Local Chef Matt Jennings, and a Molasses Shortcake Recipe

matt jennings

Have you been to the restaurant Townsman? My husband and I used to live across the street from its location just into the Leather District, but moved before it opened. Now we have been back in the area a few times to eat at the restaurant, and recently brought home a copy of Chef Matt Jennings’ first cookbook, Homegrown.

The restaurant and the book show Matt and Kate Jennings’ love of New England traditional cuisine and ingredients — Matt grew up in and near to Boston. Keeping certain combinations and flavors, their recipes use these well-loved classics in unexpected ways. For example, a sweet potato cupcake is topped with homemade marshmallow frosting, and cream cheese ice cream with cherry tomato-pepper jelly makes a surprising summer dessert.  The book also includes modern takes of the classics, including clam chowder, Boston cream whoopee pies, and brown bread (which will always remind me of childhood, and is such a specifically New England thing.)

I’ve tagged so many recipes to try in the coming weeks, plus the book is so engaging and enjoyable to read. First on my list is the molasses shortcakes recipe below. Molasses feels just right for baking this time of year, and the Pernod plums and cream sound like an amazing accompaniment. Matt allowed us to share the recipe with you here — enjoy!

Molasses Shortcakes with Pernod Plums and Cream

Molasses is a New England staple, and in Boston the ingredient has some lore attached to it: In January 1919, a molasses storage tank on the city’s waterfront burst, releasing two million gallons of the sticky sweetener into the streets of the North End, a fifteen-foot wave that destroyed everything in its path and killed twenty-one people. As the story goes, if you’re in the neighborhood on a hot summer day, you may still catch a whiff of molasses.

The beauty of these little shortcakes is that they are great for breakfast, spread with butter and jam, or can be dressed up for dessert with whipped cream and Pernod-spiked plums. If you’d like to make these shortcakes ahead, they can be formed, then frozen on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer them to a plastic freezer storage bag. They can be baked directly from frozen; add two minutes to the baking time.

Makes 12 small shortcakes; serves 6

For the Shortcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

½ cup blackstrap molasses

¹⁄³ cup whole milk

2 tablespoons finely diced candied ginger (optional)

1 tablespoon sanding sugar, for topping

For the Plums

3 small plums, pitted and cut into ¼-inch wedges

2 tablespoons Pernod

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

For the Cream

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the shortcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter forms pea-size pieces. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the molasses, milk, and candied ginger (if using) until just combined.

Using a small scoop or large spoon, scoop the dough onto the prepared pan, spacing the shortcakes 2 to 3 inches apart. Sprinkle each shortcake with sanding sugar and transfer to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake until golden brown and set in the middle, 10 minutes more. The shortcakes will feel soft, but shouldn’t be gooey. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Make the plums: In a small bowl, combine the plums, Pernod, granulated sugar, and salt and toss to combine.

Make the cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using a whisk or handheld mixer), beat the cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla on high speed until the cream holds soft peaks.

Serve the shortcakes with the whipped cream and plums alongside.

Recipe excerpted from Homegrown by Matt Jennings (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Galdones Photography.

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  1. I’ve never been to Townsman but am so hoping to make it in 2018. Molasses baked goods are sooooo good, so I need to give these a go! – Kristin | It’s Kristin