I have written with great affection about the Betty Crocker Cooky Book before, and recently I decided to embark on a project concerning not just the book but my absolutely favorite part of the book, the “great cookies of history” section. Really, it is called “Betty Crocker’s Best Cookies” but my version sounds more interesting.
When I was little I loved to read this part of the book, which includes little anecdotes about why certain cookies were popular during different eras. The anecdotes are probably pure fantasy, or perhaps there is a kernel of truth to them, but being a nerd for all things historical I ate them up (haha) over and over again. The breakdown of “historical” cookies begins in the year 1880 and goes by decade until until the 1930s, when it starts breaking things down every five years; it wraps up hilariously with the best cookie of 1960-1963 (the book’s original publication date) (French lace cookies!). When I was little I took these stories very seriously, as though whatever was deemed the best cookie in 1890 was a hard cold historical fact that most people probably knew. If these cookie facts had been on my 9th grade world history test I would probably have gotten into National Honor Society.
Not long ago I wondered aloud on Facebook if it would be interesting to anyone were I to bake all of these historical cookies and write about them. Surely these recipes, even if they are in some way based on recipes from the eras they reference, were written from a 1963 perspective with regard to convenience and availability of ingredients. (I highly doubt a cookie recipe from 1880 would look anything like we know a recipe to look like now. I have the 1911 Inglenook Cookbook and the recipes are along the lines of “Take some flour, boil it, add three hand-fulls of scorched milk, add currants, clabber and bake in pot ’til finished.”)
It is interesting to draw some sociological conclusions from the 1963 Betty Crocker Cooky Book. In some ways it is very old-fashioned and homey, as you would expect from an institution as family-oriented as Betty Crocker. And while the publishing date says 1963, the design sense, writing style and emphasis on homemaking is still very much rooted in the 50s. There are lots of references to convenience and time-saving, but many more references to keeping cookies on hand “for the children” and of course, for company. There’s even a section called “Company Best Cookies.”
I decided that I would make the recipes exactly as written where ever possible (which means, somewhat unfortunately, a certain reliance on Crisco) unless I absolutely know that the called-for ingredients or amounts will result in some kind of disaster. I truly thought I had a massive fail on my hands when I decided to make ginger creams, the best cookie of 1910-1920. My first misstep was not realizing the recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves, which meant hauling out the coffee grinder and blasting through a mess of cloves at almost 10pm. The second was not realizing the dough would need to chill, and I mean chill, for a long time, because it was more of a batter than a dough.
The dough was so watery that I read and re-read the recipe a dozen times to make sure I hadn’t screwed up, and then Googled it for good measure to see if anyone else had encountered difficulty with their ginger creams. One blog I found did note that the dough would be “very wet.” This blog did in fact feature a finished cookie product, and they looked decent enough, so I covered the dough and put it in the fridge to hopefully use the next morning.
As it turns out these are just exceedingly moist cookies, very cakelike. In fact, they would make phenomenal whoopie pies. I used a cookie scoop to provide some control and uniformity of size and it worked very well. I gave these about 8 1/2 minutes in the oven so they could set up properly.
When I tried one of the cooled cookies I though it could use a hint of lemon, so I used lemon extract in my first go at the icing. These are awesome with the lemon icing, but would be nice with vanilla as well, or even with a bit of ginger flavor (I would use jarred minced ginger).
I liked these cookies, and if you’re fond of molasses or gingerbread I recommend them. Don’t let the consistency of the dough freak you out. Just chill it several (many) hours or overnight and you’ll end up with a nice cake-like cookie. As I mentioned, these would be perfect for sandwich cookies, especially with vanilla or cream cheese frosting.
Betty Crocker’s Ginger Creams with Easy Creamy Icing
1/4 shortening (you can also use butter, slightly softened)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp lemon extract (or vanilla, or other flavoring)
1-2 tablespoons cream
Preheat oven to 400. Mix together the shortening, sugar, egg, and molasses and water. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together and add to shortening/egg mixture. I used a hand mixer. Dough will be very wet. Chill dough for several hours or overnight. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls (I used, and highly recommend, a cookie scoop—mine was a 2 tsp size) onto parchment-covered baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when you touch the cookie with your finger. Make icing by combining the confectioners’ sugar, flavoring, and enough cream to make spreadable. When cookies are cool, frost with a small amount of icing.