Cookie Calendar: Ruth Moulton's Spice Balls

I love the warm, spicy flavor of gingerbread. I love the cuteness of gingerbread, too, but despite my affinity for baking, I have little patience for rolling out dough, making cutouts, and decorating finished cookies.

Because I make so many Christmas cookies each year (each year that I have an oven, that is), I much prefer cookies of the dropped, pressed, or sliced varieties. I can deal with a little hand-shaping, too, like with these cookies, which get rolled into balls before taking a tumble in some sugar, much like snickerdoodles.

I believe this recipe might have been part of one of those classic 12 Days of Cookies newsletters, but it's been so long I can't remember for sure. Back when I first came across this recipe, Sara Moulton was a far more visible presence on the Food Network. Nowadays, she's just one of the many stars of the early days who has been pushed aside to make room for all those popular home cooks.

Even though I enjoy many of the newer shows more than a number of the older ones that often featured hosts lacking charisma or recipes that were too complicated to reproduce most nights, I do miss Sara Moulton's old show Cooking Live. She made a lot of recipes from Gourmet accessible and was a great teacher each night back when I was just learning to cook on my own. Plus, like Julia Child, she was a human chef -- she messed up, especially during the weekly live "cook-along" show, and she just laughed it off and kept going.

She still pops up at odd hours on Food Network with the show Sara's Secrets, and she's on Good Morning America a good bit, if you're interested.

Cookie Tip #7: Many spice cookies call for molasses. Unless the recipe states otherwise, always go for the bottle just labeled "molasses." You want the sweeter first boiling, not a later one. If nothing else, just remember to never get blackstrap molasses. It's not a brand-name! It refers to the least sweet, most bitter type of molasses (albeit probably the most nutritious).

P.S. The first time I made these cookies, I had to use blackstrap molasses because my brother did the shopping. They were still delicious! Still, I wouldn't go substituting blackstrap in for recipes that don't call for it, as a rule.

Ruth Moulton's Spice Balls
Source: Sara Moulton
Yield: 48 cookies

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • ¼ cup molasses

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger

  • ½ teaspoon table salt

Combine the butter and 1 cup of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses.

Sift the flour, soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt together onto a piece of parchment. Add to the butter mixture in 2 batches, beating just until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a pie plate. Shape the dough into walnut-size balls and roll in the sugar to coat. Arrange 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets and bake until cracked and dry but still soft, about 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to cool on wire racks.

Please note: Even though these are called spice “balls” they end up flat after baking.

To begin with, the dough freezes very well. Unfreeze it and bake your cookies whenever you like. Like chewy gingerbread without all the ginger, they are a special treat at holiday time and comfort food anytime.

Download Ruth Mouton's Spice Balls into MacGourmet.

1 comment:

heights mom said...

thanks these are my favorite too and I lost 1/2 the recipe