I’m so predictable when it comes to my baking. As soon as the temperatures drop below sixty all I can think about is all of the delicious, warm, comforting things I didn’t want to bake when it was hot out. Sweet potatoes, roasted root vegetables, homemade pizzas, biscuits, rolls, bread, pumpkin, and, most of all, anything involving the spices many North Americans associate with Fall and Winter desserts: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. One of the things you learn in a lot of acting schools is the idea of sense memory, which I’m about to explain appallingly badly because I can’t be bothered to dig up any of my old notes (yep, I kept all of my notebooks and papers, in case the Hamlet paper I wrote when I was 15 changes the course of English Renaissance scholarship). The idea is that sensory experiences are strongly linked to memories, and if we can identify a personal sensory experience that links to a strong emotional memory, then we can engage that sensory experience in performance and take any given moment to a deep, powerful place. Of all of our senses, smell has the strongest ties to memory, hands-down.
Baking these cookies is an instant mood booster. The sweet scent of the molasses and spices automatically takes me to childhood memories: Christmas, Thanksgiving, learning to bake from my mother, making cookies with schoolfriends. I’ve made these so often that once I pull out the recipe each Fall, I can pretty much coast by on memory for the rest of the season. These are classic, simple cookies, adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (my mom’s has a fading red plaid cover, each section separated by a yellow tab. I think her edition is from the 1970s or 1980s). I love them in their simplest form, but I’m also not afraid to try to mix things up, so I present to you my adapted version.
So, look, these cookies call for shortening. Shortening is one of those ingredients that I use but kind of wish I didn’t have to. It has absolutely zero flavor, and it’s super-processed and kind of weird and white and gunky and — ew. That being said, it makes baked things fluffy like nothing else. These cookies are in the gingersnap family, but they’re soft and tender and chewy, and that’s thanks in part to shortening. You can substitute butter if you want, but you’ll lose some of the chew and get a crisper, snappier cookie.
I’m not sure why I have so much whole wheat flour in my pantry right now, because I think I’ve baked with it twice in my life. I decided to take it out for a spin with these cookies. Whole wheat flour has well-known health benefits (more fiber, protein, etc. than white flour), but it can mess with your baking if you’re not careful– the flavor can overwhelm milder ingredients, the texture can toughen a cookie or cake, and the final product can dry out quickly. To counterract some of these problems, I cut the whole wheat flour with some all-purpose flour, I definitely used shortening (instead of butter), and I added an egg for more moisture.
I also upped the ante, flavor-wise. Kicking up the ginger helps, and I expanded on the original recipe’s three spices to add two of my favorites: nutmeg and cardamom. These two spices improve everything from basic crème brûlée and cheesecakes to quiches and macaroni and cheese. As long as you have a hefty kick of ginger and cinnamon, feel free to use any other spice you love and have on hand. I also found a stash of crystallized ginger in my pantry. Crystallized ginger is very sweet and quite spicy, so I reduced the amount of sugar in the cookies to compensate. If you leave the crystallized ginger out, increase the brown sugar to 2 cups.
Molasses Spice Cookies
adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
1 1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 3/4 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 c. all-purpose flour
3 c. whole wheat flour
4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
5 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
about 1/2 – 3/4 c. granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift together the flours, salt, baking soda, and spices onto a piece of waxed paper; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the shortening, brown sugar, eggs, molasses, and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes until well-mixed and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the crystallized ginger and beat for about 30 seconds until incorporated. With the mixer running on low, using the waxed paper as a funnel, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter, mixing until just combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure that all the dry ingredients have been incorporated.
Pour the granulated sugar into a small bowl. Roll out a blob of dough, about 1 heaping tablespoon, into a ball using your hands. Drop the ball into the sugar, turning to coat, and then place on the prepared cookie sheet. Space the cookies evenly, about two inches apart. Bake cookies for 12-13 minutes until the centers are set and the edges are just starting to deepen in color. If you prefer a crisper, snappier cookie, increase the bake time by a few minutes. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet or transfer to a plate. These go so perfectly with coffee and tea, and I have been known to have one with bourbon or whisky.
Knowing that refrigerator time works miracles for chocolate chip cookies, I experimented to see if allowing the dough to rest in the refrigerator made any noticeable differences to the finished product. The batch made right away was pretty good– tender and moist, but I wanted to see if some time in the refrigerator would maybe make them a bit denser and chewier, or even help soften some of the aggressiveness of the whole wheat flavor. Did it? Honestly, not noticeably. The whole wheat flavor mellowed a bit and the ginger stood out a bit more, but the first batch and the second batch seemed evenly matched, texture-wise. If you’re not a fan of whole wheat flour, a rest in the fridge will help your dough, but if you don’t care then carry on!
* * * * *
Since ginger cookies are both sassy and sweet, I paired them with Freya’s new Carys style, available in a longline or balconette bra.
The soft brown color and whimsical print give this set a sweet, retro touch, while the flirty lace and half-cup/cleavage-rocking shape bring the spice. I really, really, really, really wish Freya would expand their longline styles past G cups. I think if I say it enough times maybe someone will listen to me. Women in the G+ cup size spectrum would benefit so much from the deeper band (5-7 hooks on most longline styles), both in terms of comfort and support. Plus I just think longline bras are sexy.
Slap a longline band on this cup shape and you’d have a longline bra up to a K-cup. Says I. One day some designer/pattern-maker is going to smack me upside the head with their construction knowledge and why all the things I suggest aren’t possible, and I will be humbled. Till then: longline balconette bras! Sweets wants one!