Christmas Traditions: Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!” Tevye proclaims in the classic musical. Our traditions serve as ballast, connecting generations in continuity. Savoring Today is celebrating family traditions that revolve around Christmas or Hanukkah and would love to hear yours. Stories of favorite memories, recipes, quirky habits, scriptures, sacred moments—whatever makes the holiday uniquely memorable. Post as a comment, or submit your story to [email protected]

Christmas Traditions: Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

Shortly after I married my husband, we began blending traditions. One of his fond Christmas memories was receiving a coffee can full of his grandmother’s molasses cookies each year.  Based on stories I have heard from other women, I rest assured I am not the only wife who has faced the challenge of trying to recreate a favorite food from their husband’s childhood. Let me just say, it can be tough to match what he remembers. (Some women are convinced their mother-in-law leaves out something in the recipe so it is never just like what she made for him.) In my case, I am convinced it has more to do with the altitude of Colorado, but I keep trying.

I have carried on the tradition of Grandma’s Molasses Cookies for most of our 22 years together. One year, determined to match this special childhood memory for him, I bought a can of ground coffee just so the cookies could be wrapped in the can and placed under the tree.  I wondered if the residual aroma of the coffee somehow penetrated the cookies—the secret ingredient, if you will. “Close“, he said, but still not the same as Grandma’s. My husband sincerely appreciated my effort and it conveyed my love for him, which is what really mattered anyway.

Years ago, when Grandma Sarah wrote out the recipe card for me I was careful to save it and savor it. The significance of carrying-on this tradition didn’t sink-in until last year, just months before her 102nd birthday, she passed away.  As we mingled and traded stories after the funeral, a cousin began to reminisce about receiving her molasses cookies as a kid (evidently, it was a fond memory for all the grandchildren). Another lamented they had no idea if the recipe had ever been written down. In that moment, it felt like I held something golden, a precious generational memory.  They were relieved to know the recipe was not lost and it would be emailed to them upon our return home.

A few weeks later, the original recipe sheet arrived in the mail with a few other keepsakes from Sarah’s life. To say I felt honored to have it is an understatement. No one knows for sure if it is her own handwriting or her mothers. Looking at them side-by-side, I suspect it was the way her mother passed the recipe on to her, now ready to be passed on to a fourth generation.

Grandma’s Molasses Cookies are central theme to our holiday baking each year, stirring childhood memories not only for my husband, but for our kids as well.

Christmas Traditions: Grandma’s Molasses Cookies
Serves / Yields: 9 dozen 2 inch cookies
  • 1½ cups molasses (Brer Rabbit brand - full bodied)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 cup shortening (non-hydrogenated, if possible)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 3-4 cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 pounds white baking chocolate (*optional) -- melted
  1. Dissolve baking soda in vinegar. Sift (3 cups) flour with spices.
  2. Mix molasses, sugar, eggs, shortening, and dissolved baking soda together.
  3. Mix in flour "enough to make it like you want - I have better luck if dough is pretty stiff." (This was the hardest part to decipher, which is why I think she ended the recipe card with "good luck." It ends up somewhere between 3-4½ cups, that's why I start with 3 cups.)
  4. Roll out parts of the dough on a lightly floured board to ¼" thickness. Cut with a cookie-cutter into 2" rounds. Bake at 375 - 8-10 minutes.
Optional, but delicious and festive: Once the cookies are cooled, melt white baking chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. Spread melted white chocolate on top and let cool to set chocolate. We use Ghirardelli White Melting Chocolate sometimes sold at Sam's Club during the holidays. The white chocolate looks like swirled snow on top of the cookie.


    Grandma’s comments on the recipe card:
    This is a double recipe.  I have better luck if dough is stiff.  This is my mother’s recipe.  She made good molasses cookies—Good Luck.” −Grandma Sarah

    Yes, Grandma Sarah, your mother did make good molasses cookies; evidently, based on the fond memories of your grandchildren, you did too.  Love, Judy

    Shared on the following Blog Hops:
    Premeditated Leftovers Hearth & Soul Hop
    Mom Trends Friday Food


    1. spulmano says

      Wow. Its an honor to be able to make cookies from someone who’s seen the world for so many years. Thank you for sharing.

    2. says

      What a special recipe! I treasure the handwritten recipes that have been passed down through the generations. I have my great grandmother’s cookbook from finishing school. I love that she scratched out recipes and wrote her modifications. Thank you for sharing this treasure with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

    3. Tinkers says

      I love your story because it’s very similar to mine but the food to be recreated was YaYa’s noodles! I finally got it right last year and even made my uncle cry when he tried them.

      Just a idea of the missing flavor/ingredient based on Grandma Sarah’s age and that of her mother…..could they have used lard? Crisco wasn’t really popular until the 30’s and for some, it was too expensive when lard could be made at home.

      Anyways, thanks for sharing!

      • Judy says

        Hello, thanks for your comment. I have heard so many stories like this, last year it was a Christmas Bread Wreath that brought tears to a father’s eyes when his daughter recreated her grandmother’s recipe. I love it when food goes beyond the flavor!

        Like you, I had wondered about lard, but when she was making them for my husband in the 60’s, I’m pretty sure it was shortening she used. Maybe I’ll have to try the lard some time, just to see.

    4. says

      Slightly late, but thank you so much for linking up to Friday Food last week on! I just love this. The recipe I shared was my gram’s and I think her mother’s as well (I’d have to ask my mom to find out). There is something extra special about making the same recipes they did, especially with my own kids. ~Shannon

    5. Dawn says

      Help….I am an experienced baker and trying to make these cookies – I added lots of flour and it’s still sticky! What am I doing wrong?

      • Judy says

        Hi Dawn,
        I’m sure you didn’t do anything wrong, the molasses can make the dough sticky, so you’ll need a floured board to roll them out. Otherwise, you might try rolling it into a log, cover with plastic wrap, and chill the dough so you can cut them instead. 1/4″ thickness works pretty well. This was one of those recipes I had to get a feel for since I wasn’t given an exact measure of flour. You shouldn’t need to add more than 5 cups in total.

        • Dawn says

          Judy……the cookies were a success! Although the dough was really sticky…i add more flour and mixed with my hands, rolled into balls and rolled in Sugar in the Raw. They were awesome! My co-worker (who doesn’t just say things to be nice) Said they were REALLY, REALLY GOOD!

          Thank you for sharing! It’s a keeper!


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