These molasses cookies hold a special place in Anna Llanos’ heart. Handed down from her great-grandmother, Alma Elliott, the cookies are a cherished family recipe. “Great-Grandma Elliott was very special to me. She baked these for us every time we visited her and Great-Grandpa on their homestead near the Canadian border,” says Llanos, owner of Mothership Bakery & Cafe in Danbury. “She called them ginger snaps and would bake them longer to reach the crispy texture of a traditional Norwegian ginger cookie. Her grandparents were immigrants from Norway. I adored the cookies then and now.”
With the holidays here before you know it, the cookies are ideal for a cookie swap. “The sugar on them sparkles and they have the flavor of Christmas. There’s something medicinal in the spices and when they’re creamed with butter and sugar, miracles may happen,” she says with a smile, adding that she’s put her own twist on the cookies. “I love the thoughts and memories these cookies evoke for me, but I’ve changed a few things about my great-grandma’s original recipe. I love being creative.”
Llanos learned to bake from her grandmother and developed her skills when she was home with her growing family of five, making hundreds of custom cakes. “I rarely considered cake a sculpture like many modern bakeries do, but focused on building in flavor and creating a beautiful cake adorned with natural items,” she says. Before expanding her business, Llanos worked for a scratch bakery and continued testing countless recipes at home. “This helped me learn and expand my repertoire. When I started Mothership there were gaping holes in my knowledge, but I made what I knew, the best way I could, and learned every day, as I still do. I know I have mountains to learn but I can still feed people and welcome them home.”
Llanos bakes more of these cookies in October. “My great-grandma, my grandma, my mother, aunt and I all have had breast cancer,” she says. “During the month of October we sell these cookies and donate the proceeds to Ann’s Place [a Danbury-based cancer support group] to help them serve a community in all stages of cancer care.”
Makes 36 cookies
Preparation time: 20 minutes to mix and bake; 4 hours to refrigerate
1 pound soft unsalted butter
3¾ cups white sugar
¾ cup dark molasses
3 whole eggs, plus 1 yolk
6½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon and ¼ teaspoon baking soda (use a fine strainer to sift out lumps)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon and ½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar
Place the butter, white sugar and molasses in a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix on low, scraping the sides of the bowl. Mix until ingredients are combined. Add the eggs and egg yolk. Mix on low until just incorporated; set aside.
In a separate bowl or on a piece of parchment paper, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and salt. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix on low until only just incorporated. Scrape the bowl and mix until incorporated.
Scoop dough with an ice cream scoop or into uniform balls and refrigerate at least 4 hours (“Don’t rush it,” Llanos says. “The refrigeration time works wonders.”)
Roll each ball in turbinado sugar and place 3-6 inches apart on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silicone liner. Bake approximately 12 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven until you see cracks in the surface of the cookies and the dough is no longer shiny and raw.