I gave up sleep for Lent. Four years ago. Rather, Sleep gave up on me, packed its bags, and left. Listen, Lisa. If you’re going to have young children and continue to be a bad sleeper yourself, I’m outta here. Screw it.
Now that Easter has passed with its bulbous eggs, overflow of candy, and a treasure hunt at church, the rabbits have lazily hopped off to rest up for next year. Still not me. So I read. Most recently during Lent, it was my recently acquired cookbook America’s Best Lost Recipes that I read, and of course, this kept me awake even longer, Sleep looking through the bedroom window, shaking its head, rolling its eyes. You never learn.
But who could sleep with this recipe hopping around in my head. I couldn’t pass up the silly name Joe Froggers. Giving no indication if it’s a recipe for sweets or savory, or perhaps even amphibian, I immediately read the liner notes to understand.
According to the book’s history lesson, these cookies date back more than 200 years to Marblehead, Massachusetts. Black Joe’s Tavern was opened by a freed slave Joseph Brown and his wife Lucretia (“Cressie”) where these cookies made their mark. The tavern was located near a pond, filled with large bellowing frogs. The large size (about 3 1/2 inches in diameter) of the cookies mimics the large, fat lilypads needed to support these rotund frogs. The silly name Joe Froggers was born through the craft of Cressie’s hands and I imagine over some happy glasses of dark rum next to the pond. (Hmmmm, maybe rum would help me sleep….)
The flavor profile is also of note: a little salty, some hard liquor made subtle, thick molasses, some spice, and not a single bit of dairy. Original recipes historically call for the Marblehead seawater to make the cookie salty. These treats were popular with sailors on long fishing stints at sea as they had no dairy to spoil and they remained chewy for weeks.
These are reminiscent of a dark gingerbread cookie and could easily make an appearance in the kitchen at Christmas time. Instead of a round cookie cutter for your “lillypad” shape, find your gingerbread people or snowflake cookie cutters for the holidays. They are a bit flimsy though, so don’t try to build a gingerbread house with this recipe’s cookies.
For a sense of scale, here are Grub’s hands and the small cookies:
|Hey, get your grubby fingers away from my mini lilypads!|
Maybe scale doesn’t pertain when comparing a dainty cookie to some fleshy baby fingers. How about a
- ⅓ cup dark rum (don't bother with good quality; it doesn't matter)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon groung nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup mild molasses (I used dark for a more robust flavor)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- Stir rum, water, and salt together in a small bowl to dissolve salt.
- Whisk flour and spices in a medium bowl.
- Stir the molasses and baking soda together and allow to sit until volume is doubled, about 15 minutes.*
- On medium-high speed with an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and gradually add rum mixture. Add flour mixture and molasses mixture alternately in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until stiff, at least 8 hours or up to 3 days. (If you don't chill it, the dough will be too soft to roll out properly.)
- Adjust two oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with half of the dough at a time on a heavily floured surface (this is really sticky dough!), roll out dough to ¼-inch thickness. Handle delicately. Cut out cookies with a 3½-inch cookie cutter, spacing cookies out 1½ inches apart on baking sheets.
- Bake until cookies are set and just beginning to crack, about 8 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets on oven shelves halfway through baking.**
- Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.***
- Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. They remain wonderfully chewy and moist. Makes 24 large cookies.