The Secret Ingredient for Chewy Sugar Cookies

October 18, 2015

Posie Harwood, who finds the best back-of-the-box recipes in the grocery store, confirms that molasses is the key to chewier sugar cookies.

The flavor of molasses reminds me of spoonbread, a dish my mother made often when I was little. I'd douse the soft pudding-like bread liberally with a thick, syrupy stream of molasses. But other than those glorious spoonbread nights, the yellow jar of molasses sat neglected on the pantry shelf. 

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Happily, I've discovered that sugar cookies are the perfect way to use up that lonely jar. You might expect these cookies to taste predominantely of molasses, but they don't. Reminiscent of gingerbread, they lean on the classic fall spices that you'd find in pumpkin pie and apple cake. This family of warm, aromatic spices is easy to play around with. Don't feel stuck to the ones I've listed, and know that any of the following can be used in whatever ratio you like best: cardamom, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. 

Molasses performs the same nifty trick that brown sugar will in baked goods, adding a firm chewiness to these cookies. "Crinkly" is an apt descriptor: The cookies are nearly crisp at the edges and though they are exceptionally chewy, they aren't soft. 

When you bake the cookies, they will puff up impressively—don't worry about that. As soon as they start to cool, they deflate. Weirdly, I always imagine them as enthusiastic kindergarteners, puffed and excitable in the summer heat, then turning crestfallen as the temperature drops come fall.

It's advisable to chill your dough before rolling and baking the cookies. Otherwise, the dough is sticky and hard to handle. A cookie scoop is helpful for uniformity when shaping the cookies, but you can also just roll them out with your hands or a large spoon.

These cookies are excellent, but don't take my word for it. My sister swears up and down that she doesn't like molasses and refused my (repeated!) offer of cookies. I finally coaxed her into trying a bite and minutes later she made off with an entire bag of them.

Now it's your turn: Make these, freeze them for later, or use them to convert your friends into molasses fanatics.

Molasses Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Grandma's Molasses

Makes 18 cookies

 cup butter, at room temperature

cup granulated sugar

cup molasses (not blackstrap!)


2 1/4
 cups flour

teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 
teaspoons cinnamon (I use Saigon cinnamon)

teaspoon kosher salt

teaspoon ground ginger

teaspoon ground nutmeg

Turbinado sugar, for coating

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Posie Harwood

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • TAP
  • JulieQC
  • Lucan Pipkin
    Lucan Pipkin
  • Stephanie
  • Gabriella
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


TAP February 9, 2016
The notes below say 2 tsps. of baking soda; the recipe states 1/2 tsp. Which is correct?
JulieQC December 1, 2015
I followed the recipe precisely and also got puffy cookies. The flavour was good but the texture was off.
Lucan P. October 23, 2015
Mine turned out the same - puffy and soft. I did leave the dough refrigerated overnight. I used cardamom instead of the pumpkin pie spices but followed the rest of the recipe. Any ideas on what went wrong?
Posie (. October 23, 2015
If you didn't weigh your flour, I'd suggest trying with 2 tablespoons less flour. The recipe is pretty sensitive to flour amounts in terms of texture. Try baking soda instead of baking powder as well. Let me know! I just made another batch and they turned out nice and chewy so hopefully this works for you!
Stephanie October 20, 2015
Just made these and mine ended up really puffy and soft, not crackly and chewy. Still tasty but not what I was hoping for. Perhaps I creamed my butter and sugar too much? And Is 2tsp of baking powder correct?
Posie (. October 20, 2015
Stephanie, I've tested a few times today and although both variations worked for me to get flat chewy cookies, I'd try using 2 teaspoons of baking soda instead of baking powder. I've adjusted the recipe but let me know if you try that and how it does!
Stephanie October 20, 2015
Thanks for the tips! I'll give it a try. It may have been over creaming...I left my sugar and butter mixing while I read bedtime stories to my toddlers. :)
Gabriella October 19, 2015
Just curious, could an amount of (dark?) brown sugar be used as perhaps a substitute for the molasses and white sugar?
Posie (. October 20, 2015
Yes! You certainly can, and I've tried this. Keep in mind they will be slightly cakier and less chewy. But still delicious!