TAYLOR COLUMN: Cracked cookie surface stirs up memories

Spiced cookies are popular to share with family and friends during the holidays. This version, Mrs. Shaw's Molasses Spice Cookies, is made with a recipe from 'Spices of Life' by Nina Simonds.

TINA RUPP

A North Charleston reader asked for recipes for cookies that crack on top when baked because she likes their old-fashioned appeal.

A cracked surface usually is the scourge of baking, but in the case of these cookies, it's exactly what you want. I think these cookies put forth a little visual dazzle in the days when cookies tended to be more plain. Often, their use of spices provides added pizazz.

One reader, Gretchen Altman of Summerville, noted that such cookies are less expensive to make when trying to bake a lot at holiday time. She has taken them to cookie exchange parties, for instance.

What causes the cracking? According to the national Sugar Association:

"Sugar helps produce the desirable surface cracking of some cookies. Because of the relatively high concentration of sugar and the low water content in cookies, sugar crystallizes on the surface. As sugar crystallizes, it gives off heat that evaporates the water it absorbed during mixing and baking. At the same time, leavening gases expand and cause cracking of the dry surface."

Ginny Garvin of Adams Run writes, "I've got the perfect (recipe) for this holiday season. My sister, Harriet, has made tons of these over the years to give away to shut-ins and family and everyone loves them. The aroma of baking ginger cookies fills the house with a wonderful, mouth- watering fragrance!"

Makes 5 dozen

3/4 cup shortening, such as Crisco

1 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 large egg

2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Granulated sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together shortening, brown sugar, molasses and egg until fluffy. Sift together all dry ingredients except granulated sugar and then add to the creamed mixture. Stir just enough to combine.

Form small balls (about 1-inch diameter) and roll in granulated sugar. Place dough balls 2 inches apart on a greased (or lined with parchment paper) cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet.

Casey Cannon Price of Jeremiah Farm on Johns Island says she took a walk down memory lane when she saw the request. Casey's sister, Paige Cannon, retrieved favorite family recipes from their drawer the Christmas after their mother died in 1997.

Casey writes, "My mom was an awesome baker. Every Christmas she made nut breads, cookies, apricot-hazelnut biscotti, and other special treats for our family to enjoy and share as gifts with friends."

Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

For dough:

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For topping:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer on high. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.

In another bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar. Pour into the wet ingredients and mix well. Let dough rest and chill in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon for the topping.

Take about 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Roll the dough ball into the cinnamon sugar mix and press it onto an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat for remaining cookies.

Bake for 12-14 minutes (no more). The cookies will seem undercooked but will continue to develop when removed from the oven. Let sit for a bit to cool and firm before removing to a cooling rack.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies were the rage for a time, and the recipe was widely circulated. Casey, as well as Gretchen, sent nearly identical recipes from different sources, one being a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and the other from a 40-year-old Indiana sorority cookbook.

1/2 cup shortening

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 ounces baking chocolate, melted

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Sifted powdered sugar

Cream shortening, sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Beat in eggs and then chocolate.

Sift together dry ingredients; blend in alternately with milk, ending with flour mixture. Stir in nuts if using.

Chill 2 to 3 hours or overnight. Form into 1-inch balls. Roll in powdered sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet 2 to 3 inches apart. Bake in 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from pan.

Gretchen, Nona Bell of Edisto Island and Kathy McDuffie of Goose Creek all are fans of this cookie. The recipe is found in many old church and community cookbooks.

Makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen cookies

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup molasses

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon each: cloves and ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Granulated sugar for rolling

Combine shortening and sugar and blend. Add the egg and cream well. Then pour in molasses and blend. Mix flour with soda, salt and spices and add last.

Form dough into 1-inch balls with hands. Roll in granulated sugar.

Place balls about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cookies flatten as they bake. (Do not overbake un-less you like really hard cookies.)

Cool, and they freeze well for baking ahead at Christmas.

Who's got the recipe?

This comes around annually: a caller would like a recipe for an old-fashioned fruitcake with candied fruits, raisins and nuts that is soaked in spirits.

Still on the hunt: Jennifer Miller of Charleston was in Charlotte recently for the Southern Christmas Show. "For the last couple of years, there have been a vendor or two selling an attractively packaged dry mix to prepare 'wine slushes.' It makes a nice hostess gift along with an inexpensive bottle of wine and directions for preparation. The simplest way is to combine the mix, the wine and a wine-bottle of water in a large zippered bag, mixing well. Then freeze it until it becomes 'slushy.' Now, how can I find a recipe to make my own mixes?"

Also, another reader is interested in making easy edible gifts.

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor at food@postandcourier.com, 937-4886 or 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403-4800.