Mom’s Orange Sugar Molasses Cookies

I’m biased, but I swear my family has the best Christmas cookies. My Mom’s Orange Sugar Molasses Cookies are the keystone family cookies that taste like Christmas-distilled. My mom developed this ultimate holiday cookie recipe by combining several cookie inspirations. Not only is this a dark, complex molasses cookie with a solid amount of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, she also adds white pepper & dry mustard to intensify heat, complementing the spiciness of the ginger. If that wasn’t enough, she rolls the cookies in orange sugar for a floral contrast. Orange sugar is simply sugar that has been blitzed in the food process with a mountain of fresh orange zest. Friends have been asking for this recipe for years, and I am finally writing it down for you. I hope you have time to make a batch before Christmas next week.

If you like the orange sugar, you can use the concept of citrus sugar for rolling other types of cookies. I’ve made fabulous buttery sugar cookies rolled in lime sugar with the same technique. Get creative.

mom’s orange sugar molasses cookies

5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons cloves

4 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons white pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

3 cups butter, softened but still cool

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup molasses

for the orange sugar

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

4 teaspoons grated orange zest


Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, pepper, and salt in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

With an electric mixer or by hand, beat the butter with the brown sugar, the granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon orange zest at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the egg and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium and beat until well incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the molasses. Beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Reduce the speed to the lowest setting, add the flour mixture, and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the bowl. Give the dough a final stir by hand to ensure that no pockets of flour remain at the bottom. The dough will be soft.

For the orange sugar, combine the 4 teaspoons orange zest with the 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar in a food processor. Blitz until well combined. Place in a wide, shallow bowl.

Scoop a heaping tablespoon of cookie dough and roll it between your palms into a 1 1/4 – 1 1/2-inch ball. Roll the ball in the orange sugar to until it is coated and set on the prepared baking sheet. Arrange 9 cookie balls per baking sheet. Very lightly press down on the balls of cookie dough to make the top a little bit flat. Sprinkle a little extra orange sugar on top of each cookie ball so they look pretty. Bake the sheets one at a time for about 11-14 minutes until the cookies are browned and still puffy, with the edges set and the centers still soft. Repeat this process with other baking trays. Cool the cookies on the baking tray for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer to a wire rack. Cool the cookies to room temp.

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