Rose Levy Beranbaum's Molasses Sugar Butter Cookies

November 29, 2018
Photo by Kristen Miglore
Author Notes

Rose Levy Beranbaum received a recipe that made a molasses cookie with an ideal chewy-crisp texture—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. With extra moisture, the chew fades, the handsome cracks disappear. Rose 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. Adapted slightly from Rose's Baking Basics (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). —Genius Recipes

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Rose Levy Beranbaum's Molasses Sugar Butter Cookies
  • Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes twenty-four 2 3/4-inch cookies
  • 150 grams or 10 1/2 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 38 grams or 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (35 ml) or 3/4 large egg
  • 204 grams or 1 3/4 cups minus 1 tablespoon (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) bleached all-purpose flour
  • 8.2 grams or 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 125 grams or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 60 grams or 3 tablespoons (45 ml) light molasses, preferably Grandma’s brand
  • 24 grams or 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, for rolling the dough balls (see Baking Pearls)
In This Recipe
  1. CLARIFY AND BROWN THE BUTTER: Have ready by the cooktop a 1 cup glass measure with a spout. In a small heavy saucepan, on very low heat, melt the butter, stirring often with a silicone spatula. Raise the heat to low and boil, stirring constantly, until the milk solids on the spatula become a deep brown. Immediately pour the butter into the glass measure, scraping in the browned solids as well. Allow the browned butter to cool to room temperature, or no higher than 80°F/27°C (see Baking Pearls, below).
  2. Into another 1 cup measure with a spout or a small bowl, weigh or measure the egg. Cover with plastic wrap.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
  4. MAKE THE DOUGH: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the browned butter with its solids, the sugar, molasses, and egg on low speed for 1 minute.
  5. Add the flour mixture. Start mixing on the lowest speed to moisten the flour. Raise the speed to low and beat for 30 seconds.
  6. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and divide it in half (about 281 grams each). Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm enough to handle (see Baking Pearls).
  7. PREHEAT THE OVEN: Thirty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack at the middle level. Set the oven at 375°F/190°C.
  8. ROLL THE DOUGH INTO BALLS: In a small bowl or large custard cup, place the sugar for rolling the dough balls. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator.
  9. Measure the dough into a 1 1/2-inch diameter cookie scoop and level it off with a small metal spatula, or scoop out a heaping tablespoon (23 grams). You will get 12 pieces of dough. Roll each piece in the palms of your hands to form a 1¼ inch ball.
  10. Roll each dough ball around in the bowl of sugar to coat it well. Set the dough balls a minimum of 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.
  11. BAKE THE COOKIES: Bake for 4 minutes. For even baking, rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 4 to 6 minutes. Cracks will appear on the surface, but the inside will look slightly underbaked. When gently pressed with a fingertip, the cookies should still feel soft in the middle. (Baking longer will result in a darker looking and crisper cookie throughout.)
  12. COOL THE COOKIES: Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool for 3 to 5 minutes, until firm enough to transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Use a thin pancake turner to transfer the cookies to another wire rack. They will firm up as they cool, with a crisp surface and soft chewy interior. Shape, bake, and cool the second batch.
  13. STORE AIRTIGHT: room temperature, 7 days; refrigerated, 2 weeks; frozen, 3 months.
  14. BAKING PEARLS: If the browned butter is used at a higher temperature than 80°F/27°C, the cookies will not expand to 2 3/4 inches and will not form cracks. They will also require another 2 minutes of baking.
  15. It is essential to clarify the butter for these cookies, because just melting the butter will result in a thinner cookie that doesn’t bake through. Use grade AA butter; lower-quality butter (containing more water) will result in a lesser amount of browned butter. You will need a total of 110 grams/½ cup plus 1 tablespoon/133 ml browned butter.
  16. Superfine sugar will give the finest, most even crunch to the surface of the cookies, but if desired, turbinado sugar can be used instead for more sparkle.
  17. Refrigerating half the dough while you shape the first batch keeps the remaining dough cool, which prevents the baking soda from activating and ensures that the cookies will be uniform in size and shape. The time it takes to roll the remaining twelve dough balls is about the same as it takes to bake the first batch.
  18. The raw dough freezes nicely; however, if the dough is not baked on the same day as mixing, the cookies will be slightly larger, flatter, and darker in color.

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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.