Soft-Baked Molasses Cookies

4.91 from 10 votes
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These festive molasses cookies deliver lightly crisp edges and soft, chewy centers. Using a combination of three types of sugars gives the characteristic hazel hue and beautiful cracks on the surface. Each bite bursts with caramel notes and bold winter spices.

Best homemade molasses cookie recipe, perfect for the holidays.

This soft molasses cookie recipe combines 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.

I use warm and pungent spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and black pepper to balance the candied base. 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.

All-purpose flour is used to give a tender cookie with a soft bite. A moderate amount of protein, 10 to 13%, forms the right amount of gluten for structure. The flour is whisked together with baking soda to leaven the cookie. To add robust spiced aromas and flavor, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and salt are combined with the dry ingredients.

Use a combination of sugars

Three types of sugars are used in this recipe. Molasses and 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 over time. Granulated sugar provides slightly crisp edges and clean sweetness.

What is molasses?

Molasses is the thick, dark brown liquid by-product of cane sugar refining. Sulfured molasses is the only true type that forms from a 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, and not recommended for most baking.

Molasses selection

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 don’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.

Cream the butter and sugar

To lighten the texture of the batter, softened butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar are mixed in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. The butter should be malleable but not too soft, or the cookies will be flat and crispy. A pale yellow, light, and fluffy texture indicate that air has been incorporated.

Mix the eggs and vanilla into the creamed butter mixture. Slowly add in the molasses so that it evenly distributes into the ingredients. Gradually add the spiced flour mixture until just combined. You’ll notice that the dough will be soft and sticky to the touch. You can chill the dough until ready to use or start making shaping it into dough balls right away.

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 from adding the pourable molasses. When rolling the dough, I find it helpful to dampen your hands to make it easier to shape.

Portion the dough into 2 tablespoon-sized balls, then coat them with granulated sugar. It’s easier to form them into spheres once covered in dry sugar. Place the dough balls on baking sheets with parchment paper, 12 per tray.

Rolling molasses cookies in a bowl of granulated sugar.
Step 6. Roll the cookies

Underbaking the cookies

One trick to help yield softer cookies is to underbake them slightly. Bake them in a preheated oven at 375ºF (191ºF) for 10 to 12 minutes. 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 their 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 and 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.

Molasses cookies with cracked surfaces.

More holiday cookies

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between molasses cookies and gingerbread cookies?

They both have a strong ginger molasses flavor. Molasses cookies are typically soft. Gingerbread cookies can be rolled out to make cut-out shapes with crisp edges and chewy centers.

Why do my molasses cookies go flat?

Most likely, the butter was too warm. Soften the butter to between 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºF). When pressed, it should indent with some resistance. The cool fat keeps its fat crystal structure, so it doesn’t melt too quickly in the oven, creating a flat cookie.

What does molasses do in cookies?

Molasses adds a characteristics strong caramel-like flavor and chestnut color to cookies. It’s a humectant, attracting moisture and keeping cookies soft for longer.

Recipe Science

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 should yield slight pressure. This temperature range allows the fat crystals in the butter to hold their shape when creamed with the sugars, which will help with the cookie’s 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

Molasses cookies with lightly crisp edges and soft chewy centers. A combination of three sugars gives the beautiful hazel hue and surface cracks.
4.91 from 10 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Servings 24 cookies
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºF)
  • cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • cup granulated sugar, plus ½ cup (100g) for rolling
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup unsulphured molasses, light or dark

Instructions 

  • Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the center position and preheat to 375ºF (191ºF). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Prepare the Dry Ingredients – In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, black pepper, and salt. Set aside.
  • Mix the Butter and Sugars – In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or hand mixer), beat the softened butter, brown sugar, and ⅓ cup granulated sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 minutes.
  • Add the Wet Ingredients – Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg yolk and vanilla. Mix on medium-low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Add the molasses and beat on low speed until incorporated, 30 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed.
  • Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients – Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture 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.
  • Roll the Cookies in Sugar – Add 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" of space in between.
  • Bake – Bake one tray at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cookies should be cracked on the surface, puffy, soft, appear underbaked, and just set on the edges.
  • Let Them Cool – Leave the cookies on the tray for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes

  • Storing: Store 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

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 24 cookies
Calories 139kcal (7%)Carbohydrates 20g (7%)Protein 1g (2%)Fat 6g (9%)Saturated Fat 4g (20%)Cholesterol 23mg (8%)Sodium 99mg (4%)Potassium 123mg (4%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 11g (12%)Vitamin A 185IU (4%)Calcium 23mg (2%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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  1. Edie says

    After 20 minutes at 375 degrees F the cookies were burnt black on the bottom and very very hard. They would only be good for dunkers which that they were – very good but I thought the title was soft baked and that wasn’t the case. I cooked them for 9 minutes and they were a bit softer but hardened up again as they cooled. What would be the cause of these cookies being so hard after the required 20 minutes in the oven. I used all purpose Robin Hood flour in Canada – would the same amount of flour apply due to the different types of flours? I also noted that the batter was not sticky as all as you suggest it should be. I weighed the flour rather than use a measure cup. I can only think there might have been too much flour. Would that have yielded a harder cookie?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Edie- I deeply apologize, the bake time should be 10 to 12 minutes and not 20. I accidentally took the approximate total time for two trays. Thank you so much for your kind feedback, and for experimenting with a shorter time. As for the texture of the dough, if you weighed everything than perhaps there might be more gluten in the type of dough you are using to make it feel less sticky. You are a rockstar, thank you!

      • Edie says

        Thanks for your reply, Jessica. Still wondering if the difference in gluten in US flours and flours in Canada would account for a harder cookie than “soft-baked” as your cookies were meant to be. Even at 9 minutes, when they cooled they were hard. I use an oven thermometer to ensure correct oven temp. Thanks again.

        • Jessica Gavin says

          Yes, it’s a possibility since difference growing regions and processing can vary between brands and cause a less soft cookie.

  2. Cynthia says

    These are my favorite cookie of all time. This recipe is a little different than mine so I am going to give it a try.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Yes! I recommend using bob’s red mill 1:1 gluten-free baking flour if you have that available at your local store.