It took a while for me to embrace spicy food for dinner -- my Mother's first attempt at Chicken Creole in the early 1960s called for 1/8th tsp of cayenne, and for years in her house, cayenne was doled out of that same can, grain by grain.
But I always loved spicy gingerbread -- whether cake-like or sludgy in the pan, as gingerbread men or especially the crispy Moravian ginger cookies -- I loved the combination of molasses and spices, and I always willing to double the spice. Except for one lovely afternoon with some friends and a Spritz-making apparatus, I hadn't made a cookie in decades, but I was recently brought back to the fold.
Bridget Lancaster, the wonderfully inventive, creative and knowledgeable cook, well-known to fans of America's Test Kitchen, wrote about "Joe Froggers," a 200-year-old cookie made with seawater and rum in COOK'S COUNTRY (February-March 2007, p 9). She tracked the cookie's history and worked out the kitchen science, so necessary because this recipe has no eggs. Some of its special flavor comes from a mixture of rum and salt (no seawater in the 21st century). This very flat cookie gets it nominal lift from baking soda mixed with molasses, which almost doubles in volume -- putting on a wonderful show for children of all ages. Its texture -- just crisp around the edges if you bake it long enough, comes from the proportion of molasses to sugar.
Although her version is well-spiced, it wasn't enough for me, so I increased the amount of ground spices, added cayenne and candied ginger. Also, I am not patient enough to chill now, roll and bake later. If I'm going to have a cookie every two decades, I want it now, and these are terrific drop cookies made with fresh dough. In the interest of science, however, I formed dough logs and froze them for slice-and-bake cookies. Wrap the rolls in plastic and refrigerate or freeze.
One more really good thing about this recipe for people who can't resist raw cookie dough: with no eggs, you may nibble away without fear of salmonella.
The traditional "Joe Frogger" is huge -- the Cook's Country version makes just two dozen. Depending on the size of your drop, the width of your dough logs and the thickness of your slices -- well, I have no idea how many dozens you might make.
Super Spicy Molasses Cookies (adapted from Cook's Country)
Useful tools: 2 cup measuring cup; parchment or silicon mats for baking
1 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup rum (dark is good, light is fine if that's what you have)
1 T water
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour, plus some for creating dough logs
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh ground, please)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/16 tsp ground cayenne
1 c sugar
2 T candied ginger, minced or processed very fine with the sugar
1 stick (8 T) butter, softened
1. In a two (or larger)-cup liquid measure, with the baking soda at the bottom, mix the soda and molasses. Set aside for about 15 minutes. It will almost double in volume, foaming in a nice way.
2. Dissolve the salt in the rum and water.
3. Whisk the flour and the dry spices.
4. On medium speed, beat the butter, ginger and sugar for four minutes.
6. On low speed, add the rum mixture -- it will look curdled. Then add the flour mixture and molasses alternately: three additions of flour and two of molasses. This is a stiff and sticky dough that may require finishing by hand.
BAKING: 375 degrees on a parchment or silicon-mat covered baking sheet.
7. Slice and bake: Form the dough into logs as wide or as narrow as you like. Cover with plastic and refrigerate or freeze until you're hungry. Sice, then bake 8-10 minutes, or until the tops are crakced. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and the move to a rack (unless you've already eaten them). The thinner the slice, the more likely that your edges will be crisp.
8. Drop cookies #1: drop by tablespoon, and bake for 8 minutes, or until the tops are cracked. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a a rack; OR Drop cookies #2: chill the dough for 1-24 hours in a bowl covered in plastic wrap. Drop by tablespoon and bake for 8 minutes or until the tops are cracked. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a rack.