Hey guys. Remember how I like pretending that baking is easy? Well, I’ve done it again!
I actually wanted to make a gingerbread recipe last year. I even went out and bought a cute set of cookie cutters for the occasion as soon as they appeared in the stores. Let me just preface this by saying, this was at the very end of my pregnancy and pre-baby. Bahahaaa! How I thought that I would have time, energy, or sanity after giving birth to make cookies is beyond me, but I can at least laugh at my extraordinary naiveté.
So, fast-forward to the present moment: my mental wherewithal mostly in tact after the first 12 months of motherhood, and the desire to be involved in some kind of holiday tradition tugging at my heart strings. I was actually so excited to make gingerbread, once and for all, and blog about how easy it was.
If you follow me on Instagram, you will recall a certain Michelin-man-shaped gingerbread puddle that I posted last week. Yea. Like I said, I forgot that baking is not easy when you’re silly enough to invent recipes of which you have zero experience, under crushing time pressure. Okay, well, no big deal. Roll up my sleeves and start again, right? To rectify the poofing, I decided to eliminate the baking soda, baking powder and all liquid. Genius! Instead of a puffed up puddle, the cookies were rock hard and greasy.
Gingerbread: 2, Sarah B: 0.
At this point, in a frustrated frenzy, my husband chimed in for the pep talk. “Hun, you know that this happens every time you bake. It’s science! And you’re bad at science (I’m paraphrasing). Just give it one more try and I bet you’ll nail it, because in the end you always do” (he forgot about the carrot cake debacle, bless his heart). So this morning began in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up, and ready to face this worthy opponent with a veritable village of gingerbread casualties in my wake.
Except this time, I won.
Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Molasses
Isn’t it ironic that the waste product of manufacturing white sugar, is a nutrient-rich, low-glycemic syrup? I’m talking about molasses. That gooey, rich, unmistakably black-brown nectar with a rather divisive flavour.
There are a few varieties of molasses, but to understand how they vary, let’s first look at how molasses is made.
Molasses is created from either sugarcane or sugar beets (but because the molasses made from beets can be quite bitter, sugarcane molasses is the most common variety available for human consumption). These plants are harvested, and then cut, crushed, and mashed so that the juice is extracted. “Fancy Molasses” is the first product to be made, but is in fact the only type of molasses that is not a by-product of sugar processing, but instead a direct product from sugar cane. This type is super sweet and is most commonly enjoyed as the syrup straight on pancakes or waffles, and as an ingredient in baked goods.
Varieties of Molasses
The real deal molasses comes from boiling the juice of sugar cane down to crystallize the sugars, producing a concentrate, the first of which is called First Molasses, First Strike Molasses, Barbados Molasses, Light Molasses, Mild Molasses, or Sweet Molasses. This comes from the first boiling of the sugar. It is light in colour and mild in flavour. Some people also enjoy this type directly on their food, like fancy molasses. It is about 65% sucrose.
Next up is Second Molasses, Second Strike Molasses, Dark Molasses, or Full Molasses. As you may have guessed, this is made from the second boiling of the extracted cane juice, a process that extracts even more sugar, producing a darker, thicker syrup typically used as a cooking ingredient in sauces, marinades and baked beans. It is about 60% sucrose.
Blackstrap molasses is likely the one all you health foodies out there know and love. This type of molasses is made by boiling the cane syrup a third time, which extracts even more sugar and concentrates the flavour. By this point, the sucrose content is so low (about 55%) that the syrup no longer tastes sweet, but slightly bitter. The colour is nearly black, and the consistency is very thick and viscous. Blackstrap molasses is used in baking, sauces, stews and even as a food supplement due to its high nutrient content.
Nutritious and Delicious
Blackstrap molasses is highly concentrated in essential minerals, such as iron, calcium, selenium, manganese, potassium, copper, and zinc. As I mentioned above, this type of molasses is sometimes used as a dietary supplement or tonic. One tablespoon stirred into warm water is a food-based way to boost mineral levels, especially iron, as this small amount contains a whopping 20% of your RDI. You can also enjoy it in foods such as smoothies, tea, warm cereal, or dressings, sauces and stews. Remember to eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C to enhance its absorption. I like to use a little lemon juice.
Blackstrap molasses is one of the few sweeteners that is low on the glycemic scale with an index classification of 55. This means that it metabolizes slowly in a controlled way, demands less insulin production and won’t cause a spike in blood glucose levels. All in all, blackstrap molasses is a fantastic, healthy sweetener to which I enthusiastically give a thumbs up!
Buying and Storing
When purchasing molasses, read the label to ensure that what you are buying is 100% pure molasses (some companies will cut blackstrap molasses with corn syrup to make it sweeter) and that it is “unsulfured”. Sulfur dioxide can be added to all grades of molasses to help preserve it, as it prevents the growth of bacteria and mould. From a health perspective, sulfur can cause reactions in sensitive people (you can read more about that here). Sulfur dioxide also has a very bitter flavour, and can drastically alter the flavour of the dish you are making. Look for organic molasses whenever possible too.
Store unopened molasses in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Opened containers must be stored in the fridge and will last for up to six months.
So this gingerbread, this is really it. It’s deeply spiced, perfectly balanced in sweet and salt, and super addictive. I love the special flavour and richness that molasses brings to the cookies as well. It’s a must-have component of this recipe for sure, and should not be substituted with other sweeteners due to its properties in the baking itself. The cookies are totally vegan (!!!), made with whole spelt flour and natural sweeteners. But the coolest part of this recipe? If you like a chewy cookies, bake them for 7 minutes, and if you like a crispier version, bake it for 10. Science! I tried two versions with this batch of cookies, and although I prefer the chewy ones, my husband really likes the crunch of the longer-baked variety.
I am really, really proud of my gingerbread, especially after persevering through three rounds of total uncertainty and insanity. Although the first two recipes, according to some were “just fine”, I couldn’t post a recipe here on My New Roots that is just fine. Never! I want everything I put out into the world to be my best, and this, I am so pleased to say, (finally) qualifies. Whew.
As I was very anxiously waiting for this last trial to bake, I whipped up a Cashew-Cacao Butter Icing to decorate the little guys with (I got it on the first try too!). As I was making it however, I used honey to sweeten it, and then promptly delivered myself a swift forehead slap realizing that the rest of the cookie recipe was vegan! Argh. So, if you don’t want to use honey to sweeten this icing, I am confident that maple syrup or coconut nectar would work in its place. I haven’t tried making this recipe in a regular blender, only a Vitamix, so I know that the icing consistency may be a little grainy if you don’t use a high-powered machine.
Healthy Holiday Gingerbread
Makes at least 2 dozen medium-sized cookies
2 ½ / 350g whole spelt flour
¼ tsp. fine grain sea salt
½ tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. ground ginger (or less if you prefer more mild gingerbread)
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ cup / 70g coconut sugar
½ cup / 125ml unsulfured blackstrap molasses
3 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Sift the dry ingredients together.
2. In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil, then whisk in the molasses, applesauce, and vanilla.
3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and fold to combine – you may need to use your hands to mix this, but don’t overwork the dough. Fold just until the ingredients come together evenly. Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, make a ball, then flatten into a large disc. Wrap and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Remove dough from the fridge, unwrap and cut in half. Wrap one half and return it to the fridge. Place the other half of the dough between two pieces of baking paper and roll out (if it is very stiff, you may need to let it warm up just slightly). Remove top half of the paper and cut out desired shapes with a cookie cutter or a knife. Slide a knife or thin egg lifter under each shape and place on a lined baking sheet. Ball up the scraps of dough, roll it out between the parchment and start again. Once the dough becomes too warm, return it to the fridge and repeat the entire process with the other half of the chilled dough.
5. Place cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes (7 minutes produces a softer, chewier cookie, while 10 minutes produces a crispier one). Remove from oven and let cool on pan. Decorate with the Cashew Cacao Icing if desired (recipe follows).
Cashew-Cacao Butter Icing
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup / 65g cashews
a few pinches of sea salt
3 Tbsp. / 40g cacao butter, melted
1 ½ Tbsp. raw honey (or liquid sweetener of your choice)
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
3 Tbsp. hot water
1. Soak cashews with sea salt for four hours, or overnight.
2. Drain, rinse and place cashews in the most powerful blender you have along with all other ingredients. Blend on high until as smooth as possible.
3. Pour into a piping bag and store in the fridge until it firms up, about 2 hours, then use. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer. If you do not have a piping bag, you can also use sandwich bag with a teeny corner snipped off, which is what I did!
For those of you living in Copenhagen, I’ve only found one shop that carries molasses and it’s the Super Brugsen on Nørrebrogade. I know at least one of you is going to ask!
And finally, I want to say a HUGE Happy Holidays to everyone out there. I hope that your days are filled with wonder and delight, family and friends, and above all, delicious food. I can’t help myself – it’s what I live for!
All love and sparkling winter holidays,
Show me your gingerbread on Instagram: #MNRgingerbread