If all the world’s cash were to evaporate tomorrow so that everyone had to reverted to a barter system I would be fine, just fine because I have a recipe that is the equivalent of gold – Arlene Sullivan’s Molasses Snaps.
This is another one of my Grammy Caldwell’s recipes. Arlene Sullivan was one of the women who made up Grammy’s sewing circle. The women gathered to sew or knit, eat, and share one another’s company for almost seventy-five years (granted the group dwindled as members passed on or moved away). I got the feeling that their husbands questioned how much time was actually spent on the sewing part because Grandpa and the his cronies often refered to the group as “the smoke and gab club”. While I cannot vouch for the true output of quilts, socks or mittens I can testify to the delicious food the ladies made and shared with one another.
Small disclaimer before I give you the recipe – I am a recipe tweaker just like Grammy was. I’m fairly certain that Arlene’s recipe must have been shared around the time of the war when butter was in short supply. You could make the recipe with just shortening since the spices will round out the flavors and not make you feel the lack of buttery undertones. Likewise you could use all butter thought that will make the cookies a little flatter. I’ve found that a mixture of both shortening and butter gets the best results.
On her recipe card Grammy was very specific about what kind of molasses to use, though she didn’t feel the need to give an oven temperature or baking time. Will these turn out if you don’t use dark molasses? Yes. Will they be as good? I don’t think so. Over the years I remember seeing both Grandma’s and Brer Rabbit brands in her cupboard, though I’m fairly certain that for this recipe Gram reached for the Grandma’s. When I first moved to the valley I was able to find the green label Grandma’s in all the grocery stores. Then as the years passed one by one the grocery stores phased out the robust (or green label) Grandma’s Molasses from their shelves in favor of the original (or yellow label). Soon I was down to a single store who carried the green label and anytime I went in I bought every bottle they had. Alas, even Cooper’s Corner succumbed to what I think of as the box store mentality of one brand, one size, one option. I have found other molasses at my Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s but they tend to be the blackstrap molasses which are a bit too heavy for my taste. So since I can’t support my local stores I’ve turned instead to an online store called My Brands. They have all sorts of wacky, “do you remember…” kinds of products which once you provide them with a credit card they will happily ship right to your door. You can buy a case and get a discount or just a jar if you don’t have the storage space. The shipping costs do add to your overall per unit price, but with what gas costs coupled with what my time is worth if I were to visit every mom & pop store in the valley I figure it’s worth it. I now have a jar of Grandma’s green label molasses in my cupboard and eleven more on my pantry shelf. Let me know if you need some.
Arlene Sullivan’s Molasses Snaps
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses (I use Grandma’s)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
extra sugar for rolling (I like to use Turbinado raw cane sugar)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cream butter, shortening and sugar. You can do this with a mixer unless you have a teenager who overworked your mixer so that it now shoots sparks whenever you turn it on but you keep forgetting to take it to the repair shop so that when you want to mix something with it you can’t. In that case do what Grammy and her friends did – cream the fats and sugar together by hand. This is actually a great insight as to why women of Grammy’s generation never needed to go to a gym. After you have mixed a batch of cookie dough by hand feel your bicep. It’s impressive what sort of muscles you can achieve through lack of mechanical devices. If you really want to put this gym vs. cooking workout to the test make an angel food cake without an electric mixer (I know because I have). You’ll feel buff and somewhat superior to anyone using a mixer. But I digress. After you’ve creamed together the butter, shortening and sugar beat in the molasses, then the egg. In a separate bowl sift the dry ingredients and then incorporate them into the creamed mixture. At this point you can make the cookies by rolling chunks of dough the size of shooter marbles into balls and then rolling the dough balls into sugar and placing on a greased baking sheet to baking for 9-11 minutes. However I suggest that you try the log method I learned decades ago which is described below.
The log method is to my mind a life saver and image maker. It allows you to make double batches of cookies and freeze the logs so that whenever you need to need a batch of freshly baked cookies you can do it as quickly as you can preheat your oven. It makes you look like you are a totally together person who can hold down a job, pick the kids up from their soccer game, and still manage to donate three dozen freshly baked cookies to the French club’s bake sale. People will whisper that you are the next Martha Stewart or Super Woman, while in reality you are still the person with dust bunnies under your bed, 17 loads of laundry to catch up on, and you’ve worn the same shirt three for days in a row. However no one except your spouse will know your reality because you will have logs of frozen cookie dough at the ready to make into hot, homemade cookies.
What you want to do is make the cookie dough and when it is mixed take a handful and squeeze it into a gigantic Tootsie roll – because of the molasses this dough actually does resemble a Tootsie roll in color, though it doesn’t smell like one – and place this log onto a sheet of wax paper.
Fold one end of the wax paper over the dough log and with a dough scraper or some other form of straight edge (a ruler will work) smoosh the dough so that it is rolled into a round shape and most of the air bubbles are out. Don’t make yourself crazy though because we’re aiming for the illusion of Martha, not the reality.
Then finish rolling up the dough and twist the ends closed. At this point label it with the type of dough and cooking temperature. I mention the labeling aspect because come Christmas time I have 40+ logs in my freezer and frankly one frozen log looks a lot like the others. Martha actually puts her logs into the tubes from wax paper and Saran wrap so that they maintain a perfect round shape. I’m here to tell you that putting them onto a cookie sheet until they are frozen is just fine. If you are the compulsive type put each type of dough into a bag once the logs are frozen but there is no sane reason to fill your freezer with wax paper tubes stuffed with cookie dough.
When you need some cookies take a log-o-dough from the freezer or fridge and slice and bake. Since these cookies are finished by a dunk in sugar slice, swirl the slices of dough in a shallow bowl of sugar and bake. Grammy used the same sugar to dunk her dough in that she used to make the dough. The food stylist in me likes a chunky, shiny large grain sugar like raw cane turbinado. My one complaint is that as turbinado has become more popular the folks making it have changed their processing methods. It used to have a shine to each sugar crystal. Now the crystals seem matt. Still I like the slightly larger crystals of turninado in comparison to regular sugar. Taste-wise you’ll get a little bit more sugar using the larger crystals, but it isn’t a discernible difference. So I leave the sugar decision up to you.
Yield is unknown since some of the cookies disappeared before I had a chance to count them. I think if there hadn’t been any tastings one batch of dough would have yielded around 9 dozen two inch cookies.