Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.
The secret to a pudgy molasses cookie with just the right amount of chew and sparkly crunch is so simple. It just had to start somewhere that Rose Levy Beranbaum didn’t want it to stay.
She’d received a recipe that made such a cookie with these ideal textures—but because it called for shortening, it lacked the rich, full oomph of butter. Simply swapping butter for shortening isn’t always as straightforward as it seems: While shortening is all fat, American-style butter typically has 15% water. That extra moisture wreaks havoc when you’re trying to land physical perfection. The chew fades, the handsome cracks disappear.
Of course Rose, legendary author of 11 (almost all baking) cookbooks, knew what to do. She simply bubbled the extra water away on the stovetop, as you do when you’re clarifying butter. Then, while she was at it, she kept going to brown the milk solids and make brown butter, because there are very few instances where this isn’t an improvement.
Though a gram-for-gram swap of browned butter for shortening worked as planned, Rose is famously curious and precise, so she kept tinkering and testing to make sure she had every detail just so: the proportions of ginger, clove, and cinnamon, the ideal chill time and ball size and sugar fineness.(1)
“This is a recipe that took many tests to get the desired texture and cracks,” she wrote to me. “And along the way I discovered what will prevent the cracks which is moisture and temperature.” She documents every one of these details in her newest book Rose’s Baking Basics, so we all can have a failsafe recipe if we follow her—and the powers of understanding how it all works.
Even the name she gave it—much like her iconic Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte and All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake (2)—is at once exactly descriptive and poetic, soothing: “Molasses Sugar Butter Cookies.” Just right for place you’ll want to stay.
grams or 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, for rolling the dough balls (see Baking Pearls)
(1) “The finer the sugar, the finer the dough,” she says.
(2) Both in Genius Desserts, thanks for asking!
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The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."