I have been having a blast researching Valentine’s Day baking recipes for the past couple of weeks, as this is my first V-Day since beginning this blog. I’ve got some cute stuff coming in the next several days, though this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe, Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies from Baked Explorations, didn’t really set off my radar as a valentine-y recipe at first. Once I looked at it and realized that the cookie dough gets rolled out, rather than dropped in spoonfuls on the cookie sheet, it occurred to me that I could, in fact, make them quite valentine-y after all! I have an absurdly large collection of cookie cutters, though they’ve been patiently waiting for many months to cut out my favorite vanilla bean sugar cookies. I haven’t made these in ages, and this was a great opportunity to pull out the Valentine’s heart cutters!
I’ve never made a rolled cookie of this variety– chocolate with molasses and lots of warm autumn spices. In reading the recipe, it occurred to me that this is basically chocolate gingerbread! The heart shapes came out really cute, though I think the recipe flavors are more suited to the holiday season. In fact, they are perfect for Christmas gingerbread cookies, with the added yummy twist of chocolate. (‘Cause how is that ever bad??) However, being that it is now February, the recipe works great for pretty, dark Valentine’s cookies with a versatile glaze.
The first steps in making the dough are melting bittersweet chocolate (I used my go-to Guittard “Lever du Soleil” 61% chocolate couverture discs) and whisking together the flour, cocoa powder (Valrhona rules!), ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. I’m not a huge fan of ginger, so I was a little concerned about the full tablespoon of ginger, but it was actually not overpowering. I was also alarmed about a whole tablespoon of baking soda, but the cookies did not have any trace of unpleasant baking soda flavor.
In a stand mixer, you then cream the butter with the shortening. I’ve had some issues with butter temperature in BAKED recipes, where they often call for butter to be “cool, but not cold”; here, it says to use “softened” butter, so I took that to mean softer than usual, though I didn’t want it to be melty. I probably left it out for 2-3 hours or so. Now, shortening is one of my least favorite ingredients to use. While I make a point of using organic vegetable shortening, I still have a lingering disdain for it from the years of negative publicity. But, BAKED uses a fair amount of shortening in their books, and quite frankly, the recipes generally rock, so I’ve had to just accept it and look the other way…
The next step is adding dark brown sugar, which I love for its deep flavor. A single egg goes in next, followed by molasses. I used organic blackstrap molasses, which is blaaaaack. This stuff is thick, pungent, and imparts a very “dark” flavor. I was hoping that it wouldn’t overpower all the other ingredients! If you prefer a more subtle molasses flavor, consider using a milder variety, rather than blackstrap.
Beat in the melted chocolate, and finally, add the flour/spice mixture in three additions. The dough was very dark in color and seemed somewhat dry and crumbly at first. I was curious how the dough would taste with all these prominent competing flavors… I have to say that initially it tasted rather bitter– very strong notes of molasses and ginger. But I don’t tend to like the taste of unbaked gingersnap dough for the same reason, and I generally find that the flavors transform once the cookies have been baked, so I wasn’t terribly worried…
I split the dough into four portions, shaped them into discs, and wrapped them individually in plastic wrap. When I turned the dough out of the bowl, it still seemed crumbly, but as soon as I picked up a hunk of the dough and started shaping it into a rounded mass, it became smooth, pliable, and soft. The dough texture was really ideal– I was so pleased! Based on other cookie doughs that I’ve made in the past, it seemed that it would be easy to work with for rolling out and cutting into shapes. I wasn’t planning to bake the cookies that evening, so I put the dough in the freezer with the intention of baking half of it a few days later, and saving the rest for another occasion.
The morning of the day that I planned to bake, I transferred two dough discs from the freezer to the fridge before leaving for work. That evening, I took the dough out to warm slightly on the countertop while preparing my pastry board with flour and taking out the Valentine’s cookie cutters. I first tasted the dough to see if the bitter flavor had changed, and sure enough, it had already mellowed quite a bit– the flavors had gelled nicely to form a spicy gingerbread dough!
The dough rolled out fairly smoothly, though it became a little sticky after a while and stuck to my rolling pin. Make sure to keep your rolling pin and work surface lightly floured and turn the dough round after every couple of rolls to prevent sticking. However, take care not to over-flour because it can dry out the dough and cause you to have unsightly white streaks on your dark-colored cookies. Besides a few broken dough pieces due to the sticking (which I think is fairly typical anyway when rolling out dough), the rolling and cutting process was pretty uneventful and quick. I used various heart-shaped cutters, and the dough took very well to being cut out and transferred to my parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Though I would be making a confectioners’ sugar icing, I sprinkled a few cookies with opalescent fine sanding sugar, just to mix it up a little. Once I had filled a cookie sheet with dough cutouts, I put the pan in the fridge to chill for about 10 minutes. The prescribed baking time is approximately 7 minutes in a 350°F oven. The recipe calls for 4- to 5-inch cookie cutters, and because mine were more like 2- to 3-inches, I reduced the baking time to 6 minutes. Also, I prefer softer cookies, rather than crisp ones, and since I wasn’t sure what the cookie consistency would be, I decided to err on the side of under-baking.
The cookies puffed ever so slightly in the oven, but maintained the crisp lines of their shapes. My kitchen smelled like holiday baking! After 6 minutes, the tops were firm and starting to develop tiny cracks, so I took the cookies out. They were still pretty soft, but firmed up while cooling. Of course I couldn’t wait until they were iced to taste them… At room temperature, the cookies had a slightly crisp exterior and a pleasing softness inside, like, you know, gingerbread. The flavor was a nice balance of sweetness, spice, depth (from the molasses and brown sugar), and a chocolaty infusion– WIN.
The final step was decorating the cookies with a simple icing of confectioners’ sugar, egg white, and lemon juice. I also added a big drop of fuschia gel food coloring for a pretty Valentine’s color, then poured the goo into a small piping bag fitted with a fine round decorating tip. I thought it would be fun to make a swirled icing, so I didn’t stir the color in completely.
I had visions of intricate icing borders and patterns, but this is really more of a glaze, so it was not stiff enough to pipe elaborate designs like you can make with royal icing. Given that it was getting late in the evening, this was actually a relief, so I quickly iced the cookies in a zig-zag pattern.
The glaze took a couple of hours to dry enough that I could package the cookies for transport without ruining it. Tasters enjoyed the flavor, soft bite, and decoration of these chocolate gingerbread cookies, and I felt that they were very successful. Gingerbread isn’t necessarily a go-to cookie for me, but I did really like the addition of chocolate, so I think that if making gingerbread in the future, I will likely return to this recipe!
Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe for Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies, and check out the rest of the group’s tasty creations too!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.