Orange-Scented Molasses Cookies

There is an ice storm passing through and every shape outside from earth to sky–only grey–a heavy, wet, chilling shade of grey. Every once in awhile, a neighbor burdened with the task of catching the downtown bus, walks cautiously past my kitchen window, skidding, catching himself at the last minute. I’m so lucky that I get to be home today and having cancelled a couple of appointments, here is where I shall stay.

One of my favorite issues of Cook’s Illustrated magazine is one that I happened to pick up while in line checking out at the grocery store 5 years ago. It’s the 2012 Holiday Baking issue and I’ve referenced it often (read: pages are flour-dusted with pen-scratched notes in the margins) from buttermilk biscuits, Christmas morning cinnamon buns and to these very addictive chewy gingerbread cookies that while baking, fill my kitchen with the fragrance and aroma of a more pleasant winter’s eve–cinnamon, cloves and orange.

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar PLUS 2/3 cup for dipping
  • 3 teaspoons grated orange zest (2 teaspoons for dipping; 1 teaspoon for cookies)
  • 2 1/4 cup (11 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine, freshly ground pepper
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 12 pieces, softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (measure in a liquid measuring cup) light or dark molasses (not blackstrap–too strong)

Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Then, in the little bowl that came with your food processor, that if you, like me, haven’t used before, process 2/3 cup granulated sugar with 2 teaspoons grated orange zest until a lovely and fragrant pale orange (10 seconds ought to do it). Next pour sugar into an 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda (as molasses has a bit of acidity to it, it needs a bit of baking soda, an alkalai, to react with it and provide lift) salt, and spices together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter for a 20 seconds or so, then add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, dark brown sugar and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium-low and add egg yolk and vanilla. Increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds.

Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses beating until fully incorporated (20 seconds), scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with a rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting and add flour mixture slowly, mixing until just combined, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl again, once.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a final stir with the rubber spatula, making sure to really get to the bottom of the bowl. Dough will be soft.

Scoop and form 1 1/2-inch balls (using a tablespoon as a guide may help), dropping 6 at a time into the cake pan with the sugar/orange zest mixture. Toss balls in sugar to coat and place about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet. (I spaced 3 across and 4 down–my pans are 17″x 12″).  Bake only one pan at a time for about 10 minutes (cookies won’t bake evenly otherwise), turning the pan once half-way through baking. 

Do not over bake. Cookies are done even though the centers are still soft and in between the cracks appears to look raw. Cool cookies on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

 

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Last night’s last-minute pasta dinner

 

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Last night’s dinner was thrown together around 6:30 when everyone was beginning to get fidgety, taking turns opening the refrigerator door and cabinets.  Since I hadn’t had anything planned, I did the most sensible thing I know and set a pot of water on the stove to boil while I opened a box of spaghetti–the one ingredient the whole family can agree on (some will have it with butter, some with salt, another with olive oil and salt).  Then I began to look around for what would satisfy me.

I saw a couple of ripe tomatoes from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share sitting on a dish on the kitchen table.  Next to them, a few stems of fresh basil I picked from our garden the other morning and arranged in a recycled jam jar, which got me thinking that I still had some of last summer’s pesto in the freezer.

Since I had frozen the pesto without the cheese and butter, a tip I learned from Marcella Hazen in her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking I got to grating a wedge of local SarVecchio Parmesan cheese from The Sartori Family of Wisconsin and began softening a couple tablespoons of butter.  The frozen cubes of pesto, parmesan and butter, I placed near the simmering pot of water, using the heat to warm it all nicely together.

In the meantime, I roughly chopped a couple of tomatoes and placed them in a large bowl.  Before I drained the pasta I added some of the pasta water to the pesto mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing it together until I had a nice not too thick, not too thin consistency.

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I placed the hot spaghetti on top of the fresh tomatoes, spooned the pesto, cheese and butter mixture on top and gave it all a gentle toss.

Within an hour, dinner was served.  The kids ate their bowls of pasta plain or buttered or oiled however they liked along with some string cheese on the side.  They munched on sweet carrots from our CSA while chatting to each other about this and that.

The husband had had a big lunch that afternoon so picked on a few carrots and called it a night.

Everyone seemed content and I got to eat something I enjoyed, so I called it a good night.