My Great Aunt’s Spiced Molasses Cookies!

posted by Andrea | 12/19/2018

Growing up, one birthday tradition I loved more than most was when my great aunt Hilda (my mom’s aunt) brought us a huge platter of her delicious homemade spiced molasses cookies.

She was unmarried and spent a huge amount of time with my Grandpa’s family — and since she only lived a mile or so away from my family, we saw her a lot. She often picked me up from school or brought me to various extra curricular activities when my parents couldn’t, for whatever reason.

We spent many afternoons baking with her, and we enjoyed her homemade cookies every single birthday (she even brought them over after I was married)!

My great aunt died several years ago, and after she died, I realized I never got her cookie recipe.

For years and years, I’ve wanted this recipe — and thanks to a conversation with another distant relative 2 weeks ago I finally have it!

I had to laugh when I read that her recipe specifically required “Grandma’s Molasses”! I’m not 100% convinced this brand is required, but for the sake of nostalgia, I’ve included it in my recipe too!

That said, her recipe calls for “shortening” and I tried both butter and shortening in various batches of these cookies with good results. I’ll probably  stick with butter (pun intended!) as I don’t keep shortening in the house anymore.

If you’re looking for an old-fashioned recipe for spiced molasses cookies, this is one of the best around (although I might be slightly biased!)

Recipe for my great aunt Hilda’s Spiced Molasses Cookies!

makes 30-36 cookies

{print recipe}

INGREDIENTS for Cookies: 

  • 1/2 c. butter or shortening
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T. Grandma’s Molasses
  • 1/2 c. sour milk**
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1/4 t. ground cloves
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/3 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

**I didn’t know what sour milk was, so I Googled it. Apparently you can make “sour milk” similarly to how you’d make buttermilk. Pour 1 T. white vinegar into a 1/2 c. measure cup. Add 1/2 t. baking soda and fill the rest with milk. Stir together and add to cookie batter.

INGREDIENTS for Frosting: 

  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1-2 T. milk
  • a few drops of food coloring to make them festive 🙂

DIRECTIONS for Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.

Add eggs, molasses, and milk. Mix until combined.

Mix in flour, cloves, cinnamon and salt until combined.

Stir in walnuts (optional).

Scoop heaping Tablespoons of batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets (it will feel more like brownie batter than cookie dough).

Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Let cool before frosting

DIRECTIONS for Frosting: 

Mix all ingredients together, adding a very small amount more milk as necessary.

Spread thin frosting over cooled cookies and let “harden”.

Store frosted cookies in an airtight container with wax paper between the layers.

As I mentioned above, my great aunt (my maternal grandfather’s oldest sister) never married, so she spent most of her holidays with my grandparents, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

She almost always brought these cookies for every holiday party, and the plates were always empty by the end of the party.

Since I just so happened to finally get this recipe a couple weeks ago, I made a big batch of these cookies to bring to that same extended family’s Christmas party this past weekend.

They were a huge hit and everyone enjoyed reliving old stories about Aunt Hilda and her famous cookies! In fact, there were plates and plates piled high with sweets, but at the end of the night, my plate of “Aunt Hilda Cookies” was the only one completely empty!

I’m thrilled to finally have this recipe in my virtual recipe box and I’m certain I will make them regularly — especially during the holidays!

Do you have a favorite recipe passed down from a loved one?

Visit my virtual recipe box for more simple, delicious, family friendly recipes!

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30 comments

  1. JJ

    12/20/2018

    There is something therapeutic about making a long-time loved recipe, especially from someone dear who has passed. I greatly miss my granny. She made the best fruitcakes. Not the store-bought door stopper fruitcakes. But they were more like a pound cake with candied cherries and she did some with walnuts for the nuts in our family(as she always joked). Mostly everyone who tried it loved it and would say, “Wow, that doesn’t really taste like fruitcake.” Haha! Your display of the cookies looks perfect!!! I will have to try these!!!

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    JJ Reply:

    As a side note, I made your sugar cookie recipe. Oh my word! This is truly the best recipe for sugar cookies I’ve ever had or made!!!!! Thank you!!!!! My kids loved how easy it was to roll, and let’s just say I have to make more for Christmas Day cookies. Haha!

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh good — yes, we LOVE those sugar cookies! you can freeze the dough or the cookies (I know it makes a lot)!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I think you’re right — it’s therapeutic (especially for someone who already enjoys baking!)

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  2. lori

    12/20/2018

    This recipe sounds divine. I love molasses cookies and my husband makes them to help my cravings! We will have to try your aunt’s recipe as well!
    Growing up my grandma would make a filled cookie – kind of like a homemade fig newton – and we only got them during Christmas. I have the recipe (can’t find it right now) and made them several times for my dad before he passed away. He always said they were just like his moms. The are very time consuming, so I understand why my grandma would only make them at Christmas and my mom would hand them out one at a time. I remember the first year I was in college, she sent me my own box. I felt so special getting my own box! Now, when I make them, it’s a labor of love that I enjoy sharing with my siblings and their families. I need to find that recipe and make them again!
    I love the things that get passed down generation to generation. It’s such a lovely way to keep a loved tradition going. Not to mention the stories that go along with them,
    Thank you for sharing your memories and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

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    Andrea Reply:

    such nice memories! Thanks for sharing your story Lori!

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  3. Ashley Tubbs

    12/19/2018

    What a sweet story! I’m sure this warmed the hearts of many in your family to taste this family tradition again. Merry Christmas!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, many people made a comment regarding the cookies… like “who brought the Aunt Hilda cookies?” etc. It was fun!

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  4. Shelley

    12/19/2018

    Oh Andrea what a lovely post! I loved reading about your Great Aunt, she sounds like a really kind person. How lovely that you managed to get the recipe and share the cookies with your family. Aunt Hilda’s memory lives on!

    I’m not great at baking but I can usually manage cookies, I’ll have to give these ones a try. Thank you for sharing the recipe and a lovely heartwarming story. x

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  5. Diana Still

    12/19/2018

    Those look delicious! Do they turn out more like a soft, cake-y cookie? If so, I bet that texture is perfect with the molasses/spice flavor. I have a crinkly (but not crunchy) molasses cookie that I adore, but now I want to try this too!

    Someone already said part of this, but yes: sour milk is milk that has gone bad (soured). Since it’s acidic, it reacts with baking soda like buttermilk would. I think, technically, our pasteurized milk doesn’t sour in the same way that raw milk would, but I think it’s still fine for baking. It is also delicious in buttermilk pancake or biscuit recipes that use buttermilk. In fact, when you make the vinegar + milk combination for buttermilk, you are actually “souring” your milk and using it in place of buttermilk (which is cultured).

    Also, we have used the vinegar + milk for years without adding the baking soda and it seems to be just fine. Doesn’t the baking soda and vinegar react and basically turn into water anyway? But since the recipe works that way, don’t break it, (!!) but if you were up for experimenting some time, you could see if it makes a difference.

    Speaking of baking soda, does the recipe truly call for no other leavener?

    Merry Christmas! And now I’m hungry for cookies 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, they are softer, cakey cookie. Dave’s mom has a more “crinkly” recipe like you — I’m going to try that next, now that I have all this molasses to use up!

    Also, yes, there is no baking soda or powder in this recipe — I triple checked because I was concerned I was missing it or forgetting. I’ve made them 3 times this way and they’ve turned out every time with no extra powder or soda. Crazy!

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    Mary Reply:

    I think the vinegar and baking soda would fizz so would be leavening, more so than baking soda alone. Perhaps sour milk is doing something similar.

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  6. Jen

    12/19/2018

    Our son is getting married next year, and I am working on a family cookbook right now! I found a website where I can create my own, and I’m slowly getting it done. I hope to give it to each of my kids when they’re married. I also love the recipes I have that are handwritten so I’ve made it a point to keep a few of my mom’s recipes in her handwriting and to handwrite a few for my own kids so they have them for posterity’s sake. In this digital age, I think we’ve lost the art of handwriting,and it’s important to me to preserve them in this way.

    These cookies sound yummy! My husband and son love molasses cookies so I’ll be trying these! Merry Christmas!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Dave’s mom gave us a homemade cookbook the first Christmas after we were married — I still use it to make some of his childhood favorites 🙂
    I’m sure your kids will love this book

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  7. Chris

    12/19/2018

    That is so neat! I tried to find a recipe my mother-in-law used to make that was so good. I asked family members – no one knows. I googled it. In case anyone reading this knows of it, it was a yeast type dough filled up with peaches (similar to cinnamon rolls). and covered with a nutmeg sauce.

    Sour milk really is milk that is soured. When my milk turns bad, I sometimes save it for pancakes. You can also use it in sugar cookies. My mom is probably around your great aunt’s age. She also put the term “sour milk” in recipes and called for specific types of molasses, syrups. Probably because there are several kinds, Grandma’s molasses, King syrup, blackstrap molasses.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Andrea!

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    Chris Reply:

    PS: I couldn’t find it googling it, either.

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    Andrea Reply:

    sorry — no help with your recipe search, but thanks for your note about the sour milk. Sound gross! But, I guess my grandpa and great aunt probably had their share of sour milk growing up on a dairy farm!
    Merry Christmas to you too!

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    Margaret Reply:

    Sour milk is used in many cultures around the world–the Finns, and many other dairying societies even drink it.. My sister (who spent a year in Finland) says it tastes fine if you think “yogurt”, but is a horrible surprise if you’re thinking “milk”.
    I spent 5 years living in an intentional community in Northern Ireland, and did a lot of baking and cream cheese making with sour milk from our own cows–raw milk is legal in the UK (at least it was in the early 80s)–and can even be sold as long as it’s labeled as such. Pasteurized milk will not sour properly; it just goes bad. I tried–and failed–to make cream cheese by letting milk sour naturally, and it just won’t.
    So if you want an approximation of what your great-aunt could get from a crock in the cellar, use vinegar.

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    Andrea Reply:

    interesting — thanks for the information!

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    Darlene Reichard Reply:

    Chris, I think what you are describing is peach kuchen. I’ve had it in my childhood and have not found a good recipe for it yet, all the ones I’ve found are made like a quick bread. I’m still looking though!!

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    Darlene Reply:

    I went looking on the internet and found one that looks great, but it’s not made with yeast either. It looks amazing though and I’m going to try it!

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    Darlene Reply:

    Sorry I found it on beyondkimchee.com

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    Chris Reply:

    Thank you! No, that’s not it either. Maybe she made it up – lol. Plus, she used home canned peaches. Maybe I should try to make cinnamon rolls and put peaches in it. Of course, they wouldn’t taste as good as home canned. Thank you, again.

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    Andrea Reply:

    ooohhh, home canned peaches are the best — SO much better than anything you can buy in the store. Even the texture is different — maybe that’s the trick!

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    Chris Reply:

    You know, it is possible that it was more a biscuit dough, than using yeast. Thank you so much. I’m sorry if I hijacked your post, Andrea. Feel free to delete.

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh no — this is very interesting to me! I love these types of conversations within posts 🙂
    Hope you find your recipe someday!

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  8. Charlene Uchtman

    12/19/2018

    Jesus’ birthday cake! A red velvet layer cake with a cooked frosting thickened with flour and whole pecans pressed in a circle around the top.

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh yum!! Love the red Velvet cake!!

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  9. Casey

    12/19/2018

    I absolutely love recipes with stories like this! I’ve been trying to find my Oma’s Gehakt Ballen (Dutch meatball) recipe forever. I’ve tried the ones I’ve found online but they aren’t quite the same. It’s amazing how much our sense of taste can bring back wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I swear, those old ladies would put something secret in and never tell anyone so it would be impossible to recreate again 🙂 That’s my theory anyway!

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