Today, it’s been eleven years since my mom died.
“I’m thinking about your mom today,” my best-friend-of-almost-50-years texted this morning. “Makes me want to make molasses cookies.”
As soon as I read Donna’s text, I could think of nothing but those molasses cookies. Fragrant with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and baked to just the right degree of chewiness, they melt in your mouth.
I don’t have a copy of the recipe written in my mom’s own handwriting (although there’s probably one at camp), but it was one of the first recipes I copied into the now-tattered half-size loose-leaf binder in which I began to collect favorite recipes when I was 18.
I don’t know where this recipe came from originally, but I’m sure it’s very old. I copied it word for word, so it still includes old-fashioned phrases like “roll dough into balls the size of large walnuts” and “bake in a quick-moderate oven.”
I have to admit that I often don’t bother to follow one of the most important lines of the instructions, and it’s the part that makes them molasses crinkles, rather than plain old molasses cookies: after you mix and chill the dough, form it into walnut-sized balls, roll the balls in granulated sugar, place them on a greased cookie sheet, and flatten them slightly with the bottom of a glass (dipping the glass in sugar between cookies so it doesn’t stick), you’re supposed to “sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water to produce a crackled surface.”
When I was in college (the first time), a friend’s mother sent her a box of cookies she called gingersnaps. They were spicy and crunchy and delicious, and they did snap when you broke them in two, just like store-bought ginger snaps, the only kind I’d ever had before. I asked for the recipe, and it wasn’t until years after I had painstakingly copied it onto page 38 of my recipe book, under the heading “Sue Mackenzie’s Mom’s Gingersnaps” (and made the recipe many times), that I realized that her recipe was identical to my mom’s molasses crinkles recipe on page 15, only baked a bit longer for crunchiness, and without the sprinkle-with-2-or-3-drops-of-water step. (Also, according to this recipe, you can roll the balls of dough in granulated sugar “if desired.”)
I made molasses crinkles today (of course!), and I did everything just the way my mom always did. Well, okay, not quite. I always substitute butter for two-thirds of the Crisco shortening in her recipe, which makes them even more melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Besides the fact that butter is almost always better in cookies (and the fact that, unless I’m making whoopie pie filling, it’s hard to bring myself to even look at a cup and a half of Crisco, let alone put it in a recipe), Crisco is no longer the frugal option it used to be. In Mom’s day, it was cheap—far cheaper than butter, and even cheaper than margarine—which I’m sure is why she used it in baking. Nowadays, it rivals butter in price-per-pound. I could probably still buy margarine more cheaply, but, despite having been raised on it, I won’t touch the stuff. Sorry, Mom.
Almost-like-my-mom’s Molasses Crinkles
1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup Crisco
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
Sift together and stir in:
4-1/2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ginger
Chill dough for at least two hours. Form into balls the size of large walnuts. Roll balls in sugar and place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water to produce a crackled surface. Flatten with the bottom of a glass, dipping it in sugar between cookies. Bake in a quick-moderate oven (375 degrees) just until set, but not hard, about 8 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for one minute, then on wire racks.