Molasses Spice Cookies

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If you like crisp cookies and the flavor of molasses, these are the cookies for you.  As a bonus, the gluten-free version holds together wonderfully, and you get double the number you would using all-purpose flour!

 

Molasses Spice Cookies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Yield: 48 gluten-free OR 24 normal cookies

  • 2 1/3 cups gluten-free OR all-purpose cookies
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Pinch (small or not so small, depending on how much heat you want) of cracked or coarsely ground black pepper (all I had was regular ground black pepper, so I used that and it was fine)
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar OR 1 cup white sugar plus a dollop of molasses
  • 1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 large egg
  • About 1 cup sugar for rolling gluten-free cookies OR 1/2 cup for normal

 

  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add brown sugar OR white sugar+dollop molasses, and the 1/2 cup molasses.  Beat for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Add egg and beat for 1 minute.
  4. Beat in baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour.  (If using all-purpose flour, don’t overbeat the batter!  You can use a rubber spatula to stir in the last of the flour by hand.)  The dough will be very smooth and soft.
  6. If you have patience, divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap.  Freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)  If you skip this step, as I did, just be forewarned that the dough is very sticky and difficult to handle.  It still works; it’s just frustrating.
  7. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350ºF.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
  8. Put sugar in a small bowl.
  9. If you took the time to chill the dough, work with one packet of dough at a time.  For gluten-free batter, shape it into 1-inch balls.  For batter with all-purpose flour, divide each dough packet into 12 equal pieces and roll the pieces into balls.
  10. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar.
  11. Place on baking sheets, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart.  (The gluten-free ones will spread into cookies 3 1/2 inches in diameter.)
  12. You can dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it press down on the cookies until they are 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  Alternatively, you can gently pat them down with your fingers.
  13. Bake cookies one sheet at a time for about 14 minutes if gluten free OR 12-14 minutes if not.  The tops feel set to the touch.
  14. Remove baking sheet from oven.  If the cookies are touching, use the edge of a metal spatula to separate them while they are still hot.  Leave gluten-free cookies on the sheet for 1-2 minutes so they harden.  Otherwise they’ll break when you try to move them.
  15. Transfer cookies to rack to cool to room temperature.
  16. Repeat with remaining dough.
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Fruit Smoothie

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When you find yourself craving something sweet that’s lighter in terms of butter and calories, a fruit smoothie is a great option.  This recipe makes a relatively thick smoothie that is still drinkable.

 

Fruit Smoothie

Yield: 2 servings

  • 1 (5.3-oz) container Greek yogurt, flavor of your choice
  • 1 banana
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen fruit of your choice (such as a berry blend)
  • 1 1/2 cups fruit juice of your choice (orange juice, mango juice, guava juice…)

 

  1. Scoop yogurt into blender.
  2. Peel banana, break it in half, and put in blender.
  3. Add frozen fruit.
  4. Add juice.  (In our blender, the juice comes up high enough to cover the fruit.)
  5. Blend until smooth.

Improvised Sweet Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

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Zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and then steamed, are delicious but laborious to make.  However, I’ve found that red bean paste has such a strong flavor that it overwhelms any subtle bamboo leaf notes anyway, so you might as well make them in ramekins or small bowls.  The nicest part is that you can use ramekins with fun shapes – what better Valentine’s Day treat than a heart-shaped, red bean paste-filled dessert?

Cooking notes:

  • You can find everything in a Chinese supermarket.  The red bean paste will probably come in a can and sometimes misleadingly shows a picture of whole beans on the label.  Ask the cashier if you’re not sure.
  • I make my sticky rice in a Tatung rice cooker in which you put water in both an outer pot and an inner pot.  You can improvise this arrangement on the stove: Set a wire rack or an upside-down bowl in a large pot of water.  Place whatever ingredients you’re steaming in another bowl and set it on top of the rack or the upside-down bowl to keep it out of the water.  Cover pot with a lid and bring water to a boil.

 

Improvised Sweet Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Yield: 4 servings

  • 3/4 cup (1 rice cooker cup) sticky rice, aka sweet rice or glutinous rice, although it has no gluten
  • 1 1/8 cup (1 1/2 rice cooker cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or a few pieces of candy crystal (optional)
  • 3/4 cup (1 rice cooker cup) red bean paste (or more, to taste)

 

  1. Rinse the sticky rice with cold water a couple times.
  2. Cook the sticky rice.
    • If using a Tatung rice cooker, place sticky rice, 1 1/2 rice cooker cups water, and sugar (if using) in the inner pot.  Place 2 rice cooker cups water in the outer pot and steam. It takes 45-50 minutes.
    • If cooking on a stove, steam ingredients for about 45 minutes, adding more water to the pot if necessary.
  3. Grease 4 (6-oz or 8-oz) ramekins.  Small bowls will also do in a pinch.  Make sure you do this thoroughly, or the zongzi won’t come out cleanly.
  4. When the rice is done, divide it into 4 equal amounts.  Pat about 2/3 of each amount into a layer on the bottom and sides of a ramekin.  I try to get the layer as thin as possible to maximize the red bean paste to rice ratio, but this is up to you.
  5. Spoon red bean paste into the center of the rice in each ramekin.
  6. Cover with remaining rice and pat smooth.
  7. Steam again.  You may have to do this in batches.
    • If using the rice cooker, use 1 rice cooker cup of water in the outer pot.  It takes about 30 minutes.
    • If cooking on a stove, place the ramekins on a plate, and then set the plate on the wire rack or upside-down bowl.  Steam for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool on the counter just until the ramekins are cool enough to handle.
  9. Loosen the edges of the rice from the ramekins with a knife.  Place a serving plate over a ramekin and flip it over so the zongzi falls out.  Repeat for the others.  (Alternatively, you can just eat it directly from the ramekin.)
  10. Serve warm.
  11. If you make too many zongzi, you can cool them completely, wrap the ramekins in aluminum foil, and freeze them.  To reheat, you don’t even need to defrost them – just steam for about 45 minutes.

Eight Treasure Rice (Ba Bao Fan)

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In honor of Chinese New Year, here is the recipe for Eight Treasure Rice.  Ba Bao Fan, as it is called in Chinese, is  a popular dessert made with sticky rice, red bean paste, and enough types of dried or candied fruits to bring the ingredients to eight.  Whether or not you count the sticky rice as one of the “treasures” is up to you, and of course, no one says that you need to include exactly eight ingredients!

Cooking notes:

  • You can find everything in a Chinese supermarket.  The red bean paste will probably come in a can and sometimes misleadingly shows a picture of whole beans on the label.  Ask the cashier if you’re not sure.
  • Some common toppings include dried dates, guiyuan (dried longan), candied lotus seeds (which you can buy around Chinese New Year), dried lychees, dried loquat, and red and green candied fruit that you put in fruitcake.
  • I make my sticky rice in a Tatung rice cooker in which you put water in both an outer pot and an inner pot.  You can improvise this arrangement on the stove: Set a wire rack or an upside-down bowl in a large pot of water.  Place whatever ingredients you’re steaming in another bowl and set it on top of the rack or the upside-down bowl to keep it out of the water.  Cover pot with a lid and bring water to a boil.

 

Eight Treasure Rice (Ba Bao Fan)

Yield: 8 servings

  • 3/4 cup (1 rice cooker cup) sticky rice, aka sweet rice or glutinous rice, although it has no gluten
  • 1 1/8 cup (1 1/2 rice cooker cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or a few pieces of candy crystal (optional)
  • a handful of your favorite toppings (see above for suggestions)
  • 3/4 cup (1 rice cooker cup) red bean paste (or more, to taste)

 

  1. Rinse the sticky rice with cold water a couple times.
  2. Cook the sticky rice.
    • If using a Tatung rice cooker, place sticky rice, 1 1/2 rice cooker cups water, and sugar (if using) in the inner pot.  Place 2 rice cooker cups water in the outer pot and steam. It takes 45-50 minutes.
    • If cooking on a stove, steam ingredients for about 45 minutes, adding more water to the pot if necessary.
  3. While rice is cooking, soak dates in a little water to soften them.  Cut them into strips, removing the pits.
  4. You can stir-fry the red bean paste briefly, but I usually skip this step.
  5. Grease a domed, medium bowl and arrange the dried and candied fruits on the bottom.
  6. When the rice is done, pat about 2/3 of it into a layer on the bottom and sides of the bowl.
  7. Spoon red bean paste into the center of the rice.
  8. Cover with remaining rice and pat smooth.
  9. Steam again.
    • If using the rice cooker, use 1 rice cooker cup of water in the outer pot.  It takes about 30 minutes.
    • If cooking on a stove, steam for 30 minutes.
  10. When the bowl is cool enough to handle, loosen the edges of the rice from the bowl with a knife.  Place a serving plate over the bowl and flip them over so the Eight Treasure Rice falls out.
  11. Serve warm.