Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pumpkin-Molasses Ginger Chews

There are some recipes that have childhood and comfort written all over them.  For me, my grandmother's molasses cookies are near the top of the list.  They make me think of holidays and home.  They're chewy and soft, with a snap of ginger that's perfect to warm you up on a snowy day.

Yesterday we got the first - and possibly only - substantial snowfall of the year.  Last year we shoveled all of once.  I think we did twice the year before that; usually whatever dusting we do get melts off the driveway by noon.  Though I can't say I miss the work, this New England girl does miss the unique stillness of a snowstorm.  There's something about snowstorms that makes me feel like everything is on hold.  Errands can't be run.  I can't be called in to work.  There are no priorities other than staying cozy and safe at home.  And, in yesterday's case, hop into the holiday apron Gram made me & bake some cookies.

Isn't this adorable?  Gram's so creative.

These are excellent holiday cookies.  Heck, they're excellent year-round cookies.  My Gram's original recipe didn't call for pumpkin, but I figure it not only gives me an excuse to sneak a little Vitamin A & C into Doc, but also lets me use up some of the pumpkin puree I had from the half-dozen we grew in the garden this year.  Or, truth be told, grew all over the yard.  Pumpkin vines sure do run amuck.

Our cookie jar was so lonely!

I've heard that subbing in vegan alternatives for butter & cream cheese, dropping the egg, and subtracting about a quarter cup of flour is all it takes to make this recipe vegan-friendly.  Probably makes it a lot healthier, too.  I haven't done it that way myself, though, so I can't vouch for it personally.  Drop a note in the comments if it works for you, or if you have other tips!

As always, a short version of the recipe is at the bottom.

Pumpkin-Molasses Ginger Chews

To start off, grab yourself two bowls and at least one whisk.  If you've got a mixer, attach the wire beater.  That is, unless you have an edge-scraping beater.  My mom just got me one for an early Christmas present and it is brilliant.

How did no one invent this sooner?

Okay, so in the first mixing bowl you're going to add half a cup of butter and 1 tablespoon of cream cheese.  Both the butter and the cream cheese should be room temperature.  I just leave them out the night before when I go to bed and they're set by morning.  If you wanted to set them out before work that'd do the trick, too.  The cream cheese isn't totally vital.  I add it in because of the molasses and sugar - the richness and slight tang of the cream cheese helps to temper the sweetness.

Mix them together so that they're like a fluffy paste.  Err on the side of too cold rather than too warm.  Too warm and your cookies will come out melty.  Think the kind of whipped butter you get at fancy restaurants.  What we're going to do is suspend the sugar in the butter (requires cold), rather than dissolve it (requires heat).

There we go!

Next up is one cup of sugar.  White sugar, here.  I've tried palm sugar in the past and it came out too sweet and a little gritty.  In this batch I used cane sugar from Trader Joe's.

Mixing the sugar into the butter is called "creaming" them, and is the basis for pretty much every cookie ever.  Blend it up for a few seconds until you get a thick dough base.

Next is one egg.

Beat again.  You'll find it's a bit smoother now.

Next are 1/4 cup of molasses and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Beat that up with everything else, and now the dough will start to be the right color for molasses cookies.

Last bit.  One cup of pumpkin.  You can use canned, that's no biggie.  I'd frozen one-cup portions of pumpkin puree from our garden pumpkins.  I love having it on hand in smallish portions, 'cause I rarely am able to use up an entire can of pumpkin.

This is so, so convenient.  Give it a try when pie pumpkins are in the store.

Beat that in as well.  That'll make your dough really liquidy again.  If you're using fresh pumpkin the acidity might cause a little clotting of the dairy.  Don't panic.  It'll all come together when you add the flour.

It'll be okay.  I promise.

Now, if you happen to have some ginger paste on hand, add one tablespoon of ginger paste to the batter.  (Seriously, is there anything those pastes can't do??)  If you haven't got ginger paste, then just take a lap.  We'll put in spices in just a minute.

Double-check this isn't garlic paste or you'll be so, so sad later.

Okay, so now your "wet" batter is set.  Put that mixing bowl aside.  Since I only have one bowl for my mixer, I did the "dry" ingredients together by hand.  It's not hard, I promise.  First is 2.75 cups of flour. You can sift if you really want to, but 60 seconds with a whisk is sufficient to knock out any lumps.

It's so fluffy!

To this add:  2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon allspice.  Now, IF you didn't add ginger paste, add in 1.5 teaspoon ginger powder here.  Do not add both ginger paste and ginger powder.  Pick one.  I prefer the fresh ginger, but it's up to you and what you have on hand.

Whisk that all up together and then add it to the wet ingredients.  

Whether you're mixing it by hand or in a mixer, go slow.  It'll only take a very short amount of time before you stop seeing flour.  The second it's a single mass and not a wet mass plus a dry one, then you're done.  Overmixing is going to make the cookies tough rather than cakey.  And that's all it really takes to make the dough!

Grab either a measuring tablespoon or - my preference - a one tablespoon cookie scoop.  

Looove this thing!

Be sure to give yourself plenty of space between cookies.  These things spread out more than you'd expect.  The nice thing about the cookie scoop is that it helps you to pile the dough up high.  That'll help you get cookies that are puffy rather than pancakey.

Tip:  Using parchment paper will save you from trying to scrape these off the cookie sheet later.

Small, tall, with lots of space between.  Them's the rules.

In a 350(F) degree oven, pop the cookies in and set the timer for 6 minutes.  When it goes off, take an oven mitt and rotate the pan 180 degrees (as in, turn it around).  This helps the cookies bake evenly, since even the best of ovens have spots that are hotter or cooler.  Close the oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes.  In other words, you're baking for a total of 12 minutes, plus or minus a minute or two.

Halfway there!

My first batch come out in exactly 12 minutes, the second required 13, and the last batch took 15.  I also let my dough get too warm between batches, which is why the last few were melty-looking (as you'll see below).

Here's a confession:  I have never, ever had a recipe come out where I had exactly an even number of servings.  Somehow, beyond all chance, I wound up with precisely 3 trays of 15 cookies each.  Couldn't do it again if I tried.

Upper left, see how they're getting kind of flat and squished into one another?  
I shoulda put the dough in the fridge between batches.

Now, you can definitely put all three sheets in the oven at once.  I find I get impatient and like to have one pan in while I scoop out the next tray, but it's not necessary to do it that way.  It's just a personal quirk.  I'm telling you that so that you can understand that by the time I took the above photo with all 45 cookies, I'd had hot, fresh ones on hand for half an hour that I did not eat, just so you could see how much this recipe makes.  You're welcome.

They came out so cakey!  Perfection!

These are truly superb with a little spot of tea.

Next up:  Egg curry, followed by Japancakes.  Gonna be a fun week!

Pumpkin-Molasses Ginger Chews - The Concise Recipe
Makes 45 cookies.
Wet Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature (not melted)
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese, also room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste (can substitute 1.5 teaspoons ginger powder in dry ingredients instead)
Dry Ingredients

  • 2.75 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until a fluffy paste forms.
  3. Cream butter/cream cheese and sugar together.
  4. Beat in molasses, vanilla, pumpkin, and ginger paste (if using).  Set wet ingredients aside.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  If using ginger powder instead of ginger paste, add that to the flour mixture with the other spices.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing gently until the dry ingredients are just barely combined with the wet.  No flour should be showing.  Be cautious not to overmix.
  7. Place one tablespoon portions of batter onto a lined cookie sheet, spacing at least 2 inches apart.  
  8. Bake 10-14 minutes at 350, rotating the pan halfway.


  1. Obviously I'm at work so I can't do it right this second, but I can't wait to give these a whirl.

    I also have to say how impressed/surprised I am that you had pumpkins growing all over the yard this year. The summer that I planted pumpkins yielded me exactly zero. I got a lot of squash vine borer bugs, though.


    1. If you end up trying them I'd love to hear how they come out!

      The pumpkins were more chance than effort. I had no idea the vines would grow so long. They must've been 50 foot long each in the end - half a dozen vines with only one pumpkin each. Borers got to ours by the end of the season, so I let them finish ripening on the back porch. Next year I'll try kabocha squash (Japanese mini pumpkins) instead, see if that's more manageable.