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.



I Made Oatmeal Because I Love You


It’s Monday and everyone in my family is back to some place else.  The husband has returned to his office, the children to their respective classrooms.  Since I work from home, having them all leave the house this morning is like a rambunctious office party come to an end.  The quiet has been restored and I am all that remains (along with a bit of a mess).

A good month has passed since I’ve spent some time with you.  I’ve been writing regularly for Madison Magazine about all the great food trends Madison foodies can look forward to in this exciting Midwest city.  Mostly I get to do what you all know I love most — talking with those who work hard to make us good things to eat and listening to their stories.  Nice work, right?

I’ve noticed that before a deadline, while I’m organizing the story in my head, I’m also laboring over a hearty dinner, like roast chicken and vegetables. But I’m not just throwing a bird in a pan, I’m researching countless recipes on how to do it well.  I’m obsessing over why some chefs butter their birds prior to oven time and why others do not.  I’m baking from scratch loaves of bread.  I’m keeping my hands busy which is some how freeing up my brain to work out the details and timeline of my assignment.

As we get closer to deadline, the feast is over.  My family goes into starvation mode.  I am working and am in “the zone”.  If you’re hungry for dinner at this stage in my assignment better get started on making your own cheese sandwich and expect no apologies nor sympathies from me.  This is when I myself am living only on cheese, granola bars and apples.  We power through.

The day before the assignment is due I begin encouraging myself to make it to the finish line with thoughts of baking chocolate chip cookies or maybe pulling out the brand new pasta machine that I got as a birthday present last year (finally!) as a grand reward.

At last, the assignment is in and mom (a.k.a. the woman who will gladly feed us again) is back in the kitchen and in business.  And so she begins from the beginning with breakfast.  Something warm and filling to bring us all back to life like this steel-cut oatmeal recipe made with whole milk and almond milk and what I like to call the love spices: cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of allspice.   Get a whiff of these lovelies snuggling up together in a simmering pot on the stove.  Feel all that warmness rising up from your sleepy core?  That’s love and it’s all for you.

From this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine: Creamy Steel-Cut Oats with Dried Cherries and Almonds

  • 1/2 cup dried sour cherries
  • 1 cup whole milk or cream
  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, plus more for topping

1. In a small bowl, cover the dried sour cherries with warm water and let stand until plumped and softened, about 15 minutes.  Drain the cherries and discard the soaking water.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the whole milk, almond milk, and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Stir in the oats, cinnamon, ginger and allspice and the 1/4 tsp. of salt.  Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oats are al dente and the porridge is creamy, 20 minutes.

3. Stir in the cherries, maple syrup and almonds and season with salt.  Serve topped with more maple syrup and almonds.

** I used dried cranberries as that’s what I had on hand, without soaking them.  I added them with the spices to the boiling milk.  I also used vanilla-flavored almond milk since that’s what was in the fridge.  This oatmeal is so good that I’ve added dried sour cherries (always available in my northern neck of the woods) to my shopping list.