- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ostensibly, the purpose of my book club - about a dozen women on a Sunday afternoon at 4 - is to read a book each month and then get together to discuss it. Since we are all social creatures at heart, we have built an hour of eating and chatting into our meetings.

During this time, we catch up with one another’s news while indulging in sweet and savory treats. Most of us look forward to this part of the meeting as much as (some might say more than!) our literary conversations.

I’ve been in a quandary for several days about what to serve and finally came up with a plan for my next turn as host. There will be a platter of cheeses garnished with medjool dates and dried apricots served with crispy baguette slices, a bowl of toasted almonds scented with rosemary and sea salt, mini chocolate phyllo tarts, and molasses-cookie ice-cream sandwiches. The latter, I am certain, will be the star attraction of the gathering.

A friend, who is a professional chef, gave me the recipe for these ice cream sandwiches. The only problem was that his cookie recipe yielded 10 dozen, so I had to reduce the ingredients to proportions more appropriate for a home cook.

Believe me, it was worth the effort. The golden-brown cookies flavored with molasses and seasoned with aromatic spices are addictive, yet simple to prepare. Once cooled, pairs of the cookies are sandwiched together with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

These sandwiches are a great make-ahead dessert since they can be assembled, then frozen until needed. Although I can’t wait to serve these delectable confections at my book club buffet, I think they would also be tempting offered with mugs of warm mulled cider as a sweet finale after a movie or a sporting event.

Molasses-cookie ice-cream sandwiches

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

COOKIES:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup or more for coating the cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup molasses

1 large egg

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready 2 large cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream together 1 cup sugar, butter, molasses and egg until well-blended and mixture is light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients. Beat until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove dough from the mixer. Spread 1/4 cup sugar on a dinner plate. Then take a tablespoon of the dough, shape into a ball, and roll in the sugar. Place on baking sheet and flatten with the bottom of a glass. Continue, leaving at least 2 inches around each cookie, until sheets are full.

Bake, one sheet at a time, until cookies are golden-brown and have spread and flattened out, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. (If you couldn’t get all the cookies on 2 baking sheets, repeat using the same baking sheets and parchment paper until all dough has been used.)

ICE CREAM SANDWICHES:

Makes 12 servings.

24 molasses cookies

1 quart best-quality vanilla ice cream, softened in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes

To assemble sandwiches, place a cookie, flat side up, on a work surface and top with a generous regular size scoop of ice cream. Top with another cookie, flat side down, then press down to form a sandwich. Repeat to make 11 more sandwiches. (Store extra cookies in an airtight container for eating out of hand.)

Place sandwiches in a freezer container with a lid, or wrap individually tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze until ice cream is firm, about 1 hour, or for up to 3 days. Remove to refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to soften slightly.

• Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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