We weren’t able to be around my family for the holidays this year since we’re all getting together in February for the niece’s first birthday (sidenote: she is super cute, in case you were wondering). Couple that with the fact that there’s not a whole lot that either of my parents needs and Christmas shopping is a bit of an adventure. I decided to try to send them a little treat to jazz up their Christmas gifts and set out trying to decide what would mail well but still be tasty once it got there. My mom was a no brainer since she loves her almond roca. My dad, on the other hand, was a bit more of a challenge.
As I was doing inventory of our baking supply, I noticed a rather large bottle of molasses that we had bought to make the best pecan pie ever. That’s when it dawned on me. A while back my great aunt had sent me a recipe for my dad’s grandma’s molasses cookies which she apparently made each Christmas. Bingo! I wasn’t sure if he liked them, but I figured for nostalgia’s sake it was worth a try. I figured they’d be fairly easy to recreate.
Then I looked at the recipe. My aunt had sent a scanned copy of my great grandma’s actual index card with the recipe. It read as followed:
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 … [meaning cup] B. sugar
- 3/4 cup butter & lard
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 egg
- 1 tb. soda
- 1 tsp. cin
- 4 cups flour
- more if necessary
Well. I had some ingredients! That was a start. To make matters even more confusing, she had included on the same print out a completely different recipe. So, obviously my first step was research.
I searched for a similar recipe, with a 1-1 ratio of molasses and brown sugar. Apparently our tastes these days aren’t what they used to be, because most recipes I found called for white sugar instead of brown (brown contains even more molasses). Furthermore, most recipes that did use brown sugar dialed way back on the molasses.
Since that didn’t seem to be a terribly useful path, I began looking for a hint as to what the consistency of the dough should be. ‘More if necessary’ just wasn’t enough of a clue to know, well, if more flour was necessary. Apparently some are rolled and cut with cookie cutters to make a crisp cookie. Others are rolled into a ball and then smushed on the pan with a sugar covered glass for a chewey bite. Still others are a drop cookie, almost cakey in nature. So which ones were these? For that I looked to my aunt’s recipe, which I assumed to be a fairly genuine (if not more straight forward) take on the original recipe. Hers included a note that said ‘Pat out, don’t roll’ and ‘drop by teaspoons.’ So, I assumed a drop cookie that might do a bit of spreading as it baked.
As for when to add the ingredients, I assumed adding them in the order they were written was a fairly safe bet. The ingredients themselves were pretty straight forward, with the exception of the butter & lard. By looking at a few other recipes, I gathered that it was a total of 3/4 cup of butter and lard combined, not of each ingredient. Since we didn’t have lard on hand, I did some googling to find that shortening was an acceptable substitute (that’s what my aunt’s recipe called for, too). We prefer the taste of butter, so we did a 2:1 ratio of butter to shortening. Thankfully my aunt had included the oven temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or else I would have been on another research tangent to figure that out.
Last but not least, we needed to figure out how many cookies we were talking and adjust accordingly. I was fairly confident we didn’t need 4 1/2 cups plus more if necessary of flour’s worth. And that was if they turned out right. They very well could be a failure, and we didn’t want to have a ton of that sitting around taking it’s toll on our egos. With a shot in the dark, we went for 1/3 of the original recipe, which turned out to be the right amount.
They were definitely the cakey variety, which I wasn’t quite sure was right. Regardless, we liked them. I was a little hesitant as we were making them because the molasses smell isn’t my favorite. But I enjoyed the fact that they weren’t too heavily spiced and had a nicely complex flavor.
I may or may not have called my dad too many times before he got his package. I was anxious to know how these compared to the real deal, since I had no idea what I was aiming for. When it finally arrived and he tried them, he had this to report:
They were just like I remember. I remember them cakey. I took one bite and it was a flood of memories.
I’d consider that a success! I think we still have a bit of work, research and experimentation to get it just right. The flour, for instance, required much more than the original recipe, but I’m not really sure exactly how much.
Or I could always perpetuate the notion of ‘until it looks right’ that my great grandma was fond of and hold my breath each time we make them in hopes that they turn out right that time. In any case, I think it’s safe to assume that these will be in our yearly Christmas rotation from now on. Sometimes, the oldies really are the goodies.