Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Stinky Slow-Poke Gets Baked

Fork and I hit the OG last night (the crappy Italian restaurant chain, that is; no original gangstas here). Scarred from the experience, which you can read about in the previous post, I returned home and immediately set to erasing the memory. What better way to do that than baking cookies?

To me, baking Christmas treats is one of the best parts of the season. Something about it goes against the boisterous intensity of the holiday rush. You're in your own kitchen, wearing clothes you don't care about getting dirty, alone and not forced into polite conversation with anyone. And unlike cakes or pies, with (most) cookies, you get near-instant gratification: 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees, and you've got a warm cookie in one hand; a glass of milk, or mug of hot cider or cocoa in the other. So far this season, I've already made a batch of chocolate-cranberry-almond biscotti and a few dozen cookie-cutter cookies. And I'm just getting started.

Last night I made a cookie that's fast becoming one of my holiday faves. It's a chewy molasses spice cookie from Everyday Food, of all places. I made them last year and wrapped them up in little stacks, tied with ribbon, to give to Fork's family. This year I have no intended recipient. I just wanted to, no, needed to bake something after enduring the processed, corporate kitchen stylings of the Olive Garden.

One of the good things about these particular cookies is that you don't need much to make them, and I was able to make do without having to compound the trauma of dinner at the Olive Garden with a trip to Morton Williams. All you need is a 1/4 cup of molasses (duh), 1 and 1/2 sticks of butter, an egg, some nutmeg, cinnamon and the standard baking ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda, salt.

If you've ever opened a jar of molasses and taken a whiff you know it's pretty gross. Kind of like the Olive Garden. Molasses is a thick syrup "by-product" from the processing of sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar, and how could any "by-product" ever smell good? Somehow it morphs from nasty goo into chewy fabulousness once baked. Incidentally, molasses is also the base material for fermentenation into rum. Cool.

After 11 minutes in the oven and a minute resting on the cookie sheet, the cookies are chewy, crisp on the outside, nice and soft on the inside. A warm cookie, a glass of milk and all is once again right in the world, or at least in my little Manhattan apartment on a chilly December night.--S

Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies
Makes 36

2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c sugar
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/4 c molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a shallow bowl, place 1/2 cup sugar; set aside.
2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and remaining cup of sugar until combined. Beat in egg and then molasses until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in dry ingredients, just until a dough forms.
3. Pinch off and roll dough into balls, each equal to 1 tablespoon. Roll balls in reserved sugar to coat.
4. Arrange balls on baking sheets, about 3 inches apart. Bake until edges are just firm, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container, 3 to 4 days.

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