These are my FAVORITE gingersnap-esque cookies. I won’t call them gingersnaps ’cause they don’t snap. If you bake them right, they’re nice and soft and chewy and amazing. And they were the perfect “sweet appetizer” for Thanksgiving.
My godmother really rolled her eyes when I explained that cookies are essentially a sweet appetizer, or the appetizer of desserts. But really. Cookies are not dessert. They are a snack…
Anyway, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I suspect you may have been wondering what the hell I was up to. Making these cookies, for one thing. And keeping the holiday dessert situation much more under control than usual. And relaxing. There was a lot of relaxing.
Since I started grad school back in the mid-aughts, I’ve traditionally spent Thanksgiving with my godparents in Palo Alto. This makes for a lovely, quiet holiday where I get to hang out in the kitchen, knit, relax, and generally forget about most things for a few days.
Some years it’s just the three of us, sometimes more. And, as my godmother reminded me, last year there were six desserts for ten people – a ratio she wasn’t all that thrilled about since I took off Saturday morning leaving her with a mountain of leftovers to contend with.
Consequently, I kept things more minimal this year – these cookies and one pie (the pumpkin pie was store bought and the mincemeat doesn’t count ’cause it came out of a jar). But I neglected to photograph the pie, so I’ll obviously have to make it again soon.
But I went into the event knowing I wanted to make these cookies, cause they’re so dang good. I actually sort of featured them on this blog in one of my very first posts (back when I was being moderately more copyright responsible). They’re SO good, though, they really warrant their own full post. So, here we are.
I’d say these are probably my absolute favorite non-chocolate cookie. But it feels wrong to make them outside of, say, October-February, so I’m going to have to make them at least a few more times before spring.
In addition to a wonderful, soft texture (hard to find in molasses cookies), these are rounded out with a lovely orange flavor – courtesy of both zest in the dough and in the sugar that you roll the cookies in before baking.
My mom likes crunchier cookies, so I promised to overbake a pan-full for her when I’m home for Christmas. But don’t do it. They’re so much better soft.
Orange Molasses Cookies (from Cook’s Illustrated)
- 1 cup granulated sugar, separated
- 3 teaspoons grated orange zest
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (11 1/4 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 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 ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (about 2 1/2 ounces)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup molasses (about 6 ounces), light or dark
Adjust your oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375° F.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
If you have a food processor, process 2/3 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons orange zest until pale orange, about 10 seconds. If you don’t have one, you can vigorously mix the zest and sugar together with a fork – maybe 2 minutes. You want to get the orange essence to distribute evenly in the sugar and the clumps of zest to break up. Transfer the sugar mixture to 8- or 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt until thoroughly combined, and then set aside.
In a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer), beat butter and 1 teaspoon orange zest with brown sugar and remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the yolk and vanilla, and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add the molasses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula.
Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once. You can also do this by hand with a bit of elbow grease. Give the dough final stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to ensure that no pockets of flour remain at bottom. The dough will be soft and rather fluffy.
Scoop a heaping tablespoon of dough and roll into 1 1/2-inch ball, then drop the ball into the cake pan with sugar and repeat to form about 4 balls. Toss each of the balls in orange sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 11 minutes. Do not overbake.
Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes, then use wide metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack. (Can be stored at room temperature in airtight container or zipper-lock plastic bag up to 5 days.)