There is no better December beer than St Bernardus Christmas Ale. Redolent of winter spices and dried fruit, this 10% quadrupel is well-suited to festive indulgence.
It’s become such a cult favourite that, as I recently learned from fellow beer writer Eoghan Walsh, it’s even got its own themed Christmas jumper. (Santa, if you’re listening: Send me a medium?)
Last year, I decided to take a page from Black Axe Mangal chef Lee Tiernan and pair St Bernardus Christmas Ale with deep-fried mince pies. But this year, I looked overseas for inspiration. In a normal December, I’d be hopping on a plane back to New York and Philadelphia at this time of year. This will be my first Christmas in London, and to counteract the homesickness, I’ve turned my attention back to the holiday traditions I grew up with. Namely: Christmas cookies.
It took me a while to realise that Christmas cookies aren’t really a thing here., which strikes me as a shame: Unlike the annual onslaught of mince pies, the joy of Christmas cookies is in their variety. Each family has their own passed-down recipes and traditions. Christmas cookies can be frosted or coated in chocolate and crushed-up peppermints. They can be shortbread or gingerbread. They can be thumbprint cookies studded with Hershey kisses or stained-glass cookies made with melted hard candies. Or, in this case, they can be chewy ginger molasses cookies.
I have to admit: This recipe didn’t originate with my own family. Rather, these cookies come via my friend Devon, whose family made them every year while we were growing up. After I begged and pleaded, she finally sent me a photo of the recipe, scrawled on a stained index card by some elderly relative.
Since then, these cookies have become part of my own Christmas pantheon. Attractively furrowed and glittering with sugar, crunchy on the outer edges and chewy in the middle, they’re perfectly spiced, and just the right level of sweet. The key ingredient, as the name suggests, is molasses – better known as black treacle ’round these parts. And that deep, burnt-sugar note, those aromatic spices, make them a perfect fit alongside the St Bernardus.
A couple of quick pointers: If you have a stand mixer, I’d recommend using that over a handheld mixer, as the dough is very thick and heavy. And be sure to roll them into generous, golf-ball-sized spheres – this is no time to skimp. This recipe makes more than enough cookies to share around, and to set one or two aside to have when they’re still warm from the oven. Pull them out a minute or two early if, like me, you like yours extra squidgy.
Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies
Makes approximately 34 cookies
220g granulated sugar, plus more for rolling cookies
200g dark brown sugar, packed
340g unsalted butter, softened
125ml black treacle (molasses)
720g all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, if you plan to use a hand mixer), add the white sugar, brown sugar and softened butter. Cream together on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the black treacle (molasses) and beat on medium-low speed until fully incorporated. Beat in each egg separately, pausing to scrape down the bowl with a spatula between additions.
- In a large bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients. Add to the wet ingredients in 4 or 5 additions, blending on low speed until completely incorporated and pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl where needed. The dough should be thick and heavy, but still workable. Chill in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour, or preferably overnight.
- After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 180° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit), and add roughly 110g sugar to a small bowl. Scoop a portion of dough and roll between your palms into a sphere (each cookie should be roughly 50g or the size of a golf ball). Try to roll the cookies quickly, so the butter in the batter doesn't melt in your hands. After each cookie is shaped, roll briefly in the sugar until evenly coated. Place cookies 2 inches apart on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, baking for less time if you like your cookies gooey and soft and for more time if you like them crunchier. Remove from the oven and let firm up for roughly 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack with your spatula.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen.