I’ve been thinking about writing about these cookies for years, and somehow I’ve never managed it. Eventually, I realized that it’s because I love them too much—no blog could ever express how perfect they are. They are the perfect holiday cookie, but they will make you want to bake spiced molasses cookies all year long. Perhaps most importantly: they make the best ice cream sandwiches you’ve ever had (I’m partial to cinnamon-nutmeg ice cream, but they’re also great with ginger, eggnog, or plain old vanilla).
I first discovered the grandparents of my current recipe somewhere on the internet, over ten years ago. it was one of my first holiday seasons away from family, so I decided to make up for it by baking at least a dozen different batches of holiday cookies. I made delicate Spritz cookies with my 70s-era Italian cookie press, and coconut-orange cookies, and rolled ginger-orange cookies. Iced pumpkin-raisin cookies led me to raise my previous ban on raisins in baked goods. I had cylinder upon cylinder of sablés in my fridge, just waiting to be sliced, and no less than four varieties of shortbread (my current favorite is cardamom, drizzled with chocolate).
None of those other cookies mattered once I discovered these spiced wonders. I’m someone who tends to be skeptical of desserts, but I was immediately bowled over by them. I like cookies on the best (and worst) of days, and they are ideal for holiday packages, but these cookies. These cookies. These cookies, dear reader, are the superlative cookie. They are intensely spiced, but still with a delicate flavor. They are so tender and chewy—probably thanks to the brown sugar and molasses that sweetens them—that I had to add it to the name. This also makes them forgiving: while they’re best taken out of the oven when they’re just beginning to set, if you forget them and leave them behind for a minute or so more, they’ll still be delicious. The dough can be rolled into balls and frozen to bake off a few at a time. Also, they last incredibly well, at least two weeks if tightly wrapped, which makes them the ideal care-package cookie (if you can manage to share them).
The only downside is that this recipe does not double. You will want to double it, believe me, even though it makes about five dozen (small) cookies, but I’d recommend against it. There’s no reason for it, but I’ve tried dozens of different times, and they’re never quite right. My theory? The kitchen elves don’t look fondly on such greed.
Chewiest Spiced Molasses Cookies
A note: I had a brown sugar emergency the last time I made these and had to replace the brown sugar with white. I used 6 ounces (¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons) white sugar, and increased the molasses to 4 ounces (⅓ cup), and they turned out great.
2¼ cups (10 ounces/290 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cassia (or double whatever your favorite cinnamon is)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (8 ounces/280 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
¼ cup (3 ounces/85 grams) dark molasses
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, for rolling the dough
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then add the brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and molasses until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Chill the dough for at least one hour and up to a day. (Note: if you are working ahead, you can shape the cookies immediately, but the dough is sticky and will roll better when cold.)
When ready to bake: preheat oven to 350ºF, placing racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Place the granulated sugar in a small bowl. Scoop the dough by level tablespoonfuls, roll into balls, roll into sugar, and arrange, two inches apart, on baking sheets. (A note on preparing these ahead of time: cookies can be shaped and chilled—I like to arrange them on a lined baking sheet and loosely cover it in plastic wrap—or frozen; roll them in sugar just before baking.)
Bake, rotating sheets once during baking, until beginning to brown around the edges and just beginning to set, 10–12 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for 10 minutes; transfer to cooling racks and let cool completely. Let baking sheets cool completely between batches. As with most cookies, try to find your willpower and wait until they’ve cooled completely before eating. They are worth the wait.
Store at room temperature in tins for a week or more, or tightly wrapped for even longer. Makes about 5 dozen small cookies.