Baking with Molasses: the darker side of sweet

Sift magazine’s holiday issue is full of festive recipes for this season’s baking.

Sift magazine often includes a feature called “ingredient spotlight.” That’s where we take one of our favorite baking ingredients and use it in a collection of recipes that really shows what it can do. This time, we’re exploring the rich, robust flavor of molasses. Come with us as we taste some of the ways it can really amp up your baking.

Molasses runs through our history and the evolution of our baked goods. In colonial times, it was commonly used in tandem with honey as a principle sweetener. Refined sugars were too expensive for most households, so baking with molasses became the norm, appearing in staples like anadama and brown breads, baked beans, and gingerbread. As a result, we’re left with a national memory of its flavor.

baking with molasses spoon via@kingarthurflour

Traditions have changed quite a bit since then, but molasses, with its caramel notes and slightly bitter undertone, still claims a place in our cooking. It anchors the spices in barbecue sauces, brings its complexity to frostings and cakes, and is also delicious drizzled over cornbread. Despite the rise of other sweeteners, when we encounter a molasses cookie, it’s like meeting an old friend.

Baking with molasses is rich and satisfying. Check out 5 recipes from the darker side of sweet. Click To Tweet

How it’s made: Cane syrup, light molasses

Cane syrup is the boiled syrup of crushed sugar cane. Light molasses is the liquid that remains after the first white sugar is extracted from cane juice. The flavor is lighter and has more fruity notes to it, in the same way the first pressing of olives makes a lighter, fruitier olive oil. Light (sometimes called “fancy”) molasses is ideal for baked goods and candies. And in…

baking with molasses hermits via@kingarthurflour


This frosted, spicy, fruit-studded cookie from childhood — substantial in size and deeply comforting — is worthy of a place in your lunch box and your baking routine.

baking with molasses soft cookie via@kingarthurflour

Whole Grain Soft Molasses Cookies

Slightly chewy and spiked with bits of candied ginger and spices, these praise-worthy soft cookies were born of King Arthur Flour employee-owner Julie Christopher’s late-night cookie making improvisation.

How it’s made: Dark and blackstrap molasses

Dark molasses is made from the second boiling of cane syrup, after the white sugar is removed. This thicker, darker version is often referred to as “full” or “robust” molasses. It gives gingerbread its distinctive flavor and can be used interchangeably with light molasses in baking, for those who prefer a stronger flavor.

Blackstrap molasses is the result of a third boil. It’s darker, more viscous, stronger-tasting, and less sweet than dark molasses. Because of this, its bitter flavor is best suited for savory preparations, such as baked beans or barbecue sauce, rather than for sweets. It tastes great in…

baking with molasses-1


Another unexpected use of molasses is in this quick bread. This moist, tweedy loaf is descended from traditional Scottish oatmeal gingerbread. It’s equally delicious with a scoop of ice cream or simply paired with jam and some yogurt for breakfast.

baking with molasses seafoam via@kingarthurflour

Molasses Seafoam Candy

Crisp and light, this candy is also known by other names, including honeycomb, angel candy, sponge toffee, and cinder toffee. Seafoam is best made on a dry day. It can be broken into pieces once set, and dipped in chocolate for even more fun.

How it’s made: Cooking molasses

This is a blend of light and blackstrap molasses. It imparts a stronger molasses flavor without the harsh edge of straight blackstrap. Because of this balance, it’s a good middle-ground choice for any recipe, savory or sweet, such as in…

baking with molasses pound cake via@kingarthurflour

Molasses Pound Cake

Finally, we capture molasses’ magic for dessert. Top this moist cake with a dollop of good peach preserves and some whipped cream, or spread it with cream cheese for a quick breakfast.

Molasses is a compelling flavor that really stands out in baking. It’s particularly suited to cold weather treats. Bring the richness of molasses into your kitchen, and rediscover the darker side of sweet.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Olga Trenholm Bateman

    This is my first time to use Crosby’s molasses in my baked beans….oh my dear..gross. so strong of bitterness. I couldn’t imagine what that terrible taste was. I thought I might need a bit more molasses to sweeten the pot of beans. I added more molasses, horrible. I decided to taste the molasses out of the box….there it was, it was the molasses.
    Now how can I compensate? I need more sweetness and less bitterness. .. they taste horrible and I have company coming for Supper.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Olga, we hope you were able to feed your guests last night! If you ever have pressing questions or need an answer right away, we strongly urge you to reach out to our free Baker’s Hotline either by phone at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or on online chat. We know it’s after the fact now, but a good way to counter bitterness is salt. Some even add a few granules of salt to their coffee to make it taste less bitter. Acid can also help so a bit of vinegar could improve matters. It may have also simply been too much bitterness to be able to mask. Sometimes starting over or going with a plan B is the best solution, and it’s totally OK! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Chris

    Is there a ratio to use when substituting blackstrap for light molasses? I keep blackstrap in the pantry not light. The taste and viscosity obviously affects the outcome. Can I just use a lesser amount or do I need to add something to lighten the blackstrap if the recipe calls for light?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Chris! There isn’t a hard and fast rule or ratio when using blackstrap in place of regular molasses, so it could take some trial and error. You may find you need to add extra regular sugar to your recipe to counteract the bitterness, but try adding a little bit at a time as a big change in the sugar can greatly alter the texture of your bake. If you’re down for a little experimentation, give a few recipes a go! Annabelle@KAF

  3. Lee

    Ugh! I live in Africa where ingredients are sometimes difficult to get. I just made gingerbread cookie dough with blackstrap molasses and the dough tastes awful—bitter, of course. Do you think rolling the dough in sugar (perhaps I can get confectioners sugar) instead of flour can help salvage these cookies?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lee, in addition to rolling the dough in sugar, it sounds like you might want to add more sugar to the dough, as well as reduce the amount of molasses that’s added. Because blackstrap molasses is darker in color and more robust in flavor, you can use less of it and get similar results. Also try bumping up the other spices to make sure the final result if full of delicious, warm flavors. We hope you’re able to tweak the recipe to your liking so the next batch turns out perfectly. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Barbara Elford

    I wish I had read this before I mixed up my recipe for chewy molasses cookies.I do notice the bitter after taste. I am going to add a thin glaze over them to sweeten them a little. Wish me luck.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Best of luck, Barbara! You can always toss your freshly baked, still warm cookies in confectioners sugar or dust with Snow White Non-Melting Sugar for another level of sweetness. We’re sure they’ll still be quite tasty, and next time you’ll know you might want to choose a lighter variety. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Stephanie, sorghum syrup comes from the sorghum plant rather than cane sugar and is generally sweeter, milder, and distinctly more vegetal in flavor than light molasses. Mollie@KAF

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