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.



Top 10 Reasons Why I Need Winter


10. To wrap myself up in a long, quilted coat, a scarf, hat, mittens, wool socks and boots right at dawn and go sit on a folded blanket on my front porch bench, sip a mug of steaming coffee while listening to the gentle chorus of winter birds.

9. To breathe in the ice crystals and feel them melt inside of me on a brisk walk in the woods.  Like sipping hot chocolate through a cold cloud of freshly whipped cream.

8. To ice skate on an outdoor rink not far beneath a sleepy sun swathed in frost peering out from behind a grey-white sky.

7.  To hear the sound of snowflakes as whispers from others, from somewhere in another fold of the universe, brush against your bright pink cheek.

6.  To know the crunch of snow beneath your sturdy boots as you walk the same path you’ve walked in autumn, summer, spring; only now it holds your footprints.

5.  Because pies smell so much sweeter baking in a kitchen with steamed-up windows.

4.  To be cradled by your favorite chair, the blanket around your shoulders softer now, the open book on your flannel lap, a quiet companion.

3.  Twilight.  Alternating deep shades of blue and purple, blending to crystal black.  Skeletons of trees in the distance.  Their branches point to stars that glitter like chips of ice.

2.  To “borrow” our children’s sleds, moms race for that one quick run together.  Our children yell with surprised excitement, “Hey!”  while chasing clumsily after us.  They take back their colorful snow-sailing ships.

1.  The Silence.



There is Time Right Now

It’s Saturday morning, and I have a moment to think.  There are patches of sun covering the snowy front lawn and the brittle branches of the bush waving back and forth outside my kitchen window makes me think that at eight degrees fahrenheit, I am the owner of an optomistic weather thermometer.

Looks like another day of hibernation for me.  Another day to scan the cookbooks on my baker’s rack searching for inspiration…what to make for dinner tonight?  But before I can think about that, there are breakfast dishes in the sink already, a dishwasher that needs to be emptied, and another load of laundry to put on.

I remember not six months ago, secretly hoping for a rainy day to cancel swim lessons at the pool so that I could have time to accomplish these basic chores that were piling up around the house.  And more recently, wasn’t I just complaining about the quick pace of the holiday season?  How I barely had any time at all to bake a single sugar cookie?

Mother Nature has a way of giving us what we want, what we need — doesn’t she?  And for me that’s permission to recuperate, to linger here at my kitchen table watching swirls of snow dust blow across the icy street.

Granny Smith Apples with Orange, Lemon and Cinnamon

IMG_9059In the late afternoon of a short winter day, my grandmother  would peel an orange for my sister, brother and me hoping to hold us over until dinner.  So patient and so focused on the bright citrus ball in the palm of her hand, she would slowly peel back the thick rind in long vertical pieces taking care not to bruise the shimmering fruit inside.  The mist released by the orange would spring into the air in leaps of excitement, vitality and joy!  An offering so simple.  It was love.

It is January and cold with over a foot of snow here in the Midwest.  The holidays are over and it is time for simplicity.  It is time to celebrate good health, to delight in the scent of citrus fruit, take comfort in the warmth of cinnamon; and in our sleepy winter heads, feel the crunch of the crisp white flesh of a Granny Smith apple.  It’s time to be present with our family and friends — to offer up simple foods, to stay at the table and share an orange together.

Granny Smith Apples with Orange, Lemon and Cinnamon

  • Wash, core, then slice each apple; place in a serving bowl.
  • When you have enough for everyone, halve a lemon and squeeze the juice from both halves over the apples, taking care to catch any pits.
  • Halve two oranges, squeeze the juice of the three halves over the apples (careful of the pits).
  • Sprinkle cinnamon lightly over the apples.
  • Mix gently with your hands.
  • With the fourth half of the orange, thinly slice and lay rounds of orange on top of the apples.
  • Lightly sprinkle more cinnamon on top, cover and put in the refrigerator for 30 – 60 minutes.
  • Go take a walk outside, look for paw prints in the snow.  When you return, make a pot of tea, place a few apples on a small dish.

Sit down for a moment.  Breath and enjoy.