Thursday, August 20, 2009

Uncle Will's Molasses Cookies

Uncle Will Caulkins is not my uncle, but Dishboy Scott’s great great uncle. He owned a bakery in the 1930s where these cookies were wildly popular in the Rosebush, Michigan area. I’ve listened to Scott talk about them time and time again, but words cannot convey how delicious these warmly spiced cookies are.

As the cookies began to bake my home filled with the most wonderful smells. I closed my eyes and stood beside my modern day cheaply built oven, imagining what it would have been like to walk into Uncle Will’s bakery so long ago. I surrounded myself with this potent perfume, nearly blowing over from its spicy sweetness. I hung in reverie of what it might have been like to walk up to a glass bakery counter in a different time, salivating in anticipation of one of these scrumptious cookies. Would Uncle Will have been at the counter? I imagine he would.

A few years later Uncle Will retired to a farm, but the recipe tagged along with him and he shared it with others. Around 1945 Scott’s dad, Jack, was about 5-years-old when he saw his uncle for the last time, but his memory lives on through this recipe.

Will’s sister, Jack’s grandmother, always kept these cookies on hand in a big covered crock in her basement. When Jack was a boy he would walk by his grandmother’s house, stopping by for a cookie after school. Jack recalls her having both an electric and a wood stove in her kitchen. I find myself wondering which one she baked these cookies with.

The years have passed by quickly, but these cookies are still a favorite of Jack’s. Only now he enjoys them with a pint of Guinness, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

We don’t know much else about Uncle Will, as there is no one left to talk about his life. Save for this one memory. Each time these cookies are prepared the story of Uncle Will is brought up for future generations. I feel privileged that Scott shared this recipe with me, and let me share it with you.

When you make these cookies I hope you’ll think about Uncle Will, the 1930s baker from Rosebush, Michigan.

Uncle Will’s Molasses Cookies
1 pound seedless raisins (3 cups)
Boiling water
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (1 stick) shortening, softened slightly
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup molasses
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon allspice
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking soda
6 cups all purpose flour

1. Place the raisins in a bowl with enough boiling water to cover them by a couple inches. (See note #2 below before soaking). Let soak for 5 minutes. Then in a colander, strain out as much water as possible, pressing with the back of a spoon. Pat the raisins dry if needed. Next, puree the raisins in a food processer until smooth. Set aside.

2. In a stand mixer, cream together the sugar, shortening, and butter. Next, add the raisin puree and molasses and mix well on medium high speed. Then add the eggs and mix to combine.

3. Next, add the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt, and baking soda and mix to combine. Then add the flour in two parts mixing until just combined.

4. Wrap the dough in 4 or 5 individual rectangles in-between sheets of wax paper. Divide dough in half and store in two gallon sized plastic bags. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or preferably for 24 hours to let the dough set and the flavors develop.

5. After chilling, set the dough on the counter and let warm to room temperature. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cover cookie sheets with parchment paper. Parchment paper can be reused one time.

6. Heavily flour a clean surface, and sprinkle the top of the dough and a rolling pin with the flour. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out the dough with a 3 inch biscuit cutter. Place the rounds on the cookie sheets. Carefully reroll and use the scraps one time being careful not to overwork the dough, and then work those remaining scraps into the next round of scraps. Repeat with the remaining dough.

7. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cookies rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then move to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Makes about 72 cookies.

Notes
1. The original recipe was made with lard, but good lard is almost impossible to find today unless you have access to a Hispanic Grocery. If you want to make these cookies with lard, substitute both the butter and shortening with 1 1/2 cups of good quality lard.

2. If your raisins are soft and chewy skip the soaking step. Only soak if they are dry and hard.

3. There were few instructions in the original recipe. To clarify the instructions, I've modernized the wording, but left the ingredients and the ideas behind the instructions intact. Except for the lard of course.

4. These cookies freeze well after they're baked.

5. Instead of rolling them out, my friend Julie scoops this dough out with a cookie scoop and flattens them with the underside of a glass dipped in sugar.

Recipe by Uncle Will Caulkins. Picture by Laura Flowers.


30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yay! These cookies are so awesome, I'm glad they will live on in the hearts (and cookie jars) of others.

The Cooking Photographer said...

:) Thanks Scott. This is one heck of a recipe!

ConversationsWithACupcake said...

Oooh. They look like a dream. I love how thin they baked up. And, of course--you're pictures are posivitively DELIGHTFUL!

Sprouted Kitchen said...

i love how chewy molasses cookies are. It is nice to have that texture difference. great picture!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Thank-you both. :)

Spryte said...

Mmmm... I LOVE molasses cookies... I have to dig out Nana's "joe frogger" recipe and bake some too!

TTAGG said...

I cannot wait to try this recipe! Not only do they look and sound wonderful, but you've made me terribly homesick with your imagery and I'm sure I will continue to be so until I one of these delectable treats melting in my mouth!

Thanks so much to you both!!!

TTAGG
www.ttaggyoureit.com

ButterYum said...

I so enjoyed this story!!! I will definitely be giving this recipe a try!

How many cookies will this recipe make?

PS - you can find lard in Hispanic grocery stores.

ButterYum said...

Btw, I love the way you displayed the cookies on a bed of sugar drizzled with molasses.

Veronica Miller said...

My eyes are pretty watery right now after reading that backstory. I often lament how much history is lost when someone dies and I think it is wonderful that a part of him still lives on through people who never even met him. I don't like this type of cookie but they are my Dad's favorite--I will make them for him and tell him about Uncle Will. I'm crying--thanks a lot! :)

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Patricia,

The batch makes about 72 cookies. And thanks for the Hispanic market heads up. If only I lived within 300 miles of one lol!

Hmm you could be my lard supplier. Wait, is this legal?

Laura

ButterYum said...

haha... inner commerce lard transport. I don't know. Sounds a bit risky!
:)

sherri said...

Here's to Will! The recipe looks and sounds delicious!

Mary said...

I can just about taste the chewy goodness of these cookies. Another homerun, Laura. Have a wonderful weekend.

Anonymous said...

SO i am guessing that the lard we can get at winco is not good?

Jennifer said...

What a lovely story! And these cookies look and sound amazing! I LOVE molasses!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Winco lard isn't the good stuff. It's full of chemical preservatives that leave a very bad aftertaste. I wonder if they have good lard at C&L Meat Locker?

The Cooking Photographer said...

Thank-you for the comments everyone.

Donna-FFW said...

What a lovely tribute. Pint of guiness sounds perfect with these!!

Jamie said...

Beautiful, both the memory and the cookies! Who has memories like this anymore, the Uncle Wills who baked and sold something so special? I haven't made molassas cookies in years and years and now I want to. I'll try Uncle Will's recipe, thank you!

Dina said...

these cookies look like they have a great snap to them.

Finsmom said...

You always have the best cookies!

onlinepastrychef said...

Love the idea of using pureed raisins in these--would never have thought of it. Thank you for sharing Uncle Will with all of us.

Lisa said...

Laura, I really, really, really want to make these cookies this weekend, but...I don't want to use the shortening? Can I substitute and equal amount of butter in its place? I read somewhere that 1 cup shortening = 1 cup + 2 Tbsp butter. Do you know if that's accurate? These just look lovely. Also, the fact I did my undergrad at a university only a stones throw from Rosebush, Michigan, has me feeling a little nostalgic about them.

Lisa

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Lisa,

Just try substituting cup for cup. I'm guessing it will be ok because the dough gets chilled anyway.

I wanted to tell you to make sure the raisins are really well drained and maybe even patted dry because this dough tends to be very soft and moist. If your raisins are already quite soft don't worry about soaking them.

I should put that in my notes. I think I'll go do that!

I hope they turn out well.

Laura

Lisa said...

Thanks, Laura. I didn't get to them this weekend, but my daughter wants to bake today after school. I'll let you know how they turn out.

Lisa

Lisa said...

Ok...finally. I've baked the cookies and I have one beef with Uncle Will: I can't stop eating them!!!

These cookies are delicious. Because I have somehow misplaced my biscuit cutter, I ended up using the alternate method (bottom of glass dipped in sugar). Unfortunately, while they still tasted delicious, they weren't as pretty. So I ended up rolling the dough into balls (about the size of large walnuts), dipping the tops in sugar, and sprinkling each cookie with a few drops of water. It was the only way I could get the pretty crinkled effect.

Long story, short...these are keepers!!!

Lisa

The Cooking Photographer said...

Lisa that just made my day! Thank-you so much for telling me. This dough was such a pain to write correctly because raisins are different than they used to be. I didn't think I could ever get it right for others to use.

Thank-you so much!

Laura

scrambledhenfruit said...

I have these chilling in my refrigerator. If the dough is any indicator, these are going to taste fabulous! My dough is really sticky, so I might end up scooping them. Either way, thanks for sharing the recipe!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Scooping them works too. I have a tough time with this old recipe. Sometimes I have to scoop, sometimes I get to roll them. Either way has worked so far.

Laura

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