Aunt Big's Gingersnaps

Makes 4 to 5 dozen
Time: About 40 minutes, plus time to chill

Not too sweet-in fact, bordering on savory-these gingersnaps are super-crisp, the kind that stick in your teeth. "The dough is also great undercooked," says my friend Sally, who is Aunt Big's niece. Try these with vanilla or maple buttercream frosting or drizzle with orange glaze.

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
31/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt

1. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses until smooth. Mix the baking soda with 2 tablespoons hot water and beat into the dough.

2. Combine the flour, spices, and salt in a bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the dough and beat well. Shape the dough into 2 long logs, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight (or wrap very well in plastic and freeze indefinitely; you can proceed to Step 3 with still-frozen dough).

3. Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the cookies as thin as you can and bake on ungreased baking sheets until golden around the edges, about 10 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to several days.

Gingerbread Men.

For softer cookies, remove the dough from the oven when the center is still puffy and soft: Shape the dough into a disk and remove from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before rolling it; heat the oven. When the dough is slightly softened, roll it out as thinly as possible; hand-cut if you're brave or use a gingerbread man cutter. Bake as directed, then cool. Decorate, if you like, with small candies. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to several days.

Molasses-Spice Cookies.

Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice along with the ginger.

Espresso-Spice Cookies.

Watch out for the caffeine kick if you're serving these as an after-dinner treat: Reduce the molasses to 3/4 cup. Add 1 or 2 shots of freshly brewed espresso and mix in with the molasses in Step 1.