I’ve long been of the opinion that food tastes better when it has a funny name. After all, who isn’t charmed by toad-in-the-hole, bubble ‘n’ squeak, or whoopie pies? As such, when it comes to one of my childhood favorites, I can recommend them based simply on their title alone: Fat Archies.
Fat Archies are soft molasses cookies that are popular across Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. Like many funny foods, their exact origins are a bit murky. Certainly “Archie” was a fashionable name in bygone years. The island’s large Scottish community saw to that. The cookies themselves are quite puffy. Could it be that a man named Archie took a shine to these pump treats? Or was he a baker who sold so many that he got “fat” with cash? No matter their genesis, there’s no denying that Fat Archies are memorable, both for their moniker and their rich flavor.
It’s a good thing that Fat Archies are both catchy and delicious because, in all honesty, they’re not much to look at. Molasses drop cookies rarely are. They aren’t exactly the kind of treat you can dress up. But on a cold winter’s night, they’re the perfect sweet to enjoy next to a steaming cup of tea or cocoa. The warm, fragrant spices transform a kitchen into a cozy oasis and the ingredients come together in just a few minutes. Easily prepared in just one bowl, Fat Archies require no fussy treatment before their soft, thick, toffee-colored batter is plopped onto the cookie sheet.
Growing up in Cape Breton, Fat Archies were the kind of snack that kids like me could expect to find in their grandmother’s home if you were to pop by for an after-school visit. You could always count on them to make an appearance at a bake sale or a hockey tournament hospitality room.
And while there’s no denying that Fat Archies are indeed a dessert, there’s just something about the molasses, cinnamon, and ginger that feels somehow more wholesome and hearty than your average baked good. One or two is fine, but three or four is far better. Perhaps this is why they’re still popular with farmers and fishers. Pop a few in your pocket or lunch box to enjoy with a flask of tea and you have all the stamina you need to finish the day.
It seems every Cape Breton family has their own Fat Archie recipe, some covered in stains in the back of a church cookbook and others just stored away in granny’s mind. Lard, shortening, vegetable oil, and even bacon grease are often presented as alternatives to butter and everyone has something to say as to just how much flour to use. I’m personally of the opinion that measurements should be kept on the small side. However, many recipes add enough to turn the soft dough into something firm enough to be rolled out, using an old biscuit cutter or even a kitchen water glass to cut out the cookie shapes.
And while many Cape Bretoners may think it sacrilege, I see nothing wrong tossing in your leftover holiday nuts and dried fruits to make a kind of ad-hoc hermit cookies. Granted, they may no longer be true-blue Fat Archies, but I think a waste-not, want-not approach fits well with the frugal, homey history of these sweet snacks.
This is the base recipe I always start with and it’s the perfect starting point for making these cookies your own.
- 1 cup room temperature butter
- 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1 cup fancy-grade molasses
- ½ cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 ¼ cups flour
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line several baking pans with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Whisk in molasses, followed by the milk and the egg.
Stir in baking soda, spices, salt, and flour. Your dough should come together in a soft, slightly sticky ball.
Drop tablespoon-sized pieces of batter onto the cookie sheet. If you prefer more uniform-sized cookies, increase the flour to an even 5 cups. Sprinkle your counter with some additional flour and roll out the dough until it’s about ⅓ of an inch thick. Dip a biscuit cutter or a kitchen glass into flour to prevent sticking and cut out your circles.
Bake for 13 minutes at 350 degrees.