A few weeks ago we wrote about our ardent affection for Molasses Candy Kisses, and since then we can’t get molasses out of our mind. It really is a wonderful thing, this sweet dark treacle from the West Indies, and it has an interesting Canadian connection as well.
Molasses is a by-product of the sugar industry: the sugar cane is cut when ripe and trimmed of its leaves. It is cut into pieces and smashed and crushed to squeeze out the juice. The juice is then boiled into a thick, sweet syrup, which is further concentrated through a series of low temperature boiling. Crystals form in the thickened syrup, and are extracted through the use of a centrifuge. The remaining syrup is molasses. The process is repeated, once or twice, and the final by-product is what we know as Blackstrap Molasses. Bear in mind that all the goodness of the cane plant is in this syrup, and the majority of sucrose, what some politely refer to as “White Death” has been extracted and is now available in one lump or two. Interestingly, the woody parts of the cane are used to fuel the fires at the plants.
So what’s in blackstrap molasses? In addition to its strong, earthy, almost umami sweetness, is a small trove of minerals and vitamins; a hundred grams contains over 40% of your RDA of potassium, 20% of your calcium, 26% of iron, 35% of Vitamin B-6 and 60% of your RDA of magnesium. And of course it’s the life essence of a plant, boiled and reduced, so there’s all sorts of other minerals as well, copper, manganese, zinc, and more.
But don’t make a meal of it, let’s face it, molasses is 55% sugar, a combination of unextracted sucrose, fructose, the naturally occurring fruit sugar, and glucose.
Of course, once people found out that you could make rum out this by-product that was originally dumped at sea as a waste product, things really took off. Rum, is of course, made from molasses, and explains, well, rum explains a lot! Newfie Screech is rum, and owes its storied existence to molasses, and the reason molasses is so big in the east coast (have you ever had a biscuit in the maritimes that wasn’t served with butter and molasses? Or Maritime oatmeal bread not made with molasses?) is probably due to Lorenzo George Crosby, an entrepreneurial 20 year old from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, who in 1879 started trading lumber and fish for molasses from the West Indies. The Crosby family still runs the business to this day; chances are, if you have molasses in your cupboard that’s where it’s from.
Nowadays it is just about impossible to think about making gingerbread, or baked beans, or oatmeal bread without this most unique ingredient. And as an afternoon snack, a thick slice of bread with butter and a generous shine of molasses is hard to beat. What’s your favourite use? Let us know, we’d love to feature your recipe! In the meantime,here’s one of our favourite recipes for Molasses Gingerbread cookies that combines ideas from Martha Stewart and Ina Garten. You might want to have a look at it, that season is coming fast!
Molasses Gingerbread Cookies
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups molasses
sugar for garnish
- Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl.
- Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beat well after each addition. Add in molasses. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture gradually, beating until just combined.
- Divide dough into 3 portions, and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a generously floured surface, roll dough to approx 1/4 inch thick.
- Cut out desired shapes. Place these on baking sheets lined with parchment or silpat, sprinkle them with sugar. Set sheets in fridge to chill before baking.
- Bake for 13 minutes, they will be sugary and crackled on top. Enjoy!