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Published September 07, 2011, 12:00 AM

Halgrimson: ‘Illegal’ cookies worth doing time

“When I opened the door … my home was redolent of cinnamon and cloves. I was baking molasses cookies. The anxiety kindling in my overburdened mind demanded the kind of psychopharmaceutical relief that could be obtained only in the kitchen, and I’d stopped at the supermarket on the way home to stock up on illegal substances: butter, sugar, molasses, eggs. The orderly steps of cookie baking had freed my mind to meander.”

By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM

“When I opened the door … my home was redolent of cinnamon and cloves. I was baking molasses cookies. The anxiety kindling in my overburdened mind demanded the kind of psychopharmaceutical relief that could be obtained only in the kitchen, and I’d stopped at the supermarket on the way home to stock up on illegal substances: butter, sugar, molasses, eggs. The orderly steps of cookie baking had freed my mind to meander.” – the fictional professor Karen Pelletier, who teaches English at an Eastern college in “The Raven and the Nightingale” by Joanne Dobson

During the holidays, my friend Viki Bruns and I bake cookies using my grandma’s Norwegian recipes.

However, Gram did not bake ginger-molasses cookies, so when two other friends, LuAnn Hagel and Liz Anderson, who do bake them for the holidays, started sharing their cookies with me, I asked for the recipes.

A few weeks ago, when the weather had cooled a bit, Vicki and I tested the recipes.

LuAnn’s recipe comes from her mother, Ida Hagel, and calls for shortening. I used lard because I had some in the fridge, but you can also use butter if you feel the same way about canned shortening as I do. LuAnn says the recipe is supposed to make five dozen cookies, but it doesn’t. She adds that she usually doubles the recipe. And I’m sorry we didn’t when we baked them. Although I over-baked them a bit, they were delicious.

I don’t know where Liz’s recipe originated, and while it’s similar to LuAnn’s, it’s much spicier. I shortened the instructions for Liz’s recipe, but those are the only changes I made.

It’s that combination of illegal substances that gives the kitchen such a seductive aroma, even if chocolate is not included in the recipe.

Ida and LuAnn Hagel’s Ginger Snap Cookies

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 1/4 cup sifted flour

2 teaspoons soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Cream first four ingredients until fluffly. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into molasses mixture. Form into small balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Liz’s Spicy, Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies

1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dipping

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper (if desired)

1/4 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)

Turn oven to 375 degrees. Place oven rack in middle of oven. Put ½ cup sugar for dipping on a plate.

Whisk flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and two sugars until light and fluffy. Add yolk and vanilla and beat until well mixed. Add molasses, beat until mixed, scraping down bowl with a rubber spatula. Slowly add dry ingredients until well incorporated, dough will be soft. Refrigerate dough for several hours or overnight.

Heap tablespoons of dough in a spoon, and roll dough with palms into a ball. Flatten balls and dip both sides in sugar. Set on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake for about 12 minutes, until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft. Do not over bake.

Cool cookies for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack. Cool to room temperature and serve. Store at room temperature in an airtight container. Makes about 30 cookies.


Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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