking staple in my kitchen. How could they not be when Marjorie herself declares, “This dough is perfection to work with.”
Jumbo Molasses Cookies
Adapted from the recipe originally published in Keep Cooking – the Maine Way by Marjorie Standish
1 cup melted shortening (Erin’s Note: I used butter instead).
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
5 1/4 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup boiling water
3 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine the melted shortening (or butter) and sugar, add molasses, then the egg, and beat until creamy.
Dissolve baking soda in boiling water, add to molasses mixture. Add dry ingredients that have been sifted together. Add vanilla and mix well. This will be a soft dough but it is to be chilled overnight or for several hours, then it becomes firm and is exactly right for rolling.
This depends on whether or not you like to roll cookie dough. If you do, roll to one-eighth inch thickness. (Erin’s Note: You’ll need to do this in the usual manner, on a well-floured board. I also kneaded a bit of extra flour into the dough before I rolled it out, much in the way you would to prep a loaf of bread dough). Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, place rounds of dough on greased cookie sheets. Far easier will be to make large balls (about 1 1/4 inches) and place on cookie sheets. Use a fresh dish towel drawn over a glass, dampen and press down balls of dough.
Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove at once from pans to racks for cooling. (Erin’s Note: I baked my large heart cookies for 8 minutes. Then I cooled them for two minutes before moving them to racks). This will make 75 great big cookies. This dough is perfection to work with. (Erin’s Note: This made around 50 very large cookies for me).