Sunday, December 20, 2009


Few phrases are as entirely look-back-over-the-shoulder sexy as "blackstrap molasses."

Perhaps it is merely the wet crack of its assonance, but even the sound of it is gripping, something with drowsy heft, pear-like in hand; blanketing and more primal than the deepest of innocent-golden and carefree honeys.
Yes, well, carefree is as carefree does. Look what happened to Caligula.

Quite unlike honey, Molasses is a knowing look from someone unexpected, a pair of liquid nutmeg eyes cast over the top of a book with a hidden title, clasped tight to the chest.

Molasses, you see, is the sexy librarian of ingredients.

Delineate each sound, sort and classify and reach:
black, strap; m'lass, ass

Is it the apothecary depth of the color, glinting red-brown?

Is it the smooth, cool cylinder of the vessel, made opaque by its contents?

Or is its attraction really about ourselves, tipped over with our own anticipation, looking up for the slow start of the trickle, suspended, as if it's so heavy with possibility it cannot hope to compete with gravity and so it poutingly attempts to defy it, cannot get itself started for fear of what will happen when it does.
Which suddenly makes vapid-sweet ketchup something we waited for before we knew what we wanted, and a complete waste of time.

But once tipped to the pelvic shelf of the spoon's bowl, once come completely undone, Molasses, like nothing else, comes racing down the sides all crazy, spirals snaking furiously foreward and back on themselves and picking up speed past catching-without-overflow, till suddenly, you're looking down to find you're licking your fingers surrepetitiously in broad daylight, grinning like a dope, thinking,
How did that happen?

Molasses is about the slinkiest old-fashioned ingredient going.

molasses, splayed

Speaking of "broad," that's Molasses: a shape of a flavor we're unused to today--a little out-of-favor, Italica little out of practice, but fully recognizable. Cracked Molasses is the 40's pin-up girl of cookies, an archetypical beauty, but not everyone's flavor...
But if those lines happen to do it for you, oh, brother, look out--they really do it for you.

And so, it stands to reason (and to the pure anti-reason of desire) that it's hardly a waifish wafer, because surely this is a cookie with hips, meant to be held onto, hard.
Called treacle by the Brits, Molasses connotes something anachronistic (yum, my, um, favourite)--slowly, drippingly arms-trailing-down-sides complex: maternal and whip-smart and yes...slightly dirty.

Blackstrap Molasses is made from the third boiling of sugar cane syrup (either young and necessarily sulphurated, or mature and unsulphurated). First, Second (also called Dark), and finally Blackstrap: the deep, swirling sugar mama of all--the most intense and complex, the least sweet, the most distilled down, with dizzyingly concentrated nutritional attributes: potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron--a power elixir, a super syrup. The slow, slippy vision at the end of the Road to Wellville.

Make no mistake, these are not your grandmother's cookies, or perhaps, they are--which is to say, you might have had them and "remember them," with something of a falling sensation.

To taste the Molasses Cookie now?--is to see suddenly and sharply the old made new; it is the gasp-taste of adult knowledge, without a child's innocent inability (or need) to savor, suddenly stripped away.

More simply put, this is...the taste of knowing, and of being known: that exchange laid out on the floor of our tongues, that interplay between our best possibilities and our only possibilities, between the push-pull of memory and fiction.

This is the cookie of the mythical space between.

And that space between, my friends, is precisely the slightly bitter & indefinable taste we are hunting here:
The "UH-OH-I-just-ate-something-in-Hades" factor involved in the Molasses Cookie, the thing you ate when you were there because ohgod,
it looked so, so good and you couldn't help it, it seemed so...familiar, you were just going to have one--for heavensakes it was made just for you, and held out, still warm and at lip-level!
Hades & Persephone, poised to eat

And it's true you were starving, you were ravenous...but now, well, you can't ever go top-side or be fully released again, because that is the way it works, any time we allow ourselves to be "known."

The Cracked Molasses cookie, it occurs to me now, as I stand here and think, drawing the warm backside of one across my lower lip, with all the sweet, masculine roughness of a beloved beard with a little grey in it, has a toothsome understanding: that we can be baking and twirling about our kitchens smiling, with our efficient hands rolling, stirring, pinching and sealing, and with our minds somewhere else all the time.

This is the cookie with the delicate crumb of the following truth:
What it is to be grown-up is to realize you are not old or young (and to realize suddenly you have need of all new verbiage), but simply the same as your parents (and your grandparents), people who had trembling desires they had to darkly contain or experience parallel-ly to get dinner on the table, people, with physicalities beyond simply being...receptacles, altruistic and blank, adults who had sex after 30 for their own private set of reasons and rationalizations and pleasures and needs that didn't include you, and probably--just probably--they enjoyed it.

I now have the overpowering and inexplicable urge to buy a gross of The Bridges of Madison County (hardback), and distribute them to the readership, washing my hands of further contemplation. And since nothing is as distressing as finding yourself anywhere in Iowa against your will, especially at the hands of Robert James Waller (only slightly worse would be finding your unique and prized beach horizon forever encroached on by some horrifying indentification with Nicholas Sparks), I will simply stop here and say this:
"You think you know me, huh?--let's bake."

(2 dozen)
6 T shortening
6 T butter, softened
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C dark brown sugar
*1/3 C blackstrap molasses
1 large brown egg
2 & 1/2 C. unbleached flour
1 T baking soda
hefty pinch (all 4 four fingers and thumb) of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp excellent cinnamon--if not, don't bother
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp+ freshly grated nutmeg
sugar to roll the cookies in.

Oven: 385 degrees; Baking Time: 11-12 minutes
I did a lot of research on Molasses Cookies: crisp, chewy, classic, updated. I am a fan of a crisp exterior, hesitating for a moment and opening up into a chewy-soft center. Most recipes I looked at were all-shortening. I use butter whenever I can (in and out of the kitchen) so I tried half of each and I got exactly what I was looking for: the texture, the cracking, and just the right spread.

You could add a teaspoon of cloves, which I omitted because they were lost in the back of my cupboard and found too late (sigh, Martha would take me to task for not having neat rows upon rows of things, one deep), but I liked the allspice save--it worked.
I mean it about the cinnamon--bad cinnamon is vile.
You could ALWAYS add more nutmeg to just about anything, in my opinion--and when you are fortunate enough to have a friend you sends you some beautiful nutmeg from her travels to Grenada...a friend who knows will definitely want to. Don't hoard it, is my new mantra. Let the smell of being known permeate your kitchen (thank you Leslie, for the nutmegs and for giving me that thought).

1. Beat together the shortening and butter until fluffy.
2. Cream in the sugars.
3. Add in the egg and the Molasses until well-incorporated.
4. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl.
5. Add slowly to the bowl of your mixer until a dough forms--it will be very soft and sticky. Keep adding a little more flour until you can get it to pull off the sides a little (so it doesn't smear, consistency-wise--otherwise, you will be licking your own arm all the way to the wrist, trying to get the dough off of yourself).
6. Chill the dough (an hour or so).
7. Using a scoop, dish up a ball of dough directly into the sugar (a mini tart pan worked well), and roll and press it gently until it's covered.
8. Arrange on parchment (I used a Silpat), and bake at 385 for 11-12 NOT let them brown around the edges.
9. The cookies will be soft--let them set in between batches, before you transfer them to cooling racks.
Easy...I know.
Maybe the gift of the Molasses Cookie is simply the taste of the known, of being known. Because it is a fundamental need, to know.
Swallow that, and we are reminded of who we were, who we truly are, who we might still be.
WAIT-- you don't really think it's an accident that cookies are CIRCLES, do ya?
*Hmmm...if you used Sulphurated Molasses, you could legitimately call these...Brimstone & Treacle Cookies.


leslie said...

oh, my!!! i just had an affair with my molasses spice cookies...
in fact, an orgy ensued in this house over these cookies. nothing is quite as sexy as molasses, you are quite right. i wish i could have shared my molasses stash from barbados... so amazingly divine.
you are so right about the cinnamon- only great will do. my favorite line:

"slowly, drippingly arms-trailing-down-sides complex: maternal and whip-smart and yes...slightly dirty."
yeah, that's it, baby.

and, you are so welcome for the nutmeg. nothing pleases me more than knowing a fine specimen of culinary goodness is being treated
with such care.

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