The Fresh Loaf

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What role does molasses play in a recipe?

clazar123's picture

What role does molasses play in a recipe?

I am researching oil based cookies and the recipe I am currently trying is a Ginger Cookie made with

2/3 c oil

1 c white sugar

1 egg

1/4 c molasses

2 c Ap flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp salt

Mix oil and sugar well.Sift dry ingredients together and add to oil/sugar mix.Roll 1 tsp dough into a ball and roll in white sugar. Bake 350

The dough tastes too strong of molasses for my taste. How can I adapt this recipe to drastically reduec or even eliminate the molasses? I'm not sure what role it plays- is it moisture? Texture? Acid so the baking soda puffs the dough?

charbono's picture

indicates that it would take 2 cups of molasses to neutralize 2 tsp soda.


clazar123's picture

So while being acidic (slightly) the molasses is not necessarily acting as an acid-it that what you are saying?

I am pretty familiar with how ingredients affect the texture of bread and somewhat with cookies in regards to fat/flour/sugar/water but I really don't know what role sugar syrups like molasses,corn syrup and honey play in the final texture.

What would happen to the texture of this cookie if I eliminated the molasses?

Yolandat's picture

I also do not like the molasses flavour. I have simply substituted dark brown sugar instead and never really had a problem. You can also try corn syrup but it leaves the cookies lacking that little something the brown sugar adds. 

PaddyL's picture

Try Lyle's Golden Syrup instead of the molasses.  I was curious about the couple of tbsp. of corn syrup in a KAF oatmeal cookie recipe and was told that the extra liquid gave a moister, chewier cookie.

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

I had the same reaction as you the when I tasted the dough for two new-to-me cookie recipes containing molasses. The flavor of molasses unpleasantly overwhelmed all other ingredients to the point that I almost threw out the dough rather than waste any more time just to end up with an inedible result. But this was a very large batch of crumb cookies for which — thanks to the many firm admonishments of Norm Berg in his posts here at The Fresh Loaf — I'd been saving cake, cookie and bread crumbs for at least six months, so I persevered, making dozens and dozens of crumb cookies exactly according to formula. The cookies were delicious, in fact the favorite of everyone who received holiday cookie gifts from me in 2011. 

I've since tried a chocolate crumb cookie formula with an even stronger molasses flavor. The dough tastes even more awful, but the baked cookies are sublime. Both formulas follow.

My guess is that the contribution of molasses to the cookies significanly alters the flavor and texture. It makes the cookies' flavor sweet but not so sweet as granulated sugars would. It also brings a mild pungent note, unpleasant by itself, but one that balances well with other flavors and spices. As important, it imparts a softer, chewier texture to the cookie as compared to  sugar. Could this be because molasses inhibits sugar crystals from recombining as they cool, in the same way a bit of corn syrup or invert sugar helps icings and fudges retain smoothness longer? Maybe also molasses' moisture is more firmly bound to its sugars, inhibiting evaporation and slowing the drying out/staling process? Cookies made with molasses definitely seem to retain moisture better. This allows better flavor to development in the weeks between mixing, baking and eating, which I think is even more important for holiday cookies.

I scaled down this formula for Crumb Cookies from a commercial bakers' supply house. I won't change anything when I make them again this year. The Chocolate Cookies, from Bakers' Secrets (published in 1885 and free at the Internet Archive) have a lot more molasses, so much more that the flavor remains prominent in the baked cookies. A glaze of royal icing spread over the baked, cooled cookies balanced the molasses flavor perfectly for me, which allowed the chocolate flavor and soft, chewy texture of the cookies to shine.

I bake a Wine Cake using pastry flour with the recipe from Inside the Jewish Bakery for the majority of the crumbs in both of these cookies. It's a great formula — simple quick and inexpensive with a perfect flavor balance. I believe it's a major enhancement to the flavor of both of these crumb cookies, giving them a real "old-fashioned bakery" taste.

If I really couldn't stomach the flavor of molasses I'd first try substituting another strong syrup (Vermont Maple or Kentucky Sorghum?) or a spicy raw, unfiltered honey. 



proth5's picture

Yes, it is there for flavoring as well as being the acid element to activate the baking powder.  Sugar acts as a liquid ingredient as does molasses - so you would need to incrrease the sugar or add some other liquid to compensate if you eliminated the molasses.  As suggested above, brown sugar (which is just white sugar with some of the molasses addded back) would be a good substitute - as it would bring the requisite acid to bear.  I routinely substitute agave nectar weight per weight for sugar in baked goods like cookies or muffins with no compromise in texture - even when the original formula specifies thorough creaming (haven't had the nerve to try it in cakes, yet - except for the pound cake variety).  It takes a while to get it through your head that sugar is a liquid ingredient.  Even in bread...

Ginger and molasses is a classic combination and one does wonder about the taste being too strong as there are several varieties of molasses.  There is blackstrap (the strongest), full and mild flavors - although the mild is difficult to find on the grocer's shelves (put the terms "Brer Rabbit Molasses" into your favorite search engine to find sources for these three types).  Which one did you use?

Although I like a good hit of molasses in most recipes - I find that 50% regular molasses and 50% dark agave nectar gives a good molasses flavor that can be less overwhelming.

I'm prepping for my annual bake of our family's own molasses cookies (very strong flavor) so I've got molasses on my mind...

Hope this helps.

clazar123's picture

Wow!This gave me an "Ah Ha" moment! I knew sugar in any form (but particularly a syrup) affected the moisture of the product since it is so hygroscopic but I hadn't thought of actually counting it toward the liquid side of a formula. Yet it makes complete sense and suddenly shuffled everything into place.

Thank you,proth5!

Home Baker, you are right-this dough tasted terrible (molasses tastes like iron to me) but the cookies  are not bad. They are picture perfect in appearance-a nice little puffed,dark brown with a crinkle top. And they are slightly moist/chewy. I might sub some dark corn syrup in this recipe in order to keep the texture-I just don't care for the taste of the molasses. I used Brer Rabit Full Flavor Molasses-I couldn't find the light flavor when I bought it. Lyle's Golden Syrup is hard to find here (Wisconsin,USA) and very expensive when I do find it.

Here is what I intend to try. I am also in the process of converting it to weights so I can scale it.

2/3 c oil

1 c white   brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 c molasses dark corn syrup

2 c AP flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp ground dried ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 c crystallized ginger bits

More delicious experimentation with a little more knowledge to help.