In my never-ending reportorial quest to gain access to the dining rooms of New Yorkers, I scored an invite to a Mennonite home in the Bronx. If you’re thinking ‘Mennonites in New York City?’ let me tell you, friend: many are black and live in Harlem. The highlight of the meal was this plate of the best molasses cookies I’ve ever eaten, baked by Naomi Yoder Harris (she is white). Bake away!
GRANDMA YODER’S CHEWY MOLASSES CRINKLES
3/4 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add egg, beat slightly, and then add molasses. Beat until well blended, scraping sides and bottom of bowl to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture approximately one cup at a time. When the dough is thoroughly mixed together, cover and refrigerate for at least several hours. Overnight is preferable; several days is fine. (The dough will be easier to work with when it is thoroughly chilled, and the spices will develop a richer flavor over a slightly extended period of time.)
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350, and position one rack in the top third and the other rack in the bottom third of the oven.
Take quarter-size pieces of the chilled dough (use a teaspoon to remove it from the bowl), and create small balls by rolling them lightly between your palms. (They do not have to be perfectly round; spending a lot of time on this step will only cause the dough to warm up and stick to your hands.) Roll each ball in granulated sugar and place on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Leave approximately two inches between each, as the dough will spread significantly as it bakes.
Bake for no more than 12 to 15 minutes for chewy-in-the-middle, crackly-on-the-outside molasses cookies. (If “overbaked,” these cookies turn into gingersnaps.) After the cookies have been baking for six or seven minutes, reverse the placement of the baking sheets on the top and bottom oven racks. The cookies will puff up approximately mid-way through baking. After they deflate, you’ll be able to see the less-solid interior streaks of the cookies, surrounded by the lightly sugared outer layer, which will will already look more “done.” (You actually can quickly pat down each cookie with your fingertips at the halfway mark, if you like; it will help the process along.) Remove the cookies from the oven when the streaks have a matte, rather than glossy, appearance. They will be be slightly underbaked but not raw. Allow to cool for a minute or two on the baking tray, and then use a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store airtight at room temperature for several days or in the refrigerator or freezer for several weeks.
Makes approximately four dozen.
—recipe by Naomi Yoder Harris