Let’s just get one thing straight: these are not gingersnaps. Not that there’s anything wrong with gingersnaps. They’re light, crispy, crunchy; just
the thing for dunking in a mug of tea, or grinding with butter to make
into a crust for pumpkin cheesecake squares, say. These just aren’t them.
These cookies are incredibly moist, and chewy, and tender in a way that glutenous cookies can only wish for. A generous pour of dark molasses keeps them that way for days, while adding deep, rich coffee notes that play off cinnamon, ginger and black pepper. They are little pillows of spicy love.
I went through a serious ginger molasses phase several years ago, inspired by the Thick and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies from Baking Illustrated, and I learned a valuable lesson.
Jay and I went up to Sebastopol in Northern California to see our idols, Väsen, a Swedish band that makes traditional music sound like rock and roll. We stayed with a friend, where I decided to bake my favorite spice cookies to leave at the feet of these very tall Norse gods. I had made these cookies many times, and knew the recipe to be foolproof.
But the only flour to be found in the house was spelt flour. I measured out the ingredients anyway, rolled the cookies in sugar, and stuck them in the oven. But when I checked the cookies 10 minutes later, they had splooshed into thin, flat pancakes that kissed at the edges and stuck together, and were prone to bending and falling apart on the way to one’s mouth.
Before the show, I offered them up to our Swedish idols, mainly because I didn’t want to be stuck eating them all myself. Olov asked in his impeccable English, “Are these, like, your favorite cookies?” I nodded mutely, then scurried back to my seat.
When I told Jay the story, he said, “So basically, you lied?” Well they hadbeen my favorites, until improper substitutions spoiled their thick chewiness.
Back in San Francisco, I went straight to Sur La Table and shelled out forty bucks for the electronic scale recommended by Cook’s Illustrated. Though I have yet to bake cookies for any more Norse gods, I find my scale indispensable especially when substituting flours in recipes, which can vary drastically in weight.
Cookies are particularly sensitive to small variations in ingredient amounts, as well as dough and oven temperature. When this dough is first mixed, it is gooey and soft, more like a quick bread batter. If you can wrestle it into a ball, roll it in sugar, and get it onto a baking sheet, it will spread generously in the heat of the oven; not quite flat as a pancake, but close. The texture will also have a vaguely gluten-free quality.
If you can bear it, cover the dough and chill it for at least an hour or two, or, preferably, one to two days. The starches in the flours will absorb moisture from the dough and swell, making for a smoother, sturdier dough. Now when you form the firm dough into balls, they will spread and puff into thick and chewy, crinkled pillows. Their mouthfeel will be smooth, almost creamy on the inside.
I love that this recipe uses melted butter that gets simply stirred together with the other ingredients rather than creamed in a stand mixer. These cookies keep beautifully when properly under-baked; I like them even better on days 2 and 3 when the flavors have melded even more. And they make tasty, if messy, impromptu ice cream sandwiches, too.
If you lack a kitchen scale, you might consider putting one on your wish list this holiday season.
With inspiration from Alice Medrich and Baking Illustrated
If you can, start these cookies a day (or even two) ahead; the dough benefits from a day of chilling, resulting in thicker, chewier, smoother cookies. If you must have cookies straight away, go ahead and bake some off; they will spread more, and will have a thinner and more brittle texture, but they will still be good. Err on the side of underbaking, removing the cookies when they are puffed and cracked, with the dough between the cracks looks underbaked. For the craggiest cookies, bake the trays one at a time in the upper third of the oven.
I recommend weighing the ingredients for these (and all) cookies as slight variations in amounts can cause the cookies to spread too little or not enough. (Besides, measuring molasses into a cup and then trying to get it back out again is no fun.) I used a dark, unsulphured molasses here, but I’m guessing that blackstrap or light molasses will work, too, though blackstrap will have a more assertive molasses flavor, whereas the light stuff will yield a more mild, kid-friendly cookie. Sweet rice flour is stickier than regular, and recommended here; if you only have regular rice flour, try increasing the xanthan gum to 1/2 teaspoon.
Makes 2 dozen thick and chewy 2″ cookies
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) oat flour
3/4 cup (4 ounces) sweet rice flour (such as Mochiko brand)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) tapioca flour
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
1/3 cup (3 1/2 ounces) molasses (see headnote)
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar (preferably organic cane sugar), plus another 1/3 cup for rolling the cookies
1 large egg (2 ounces out of shell)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, spices and salt.
In a large bowl, stir together the butter, molasses, brown sugar, and 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar. Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture with a sturdy wooden spoon. Once the flour is incorporated, stir vigorously for 40 strokes – this activates the xanthan gum and makes for chewy cookies.
Cover the dough and chill until firm, 1-2 hours or preferably 1-2 days.
When you’re ready to bake, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place the remaining 1/3 cup of granulated sugar in a shallow bowl.
Scoop the cookies into 1″ balls (a spring-loaded #40 ice cream scoop works wonders) and roll each ball in the sugar. Place the balls at least 2″ apart on the cookie sheet.
Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are puffed and cracked, and the dough between the cracks looks underbaked, 7-10 minutes, rotating the pan after 5 minutes to ensure even baking. Repeat with the second sheet.
Let the cookies cool slightly on the sheet (or if they’ve been overcooked, whisk the parchment and cookies straight off the sheet and onto a cooling rack), then use a thin, metal spatula to remove the cookies to a cooling rack. Cool completely (the cookies will still be baking from residual heat), then store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.