Chapter 1 Drop Cookies Past & Present
Dropping cookie dough onto pans has been an act of love throughout history. This chapter of favorite drop cookie recipes brings together kitchen favorites from all regions, spans the centuries, and satisfies every craving. These cookies might be familiar to you or yet to be discovered. And they range from simple to sinful, from no-frills to special occasion, from ginger-spiced to fruit-studded to just about the best chocolate chip cookie on this planet.
I begin with the ginger-spiced Grandma Hartman’s Molasses Cookies and the fabled Joe Froggers and follow with sugar cookies like the old Dutch Tea Cookies and a slightly more modern Cousin Irene’s Sugar Cookies. Then come chocolate cookies, oats, peanut butter, and those cookies crammed with nuts, fruits, and goodies—some people call them “kitchen sink,” but in Texas they call them “cowboys.”
Throughout history we have baked drop cookies with what we had on hand. These cookies have varied from a recipe more than they have followed it. And their magic comes not from chemistry and getting all the measurements just right but in their ability to pull together effortlessly at the last minute and taste great!
The earliest drop cookies were mostly likely spoonfuls of sweetened, beaten egg whites dropped onto hot cast-iron pans and placed in the oven. Or they were drops of pound cake or fruitcake batter baked in small portions to save time and feed many. The earliest cookies in this chapter weren’t even called cookies when people first baked them. They were known as snickerdoodles, wafers, drops, kisses, or rocks. As the pans changed, the ovens improved, and more ingredients became accessible and available, cookies as we know them were born. Drop cookies remain popular because they are dead-easy to bake by any of us—grandmothers, moms, dads, even first-time cooks.
What you get today with a drop cookie is the same as it was years ago—a modest cookie that symbolizes childhood, simpler times, seasonal ingredients, and a last-minute desire to bake something for those you love. Grandma Hartman’s Molasses Cookies
Mary Rebecca Ogburn Hartman was born in 1915 in Kenmare, North Dakota. Her family was Amish, and they moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, when she was a teenager. Here Mary Rebecca would marry, raise five children, farm the land, and live as a Mennonite. This cookie was one of the treasures from her kitchen, says great-granddaughter Stephanie Golding. “Bean Grandma”—as her great-grandchildren called her because she and “Bean Grandpa” were always tending to their green beans in the garden—was a gifted cook. “As a young girl, I can still remember going over to her house in the summer and getting a whiff of what she was cooking or baking. . . . They didn’t have air-conditioning,” Golding says, “so the smells burst through the windows and open doors.”
In the middle of the kitchen was a table, and Golding remembers sitting at that table, “with my eye level being barely over the table top,” and watching Bean Grandma move back and forth between the refrigerator and stove baking these molasses cookies. Golding says the combination of warm weather and the salty, sweet cookies left a permanent imprint in her mind.
I first tasted this molasses cookie at the Josephine restaurant opening in Nashville. Golding and her husband, Brent, who live in Columbia, a small south-central Pennsylvania town in the heart of Amish country, were living in Nashville at the time and helped open the restaurant. Everyone in the Josephine kitchen loved Golding’s family cookie recipe so much that they gave away cookies and the recipe on opening nights.
This recipe explains why cookies have been an important contribution to American family life. It has a story that continues to unfold with new generations of cookie bakers, and it works today as it did yesterday because it’s easy to bake with what you have on hand. You just roll balls of dough in granulated sugar and flatten them with the bottom of a glass on a pan before baking. Bean Grandma let her cookies cool 2 minutes before serving—I hope you can wait that long!
PREP: 20 to 25 minutes
CHILL: 1 to 2 hours
BAKE: 7 to 9 minutes
MAKES: About 4 dozen (2 1/2" to 3") cookies
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided use
3/4 cup vegetable shortening (see Baking Tips) or 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup molasses or sorghum
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt 1.
Place 1 cup of the sugar and the shortening or soft butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the molasses and egg, and beat on low until just combined. 2.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Fold into the creamed mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined, 30 seconds. Remove the beaters, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill for 1 to 2 hours. 3.
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. 4.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Drop the dough in 1" pieces onto ungreased baking sheets. Space each piece about 3" apart. Roll the pieces in the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar to form balls. Flatten the cookies with the bottom of a juice glass. Place the pan in the oven.
Bake the cookies until lightly browned around the edges, 7 to 9 minutes. (Grandma Hartman would pull her cookies out of the oven between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2 minutes, just to make sure. She liked the cookies to be soft when they came out of the oven. But you can bake them slightly longer.) Remove the cookies with a metal spatula and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 2 minutes before serving. Repeat with the remaining dough. Store the cookies in an airtight container.
BAKING TIPS: The Hartman family says the recipe tastes best with Crisco shortening and Grandma’s molasses with the green label. This makes these cookies uniquely Grandma Hartman’s, although you can certainly use butter instead of shortening and substitute sorghum for the molasses, as they did at Josephine restaurant on opening nights. Joe Froggers
This soft and memorable cookie born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, after the Revolutionary War was called a Joe Frogger. It was supposedly named for a freed slave named Joseph Brown who ran a tavern called Black Joe’s on the edge of a millpond with his wife, Lucretia. The tavern was the scene of much revelry, according to Smithsonian researcher Julia Blakely, and known for its ginger cookie baked in an iron skillet. This cookie was unlike other ginger cookies of its time because it was large and fat—almost pancake-like, and laden with rum, a plentiful ingredient in early New England. Ginger has long been valued as a stomach settler, and local fishermen who went out to sea in search of cod took along Joe Froggers to ward off seasickness.
Another story behind the moniker of this old cookie stated that Joe Froggers were named for the fat frogs and lily pads present in the pond behind Joe’s tavern. And another is that the name is a corruption of the term “Joe Flogger.” According to Blakely, this is what fishermen called their provisions while at sea.
Regardless, these cookies are delicious and easy to bake. And they stay fresh for a week because the rum keeps them moist and flavorful. Adding rum to this cookie dough wasn’t new—so-called “tavern biscuits” in early 19th-century American cookbooks called for a little brandy, sweet wine, or rum.
PREP: 15 to 20 minutes
CHILL: 3 hours or overnight
BAKE: 9 to 11 minutes
MAKES: 20 to 22 (2 1/2" to 3") cookies
Shortening for prepping the pans
2 cups all-purpose flour (see Baking Tip)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark rum 1.
Place the flour, ginger, salt, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice in a medium-size bowl and sift or whisk to combine well. Set aside. Pour the molasses into a measuring cup, and stir in the baking soda to combine. Set aside. 2.
Place the soft butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy and fluffy, about 1 minute. Pour in the molasses and soda mixture and blend on low. Add the rum and blend on low until combined. Remove the beaters. 3.
Stir the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time into the butter mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours. 4.
Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F. Pinch off large pieces of dough and drop them, spaced 6 to a pan, on lightly greased baking sheets. Press down on each piece until it is 3" in diameter and about 1/3" thick. Place a pan in the oven. 5.
Bake the cookies until they slightly deepen in color and are set in texture, 9 to 11 minutes. Immediately transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Let the baking sheet cool to room temperature, then repeat with the remaining dough. 6.
Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to a week.
BAKING TIP: You can bake these cookies with unbleached or bleached flour. The latter results in slightly softer cookies.
Chill Dough for Easy Rolling
When making Joe Froggers, allow enough time to chill the dough—3 hours in advance, or overnight—so the cookies don’t spread as much while baking.
Copyright © 2018 by Anne Byrn. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.