These festive molasses cookies deliver lightly crisp edges and soft chewy centers. Using a combination of three types of sugars give the characteristic hazel hue and beautiful cracks on the surface. Each bite is bursting with caramel notes and bold winter spices.
This molasses cookie recipe has a combination of deep caramel flavors with warm holiday spices. They are the delicate counterparts to the crunchy gingersnap cookies because I use high moisture sweeteners to ensure the texture is soft and chewy. The perfect holiday treats for a cookie exchange.
To balance the candied base, I use warm and pungent spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and black pepper. The combination instantly adds tingling notes. What I love about this recipe is that you can make it ahead. The dough can be rolled and coated in advance then chilled or frozen for use later. Bake fresh when the craving hits.
What is molasses?
Molasses is the thick, dark brown liquid by-product of cane sugar refining. Sulfured-molasses is the only true type which forms from that refinement process. It’s darker in color and has a strong bitter flavor.
Most often unsulfured-molasses is used in recipes, which is intentionally produced from pure cane syrup and has a lighter, more mild flavor. Blackstrap molasses is very dark and thick in consistency, with a very strong and distinct flavor, not recommended to use for most baking.
For this recipe, I use Grandma’s Molasses. It’s unsulfured and comes in original light molasses or a robust dark molasses version. I use the light type so the concentrated caramel and slightly smoky flavor doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. The only difference in varieties is the length of the boiling process to yield either a more mild or strong taste.
Use a combination of sugars
Three types of sugars are used in this recipe. Molasses, brown sugar provide the chestnut hue and cooked caramel flavors. They’re both humectants, which means they like to attract and hold onto moisture which helps to keep the cookies soft overtime. Granulated sugar provides the slightly crisp edges and clean sweetness.
Working with a sticky batter
The batter is stickier and less dense compared to other drop cookies like chocolate chip. That’s because of the high moisture content coming from the addition of the pourable molasses. When rolling the dough, I find it helpful to lightly dampen your hands to make it easier to shape. It also helps to coat them with the granulated sugar when forming them into spheres.
Underbaking the cookies
One trick to help yield softer cookies is to slightly underbake them. Make sure to keep a close eye on how the appearance changes. The edges should be set, but the centers will puff up, fracture, and look undone. That’s when they’re ready to remove from the oven.
This recipe has a short bake time, but the cookies are cooled on the warm sheet pan for an additional 10 minutes. This period allows for carryover cooking, gently heating the cookies to the core without losing its pliability and getting too dried out.
Storing and freezing the dough
The cookie dough can be made in advance after being shaped and rolled in sugar. You can keep them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 2 months. I recommend freezing them in a single layer on parchment paper then consolidating them into a bag.
Before baking, the cookie dough should come to around 65ºF (18ºF), just below room temperature on the sheet pan before placing it in the oven. This may take 10 to 30 minutes.
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Soften the butter before using
It’s important to soften butter to between 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºF) for these cookies. When you poke the surface with your finger it should yield to slight pressure. This temperature range allows the fat crystals in the butter to hold its shape when creamed with the sugars which will with the cookie structure. The goal is to create little air pockets so that the cookie bakes up light and forms a slight dome shape.
Soft-Baked Molasses Cookies
- 2 ¼ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoon (5 g) ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ teaspoons (2 g) ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºF)
- ⅓ cup (67 g) dark brown sugar, packed
- ⅓ cup (68 g) granulated sugar, plus ½ cup (100g) for rolling
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon (5ml ) pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup (140 ml) unsulphured molasses, light or dark
- Set the oven rack to the center position and preheat to 375ºF (191ºF).
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, black pepper, and salt.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or hand mixer) beat the softened butter, brown sugar, and ⅓ cup sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 minutes.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg yolk and vanilla, mix on medium-low speed until combined, 30 seconds.
- Add in the molasses to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated, 30 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour until combined, about 30 seconds. The dough will be very soft and slightly sticky.
- Stir the dough a few times with a spatula to get any pockets of flour.
- Add a ½ cup of granulated sugar to a shallow bowl.
- Roll the cookie dough into 2 tablespoon-sized balls using slightly dampened hands. Roll in the sugar, making sure it adheres to the surface. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- Evenly space 12 cookies per tray, giving at least 2-inches of space in between.
- Bake one tray at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The cookies should be cracked on the surface, puffy, soft, appear underbaked, and just set on the edges.
- Cool on the tray for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Store molasses cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 7 days. Freeze for up to one month, then defrost before eating.
- Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, The Perfect Cookie