Growing up in California, my Christmases were never filled with real snowdrifts and cups of hot cocoa over a crackling log fire. Christmases were thin flyaway scarves on nippy sun-soaked mornings and Chinese sticky rice served in a large rice cooker. They were elaborate piles of wrapped presents under a tree, but they were also eggnog-free, booze-free, cookie-free celebrations of time together with family. Until a few years ago, I never even considered what it meant to have a conventionally Western Christmas: to build floppy houses made of real gingerbread, to squeeze into an abhorrently amusing ugly holiday sweater for the evening with your friends, to stroll down snow-lined lanes and eat fruitcake and sing (slightly drunken) Christmas carols all season long. I think I tried making chocolate chip cookies for Santa once when I was eight, but I was so offended by the fact that he only ate half of the twenty-something cookies that I never baked for him again.
Living in LA for the past five years means that a lot of that has changed. While I still haven’t had my first white Christmas–though it’s on the bucket list!–I’ve proudly donned my inaugural ugly gingerbread man sweater, hosted themed holiday parties, and made my first-ever Christmas-inspired treats, which include these Super Chewy Molasses Ginger Cookie Bars. These bars, by the way, may be new to my life, but I am most definitely and madly in love with them already. (Update: my mom just tried a bite and said rather matter-of-factly, “You don’t have to give all of these away” before whisking a few of the squares away for herself. High praise indeed!)
I’ve only ever baked with molasses once, when my ex and I had a Harry Potter-themed cooking night a couple of years ago and decided to try making treacle tarts…with blackstrap molasses, because apparently we didn’t know that there was a difference between different types of treacle. Big mistake. After chucking out the molten blobby mess that oozed from his oven a la Jabba the Hutt, I promptly swore off baking with molasses–a promise that I kept until I was sorting through my cabinet last weekend and realized that I still had two massive jars left because of BOGO FOMO (translation: the fear of missing out on a buy-one-get-one sale). After hours of online scouring, I finally settled on a recipe featuring molasses that sounded safe enough: ginger cookies. But with a twist!
These extra-chewy bar cookies are generously spiced with some of my seasonal favorites: cinnamon, ginger, and just a hint of nutmeg. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar on top, these bars boast the texture of a perfectly made snickerdoodle but are much easier to throw together and don’t require cream of tartar, as most snickerdoodle recipes do. I also threw in some white chocolate chips to add crunch contrast (though feel free to leave them out if you’re a texture purist) and swirled in cheesecake batter for good tangy measure to offset the natural spiciness of these cookies. All in all, this recipe blew other Christmas treats out of the holiday waters and will always have a place in my seasonal recipe box. If you’re trying to decide what to bring to your cookie exchange tonight or give as a last-minute homemade gift this year, you’ll want to make these bars ASAP.
This Christmas, I’m grateful for these beautiful cookies and all of the incredible people with whom I’ve shared them so far. Can’t wait to share even more of them as 2017 rolls around–happy holidays, everyone! xoxo
With Christmas love,
For the molasses ginger cookie bar:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cloves (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup butter, room temperature
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 egg, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon water OR orange juice
- 1/4 cup molasses (stronger taste) or maple syrup (slightly milder taste)
- 1 cup white chocolate chips
For the cheesecake swirl:
- 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping:
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the molasses ginger cookie bar:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking pan and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves, and salt. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in egg, water or orange juice, and molasses. Fold in dry ingredients until just incorporated, then fold in white chocolate chips as well. Scoop half of the batter evenly into prepared pan, spread cheesecake filling (recipe below) on top, then crumble remaining cookie dough on top.
For the cheesecake filling:
- In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add yogurt or sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat together until smooth.
For the topping:
- In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly on top of prepared cookie-cheesecake batter.
- Bake in preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Allow bars to cool completely before cutting and serving.