Molasses and nostalgia

When I think of molasses, my mind typically fills with nostalgia and fond memories.  My maternal grandmother made some killer soft, dark molasses cookies that I adored – well, until she pushed a raisin or some kind of nut (usually, a large walnut) into the tops of them, and then I would avoid them like the plague… though I might still be cajoled into picking off the offending garnish so I could still devour the yummy cookie.

I worked as a waiter at a seasonal restaurant back near my hometown in upstate New York for several summers during my college years – a restaurant at which my mother was also previously a waitress, when I was growing up.  We had a fantastic baker there (Mary B.!), who baked cookies and pies in the blazing heat of the back kitchen… and in the afternoon lull between the lunch and dinner rushes, the unmistakable, homey, spicy smell of homemade molasses cookies would come wafting up into the front kitchen and dining room.  I would pour myself a glass of thick whole milk from the old-fashioned milk machine (we called it, affectionately, the “cow”), dash back into the bakers’ kitchen and snag a big, plump, sugar-dusted molasses cookie, fresh from the oven, off the cooling rack when Mary’s back was turned.  No sooner would I skirt around the corner when I would hear Mary’s hearty chuckle, followed by the comment, “Mark!  You are JUST like your mother!”  Apparently, my mom, too, had a childlike passion for Mary’s wonderful cookies as I did!

I truly live for memories like that.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy baking as much as I do.  Our sense of smell is a powerful memory trigger, and I guess for that reason, I’m thankful for the heady aroma of wonderful, pungent molasses on a fall day like today.

Molasses is truly the shining star of this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe, Joe Froggers – or, Ginger Rum Molasses Cookies – from Baked Explorations.  This isn’t too surprising, given that nearly an entire 12-ounce bottle of molasses goes into one batch!  The molasses, a little hot water, and some dark rum (the Baked guys love their booze in their recipes) comprise the ‘wet’ ingredients of the dough; it’s interesting to note that this recipe does not include an egg or two.  Mix the wet ingredients with some some flour fragrant with warm spices like nutmeg, a good amount of ginger, and cloves, and you have some pretty tasty cookies in the making.  (I’ll let you reference Baked Explorations or the internet for the origin of the funny name of these cookies!)

The tricky part, I found, with the Joe Froggers was the dough.  Baked suggests that – after mixing the ingredients together – the dough should enjoy a good rest in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.  I would emphasize that you should refrigerate these overnight at least.  Instead of leaving my dough in the bowl, I turned the whole lot of it out onto plastic wrap and formed it into a thick rectangle, then popped into the fridge overnight for 2 nights – and still, when I removed it to bake it off, it was pretty soft.  Within a few moments of starting to roll it out, it was soft and sticky – rather a menace.  You might want to sprinkle a healthy dose of flour on your board and rolling pin before rolling out your cookies, and break off small chunks of the dough at a time to roll out, keeping the rest in the fridge nice and cold.  I was a little worried at the ugly sight of so much flour literally coating the rounds as I transferred them to the baking sheet, but fortunately, it gets absorbed in the baking.  Most recipes for rolled cookies say to use as little flour on your board as possible, but with these, you really need to go all out.  Make sure you get as many cookies cut out of your initial batch as you go so that you’re not re-rolling the scraps and incorporating too much excess flour in the bargain (your cookies could become tough).

As the recipe states to roll out the cookies relatively thin, and going from the photo in the book, I immediately knew these would be more comparable to a ginger snap than a nice, puffy, soft molasses cookie – which I prefer and adore.  That being said, I was not altogether displeased with the results of the Joe Froggers.  They have a wonderful, strong molasses flavor with a slight aftertaste of rum that isn’t obnoxious.  They present a nice palate for any number of baking experiments (see the following paragraph).  They are thin and crunchy – or what I like to refer to as a “snappy” cookie.  I’m certain they would be wonderful dunked in milk or a cup of coffee.  If you’re like me, who prefers softer and/or chewier cookies typically, you might appreciate the flavor of these Joe Froggers, but it’s probably not a recipe you might make too much.

There’s a whimsical diversity to these cookies.  If you’re not a fan of eating these on their own, freeze them and use them later to crush up as a gingery crumb crust for a cheesecake or tart.  Sandwich a scoop of lime or lemon sorbet or ice cream between them for a delicious ice cream sandwich.  I’ve fallen in love with Trader Joe’s pumpkin ice cream (they truly got the super-spicy, pumpkin pie filling taste RIGHT; it’s not wimpy at all), and as you can see from the picture, I couldn’t resist building an ice cream sandwich with the Joe Froggers and the pumpkin ice cream.  A yummy fall treat!

The Joe Froggers may not capture the exact texture of those cookies my grandmother or Mary B. made way back when, and truthfully, I still prefer a softer, sometimes chewier molasses cookie, but they sure gave me some fond memories to tuck back into.  For the recipe, visit Baked Sunday Mornings: http://bakedsundaymornings.com/2012/10/17/in-the-oven-joe-froggers, and make sure to check out how all of my fellow bakers fared.  Every week, I am inspired by these wonderful people who share my passion for baking – and all things Baked!

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11 thoughts on “Molasses and nostalgia

  1. that ice cream sandwich is such a good idea! so funny that you got a crisp cookie, and i got a soft cookie from basically the same recipe! mine reminded me of the cookies you reference in your post.

  2. Yeah, that ice cream sandwich idea was a good call! I love the pumpkin ice cream from TJ’s a little too much myself. Great write up Mark!

  3. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful childhood memory with us! I am so jealous that you got a thin and snappy cookie, because that’s my preference, and my cookies were soft. Beautiful cookies!

  4. I love how you incorporate your memories into your post. Your descriptions make me feel like I’m in that moment. (just wonderful)
    And an ice cream sandwich!! What a divine idea. (will have to try that one day) A pumpkin ice cream would be delicious. Great post.

  5. Really enjoyed reading your post, and love that you weaved in your memories and stories of Mary B. and your grandmother’s molasses cookies. I must try your variation — ice cream cookies, how brilliant! I’ve already bought a jar of pumpkin butter and pumpkin oatmeal from TJs, gotta go back for the ice cream now!

  6. Thank you, everyone! Glad the pumpkin ice cream sandwich was a hit for an idea with these! I’m thinking I might have done something wrong, as most of you who baked these got a chewier or softer cookie. Not sure what I did differently – I followed the recipe pretty faithfully! Enjoy your Joe Froggers and see you next week!

  7. OMG, this is probably my favorite of all your posts!! I finally got a chance to read it, and I just LOVE this, Mark. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Your writing is just excellent– it really evokes the nostalgia that you described. What a sweet story! Your photos are stunning as well, by the way. I also loved your “alternative” uses for this cookie: ice cream sandwich = brilliant!! I skipped this one, though I think I would’ve had a similar reaction, as I prefer thicker, chewier cookies. :)

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