Genius Recipes

The Chewiest, Crackliest Molasses Cookies Have a Genius Little Secret

From Rose Levy Beranbaum, of course.

November 29, 2018

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.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

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.

Photo by Rocky Luten

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“And hey, if we're not in the picky measuring mood, we can always use the whole egg and ditch the scales and probably get a yummy cookie all the same. But I like the option. Thanks!”
— Jessica
Comment

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.

(1) “The finer the sugar, the finer the dough,” she says.
(2) Both in Genius Desserts, thanks for asking!

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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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.

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37 Comments

Judy December 3, 2018
I have been using a similar recipe for the past 10 years from Cooks Illustrated called Soft and Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies. They call for 1 large egg yolk, no weighing, and no shortening. Instead, it calls for 12 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter as-is, no browning. The recipe has an assortment of fall spices, including cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, and even black pepper. These cookies bake up soft and chewy but with a beautiful crackled exterior and an ever-so-slight outer crunchiness. The only fussy part of the recipe is that you cannot bake 2 pans of cookies at the same time, and you need to either set a timer or don't leave the kitchen when baking because you do not want to overbake these cookies. However, when I have overbaked them, I love them that way, too, because they instantly become great dunkers for coffee, tea or hot cocoa! I make these cookies every year during the holidays and everyone loves them and they couldn't be easier! I'm baking them this week for my church ladies' annual cookie swap!
 
Gwen December 3, 2018
Can't wait to make these. The molasses cookie recipe I have from the 1960s also uses Crisco. I baked from Rose's Christmas Cookies (first edition) in 1990, and it was the first time I'd seen recipe ingredients presented in volume and weights. I was hooked. The Ginger Pennies from that book were a favorite. I have her new book, too. I hope you can present more recipes from Rose's Baking Basics at some point.
 
Rose L. December 7, 2018
thank you Gwen--i so loved doing this with Kristen i already invited myself back!!!
 
Cliff S. December 3, 2018
Well,,, I like these presentations so much I'm going to sign on from time to time.<br />What else would a retired elderly have to do besides cook cookies for the grand kids?<br />Besides, it looks fun.
 
food52fan December 3, 2018
I'm so excited to try this recipe, especially after learning how to sub butter for that dreadful shortening! I love molasses cookies, and chewy + crispy cookies are the best! I just bought a kitchen scale and will get in the habit of using it consistently after reading this article and the comments. Not as many cups and measuring spoons to wash is a bonus!
 
Cynthia M. December 3, 2018
Loved the video with all the little hints and tips! I will definitely be getting this book.
 
mary H. December 2, 2018
I made these at 7,500 ft elevation and the recipe was PERFECT! I used 1 large egg, not weighed and rolled them in turbinado. Thank you.
 
Rose L. December 2, 2018
this is great to know Mary--thanks so much for sharing! i would have thought that at high altitude and with extra egg to boot it would have been more puffy. just goes to show that the proof is always in the pudding!
 
judy December 1, 2018
I'm still mot really into weights when I bake. I make gorgeous cakes, cookies, pies etc measuring the "old-fashioned" way. Maybe they would be even better if I was more precise, as I do recognize that baking requires precision. I do fluff my flour before scooping and swiping. I measure eggs in 1/4 cup amounts. Started doing both of those when I wanted to learn to make angel food cake. Because 4 egg whites and whites of 4 eggs are most certainly not the same volume as 1/3cup of egg whites. But I still shy away from a digital scale and measure approximately accurate as my measuring devices--spoons and cups--make possible. I actually will convert weighted ingredients to volume if I have to. But I sure enjoy the labor of love produced by those of you who are persnickety enough to precisely weigh each ingredient. Thank you
 
Jessica November 30, 2018
I can't be the only person who has ever looked at a recipe and wondered what the absolute perfect ingredient proportions would truly be. I mean, come on! What are the odds that our typical round measurements really produce the ideal result?<br />I love that Rose has gone to the trouble to be as exact as possible. Knowledge is power, baby!<br />And hey, if we're not in the picky measuring mood, we can always use the whole egg and ditch the scales and probably get a yummy cookie all the same. But I like the option. Thanks!
 
Maggie November 30, 2018
While I haven't baked these yet, is line to chime in on the Persnickety Egg Issue. I have hens, which means that no two of the 45823 (approximately) eggs on the counter or in the fridge are remotely the same shape or size. This is fine for omelets or whatnot, but using one whole randomly-selected egg in a baking recipe can alter the results drastically depending on the particular egg chosen. I appreciate the beaten egg weight in this recipe. Beat the egg, measure it however you choose (I'm not about to jump on the middle of a weights-versus-volumes war; you do you), and as for the leftover spoonful, beat another couple of eggs and make scrambled eggs for lunch, give it to the dog, or just wash it down the sink with cold water, but for heaven's sake, don't let it keep you from making delicious cookies! The world NEEDS delicious cookies!
 
cfelten November 29, 2018
I have to throw in my two cents here. I completely understand why you wouldn't want to weigh out 38 grams of egg, so don't, just use a smaller egg. As Rose says, you can use the whole egg and it will probably work - it just won't be the same. But if you want to make Rose's cookies, follow her recipe.<br /><br />I created a Lion King theme cake for my son's 5th birthday using recipes from a 1980's edition of the Cake Bible, following each recipe precisely (yellow cake and lots of neo-classic buttercream) and it is still probably the best cake I've ever eaten. I'm also a big fan of Rose's Christmas cookie book and years later still follow each recipe exactly. I bake using weight measures and I appreciate the precision Rose brings to her craft.
 
Lisa November 29, 2018
I love these videos Kristen! And to see you bake with Rose is a treat! One of first books I bought as a young married person was The Cake Bible. I realized right away that maybe I was in way over my head going from boxed cake mixes to this book - but I didn't let it deter me, I learned a lot along the way. Cookbooks come and go, but The Cake Bible is still on my shelf. I look forward to baking from this current book. Love the tips that were share today!
 
Ancasmom November 29, 2018
How does one measure 3/4 of an egg? No yolk? Egg white? I’m a baker and I have found that being consistent with measuring ingredients is perfectly fine. I haven’t had any issues with baking by measure. I agree with some of the other comments, the recipe is very specific. My grandmother didn’t measure anything when she baked, which always seemed to work.
 
Rose L. November 29, 2018
Here's my explanation for why I felt inclined to give such an odd amount as 3/4 of an egg: I have discovered that in recent years younger laying hens are being used for production and the proportion of yolk to white has diminished significantly. USDA rules are that a carton of 12 eggs must weigh 24 ounces but it does not dictate how much each individual egg weighs which means one egg can be 3 ounces and another only 1-1/2 ounces. Since eggs are such an important part of a recipe, to get consistent results it is best to weigh or at least measure them. I wish I could say go ahead and use a whole egg instead of 3/4 of one and it might even work but who know what the size of that one egg is going to be. i'm sure it will work but it won't be the same.
 
Eric K. November 30, 2018
Love that precision.<br /><br />Thank you for sharing this gorgeous recipe with us, Rose. And looks like you and Kristen had so much fun filming that video! I feel like I learned a thousand things from it.<br /><br />-E
 
Rose L. November 30, 2018
Thank you Eric! in fact, I couldn't wait to see the finished video because I was having so much fun I forgot we were being taped and I thought "uh oh--either this is going to be the best ever or....not!" thank goodness I am totally thrilled with the outcome and especially that the filming and editing were so good and chose all my favorite moments and info.
 
Julie K. December 1, 2018
But if the size of one egg is inconsistent so is the size of 3/4 of an egg. The volume or weight measures are more exact, but the recipe could still be scaled from the volume or weight measure of one large egg instead of 3/4 egg.
 
susan F. December 3, 2018
I am thankful for your precision. Baking is an exact science. Your observations about eggs are timely and much appreciated.
 
Nicole November 29, 2018
I mean. They were yummy. But I have a recipe for same cookies that taste equally delicious and don’t ask for bits of egg instead of whole egg.<br />The measuring seems unnecessarily finicky for those of us who don’t have kitchen weights/ scales.<br /><br />Just saying . Reading the recipe gave me anxiety.
 
Melissa L. November 29, 2018
You'll never regret her precision. None of her recipes lead to failure, or disappointment.
 
Jenny A. November 29, 2018
Re video, Rose thought everyone was ambidextrous? Hmm. This recipe is too fussy. In Cook's Illustrated's 2007 Brown Sugar Cookies they use brown sugar and melted butter to make them chewy. And they use brown sugar and softened butter to make chewy molasses cookies.
 
txchick57 November 30, 2018
there's always the Keebler elves
 
Melissa L. November 29, 2018
RLB is my baking muse. She taught me, as a new bride, exactly why my failures happened, and which cookbooks to never bother with again (knowledge is power, and she dumped vast amounts of relative information on me). Her Ginger Pennies, from Rose's Christmas Cookies are darling little bites of heaven.<br />
 
Melissa L. November 29, 2018
"Relevant", not "relative"!<br />:D
 
Amanda N. November 29, 2018
So many awesome tips. I have several family recipes that use shortening. I will have to try clarified butter substitution.
 
Linda Y. November 29, 2018
Agree 100% with Paul! All measurements in grams, whether liquid or solid ensure a recipe that is easily duplicated and is always consistent. Thank you !!!
 
Melissa S. November 29, 2018
I understand why people find the volume measurements difficult to manage, but I am so much happier to see weights!! (in grams not ounces for even more precision) really weighing is SOO much easier! No fiddling with a bunch of different cups and spoons and fluffing flour and leveling ingredients -just a scale and a bowl -weigh and done!
 
Rose L. November 29, 2018
oh thanks Melissa--just found your comment in the comments section! much appreciated!
 
BarbaraLynn November 29, 2018
I am trying to start using weights instead of cups and such. I had good results when I used weights for a time, a few years ago. I got lazy and started doing things the easy way! I think baking, especially using leven in agents, is a more scientific process, so being a bit more precise can bring impressive improvements. Just beat some eggs, and weigh it. You actually get to know about how much an average egg weighs. This recipe inspires me to start weighing my ingredients again! Have you any recipes for a molasses cookie with black pepper in it?