The Dark Side of Sweet

Molasses is the Don Draper of sweeteners. It’s dark and strong, a little sweet with a bit of an edge. It carries a reputation as an old-fashioned ingredient with minimal uses. Has the bottle of molasses you purchased last December to make gingerbread remained hidden in the back of the pantry ever since? Well, take it out, dust it off and meet molasses’ true identity.

Anadama Rolls

18 rolls

1 cup whole milk
2 tsp. salt
½ cup medium-grind cornmeal
¹∕³ cup light or dark molasses
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 envelope (2¼ tsp.) dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and kneading
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg beaten
2 tsp. sesame or poppy seeds

• In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, 1 cup water and salt to a boil. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the molasses, brown sugar and butter. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl. Let cool to 115 degrees, whisking regularly.
• Pour ½ cup warm water into a small bowl and sprinkle with yeast. Do not stir. Let stand 10 minutes or until yeast becomes foamy. Stir into cornmeal mixture.
• Mix together 3 cups all-purpose flour and the whole wheat flour. Add flours to the cornmeal mixture, a cup at a time. Mix until the dough becomes soft and slightly sticky and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
• Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as needed. (The dough will still be a bit sticky.)
• Form the dough into a ball and place into a large bowl coated with butter or nonstick spray. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area 1 hour or until doubled in size.
• Punch down dough and re-cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rest 10 minutes.
• Grease 2 9-inch cake pans.
• Roll the dough out into an 18-inch log. Cut the log into 18 1-inch pieces. With floured hands, roll each piece into a ball. Place 9 rolls into each cake pan, leaving space between rolls. Cover each pan loosely with a towel and let rolls rise in a warm, draft-free area 30 minutes or until nearly doubled in size.
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• When the second rise is finished, beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl. Brush the rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle with seeds. Place the rolls in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Grilled Jerk Chicken and Plantains

4 servings

¼ cup light or dark molasses
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
¼ cup onion, minced
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cumin
4 chicken leg quarters
2 semi-ripe plantains*
Olive oil or canola oil, for grilling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• Prepare the grill.
• Purée molasses, vinegar, tomato paste, onion and seasonings in a blender. Reserve ¼ cup purée and pour the remainder into a resealable bag. Add the chicken to the bag. Seal and let marinate for 15 to 30 minutes.
• Peel the plantains and slice on the bias into ½-inch slices. Brush with oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
• Place chicken on the grill, skin-side down, and place plantains around the outside edge of the grill. Cook plantains 4 minutes per side and chicken 8 minutes per side. Serve drizzled with reserved marinade.

* Plantains are available at most international grocery stores and frequently can be found at well-stocked grocery stores.

Boston Baked Beans

6 to 8 servings

1 lb. dried navy beans
4 to 6 slices thick-cut bacon
1¼ cup blackstrap molasses or dark molasses
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 medium white onion, cut into ½-inch slices

• Soak the beans overnight in 4 cups water. Drain, reserving soaking liquid.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Cook the bacon in a hot skillet until seared but not crispy. Chop bacon into small pieces and set aside.
• In a bowl, combine molasses, salt, pepper, dry mustard, brown sugar, cider vinegar and hot sauce.
• Add ¹∕³ of the beans to the bottom of a deep baking dish. Next, add ¹∕³ of the bacon, followed by ¹∕³ of the onions. Repeat, adding another layer each of ¹∕³ of the beans, bacon and onions. Top with remaining beans. Pour the sauce on top. Add the reserved soaking liquid and top with remaining bacon and onions. Cover and bake 2½ hours.