A few months ago, I ordered some coarse graham flour in hopes of developing a wholesome old school graham cracker recipe without all of the additives found in most store bought brands. Fresh Red May Wheat graham flour has deep and robust nutty flavor notes. Thankfully its unmistakable toothsome character bears no resemblance to commercial graham flour. But in a crispy graham cracker, I found it to be almost too gritty to my liking, so I stowed it away in the freezer to maintain freshness as my attention turned to other experiments - one of which has been a search for the perfectly chewy Sorghum Spice Cookie.
Sorghum syrup is an ingredient that was a memorable part of my early childhood growing up in East Tennessee. Every autumn, we would slowly cook sorghum juice harvested and processed down the valley until it yielded something similar to molasses but lighter in flavor. The process began under the tin roof of an open-sided shed in one of the back fields of the Owens' family farm. In a large and shallow evaporation vat positioned over an open fire, we would reduce the juice down until a scummy foam developed, skimming off what accumulated on the surface. Inevitably this long and steamy process would wear on our patience and would be cut short before it was completely ready to eat. The still 'green' syrup was then transferred to my grandmother's humble coal-stained kitchen and cooked down further on top of the stove before being served over warm, buttery biscuits.
I mistakenly called this syrup molasses for most of my life until recently returning to the South, as the flavor and color are of confusable resemblance. True blackstrap molasses however is fairly tar-like in appearance and is made from the juice of sugar cane. Sorghum syrup is reduced from the juice of a different cereal grain that somewhat resembles corn in appearance but without the ears. Both sugarcane and sorghum belong in the Poaceae (grass) family, but sugarcane is a tropical crop only grown commercially in states such as Florida and Louisiana. As a contrast, sorghum is highly drought tolerant, making it one of the most important food crops in the world. I project its adaptability will make it increasingly popular in North America as we continue to see dramatic climate shifts impact our ability to grow traditional commodity grains. Not only does the juice extracted from the cane make a highly nutritious syrup full of antioxidants, iron, and potassium but the seeds of sorghum can be ground into flour, popped like popcorn, or used as animal feed. And there are quite a number of heritage varieties ranging from red to blonde, making it an interesting addition to the pantry.
But back to the syrup. Not only is it sweet but it has flavor! And when thinking of ways to use up that preciously expensive (but worth it) graham flour in my freezer, sorghum's fruity but deep complexity seemed a natural pairing. The recipe calls for an array of warming spices not overly exotic unless you try and source Nigella seeds (black cumin). Although not in everyone's pantry, they can be easily found at most Middle Eastern groceries.
If you want to try these sans graham flour, I have substituted rye or whole wheat instead with delicious results. Roasted mesquite flour adds another malty complexity but is not completely necessary either to the success of the recipe -simply replace it with an equal amount of any whole grain. I do however prefer to use these two specialty flours in this recipe, as the graham adds an especially delightful gritty contrast to the chewy texture of the cookie.
SORGHUM SPICE COOKIES
Yield: 2 ½ dozen 3" cookies
1 cup (140 g) T85 all-purpose flour
1 cup (140 g) coarse graham flour
1 tablespoon roasted mesquite flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (115 g) unsalted butter
¾ cup (155 g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (75 g) sorghum syrup
1 large egg, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon nigella seeds (optional)
Sift together the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and sorghum with a hand mixer. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Folding in 1/3 at a time, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet and gently stir to combine. Remove from the bowl and wrap tightly in plastic. Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days to fully hydrate the whole grains.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and roll into 2" balls. Place on a lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with nigella seeds (if using), and gently flatten with your hands before placing in the oven. Bake for about 12-13 minutes or until the outside edges begin to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack. Store sealed in a container for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long).