Fluffy spice (ginger) cookies
Posted: 01 December 2008 11:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I have been charged by my siblings to reproduce my mother’s “spice cookie” recipe.  These were a fluffy (almost cakelike) cookie flavored with ginger, allspice, etc.  I think I have found the source recipe in some preserved cookbook pages.  It mentions Gold Medal flour by name so I assume the cookbook was in some way related to the flour but unfortunately the title does not appear on any of the pages I have.  As it stands:

Gingies
Mix together thoroughly
==================
  1/3 cup soft shortening
  1 cup brown sugar
  1-1/2 cups black molasses
Stir in
==================
  1/2 cup cold water
Sift together and stir in
==================
  6 cups sifted Gold Medal Flour
  1 tsp salt
  1 tsp allspice
  1 tsp ginger
  1 tsp cloves
  1 tsp cinnamon
  2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 3 tbs cold water

Chill dough.  Roll out very thick (1/2”).  Cut with 2-1/2” round cutter.  Place far apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 until when touched lightly with finger no imprint remains (15-18 min).  Makes 2-2/3 dozen.


My first problem here is to replace the shortening - the entire family has now entered the world of “zero trans fats”.  I tried softened butter but that produces a flatter, crisper cookie instead of a puffy one.  Would using small cubes of frozen butter and mixing lightly as with biscuit dough help?  Would a low-fat spread with a higher water content, as mentioned in R’sCC, serve here?

Next, I am surprised to see baking soda but no baking powder.  Does salt, soda, and water produce enough CO2 to get a strong lift?

Finally I seem to remember that we spooned the cold dough onto the cookie sheet rather than rolling and cutting it.  This might have just been technique.

I would be happy to try any other recipe that you might have that produces a spicy, light brown, puffy result rather than reverse modifying this one.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  Thanks!

sPh

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Posted: 02 December 2008 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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According to Harold McGee, baking soda does indeed provide sufficient leavening when there is acid in the batter. In your recipe, the brown sugar and molasses would provide the necessary acidity. He also notes that in some cookie recipes, the leavening is provided only by the air bubbles that are created when the sugar is creamed with the butter. So, I would advise that you make sure you really cream that butter and sugar. The next thing I would experiment with is simply sifting the baking soda together with the flour, instead of dissolving it in cold water.

I also find the presence of a half-cup of water, plus three tablespoons puzzling. I would experiment with replacing some or all of the water with a whole egg plus an egg yolk or two. According to McGee (p. 569) “The higher the proportion of whole eggs or yolks in a recipe, the more cake-like the texture.” On p. 570, he gives a chart of various cookies batters and doughs, broken down by their proportions of ingredients. Chocolate chip cookies, which are in the “cakey” category and are drop cookies, are typically 100% flour, 38% water, 33% eggs, 85% butter, 100% sugar, plus a chemical leavening.

I would definitely make sure the batter is cold—even frozen, perhaps—when it goes into the oven. That will help keep them from spreading. I often drop my chocolate chip cookie batter onto a cookie sheet, freeze it, and then bake it right from the freezer.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

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Posted: 02 December 2008 12:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I forgot to mention that the McGee book I am quoting from is titled “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.”

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Posted: 02 December 2008 07:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Cookies made with vegetable shortening will always be more cake-like than those made with butter. The much higher melting point of the shortening ensures that the cookies bake before they have an opportunity to spread. Since your recipe calls for rolling the dough very thick (1/2 inch), dropping the dough probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, regardless of the type of fat used.

You may want to try making one test batch with ordinary vegetable shortening as specified by the recipe—this would allow you to determine whether the recipe actually produces the cookies you remember. If it does, it will be easier to figure out what other modifications you need to make for the butter substitution to work. You’ll have to taste test one of them, but you can always give the rest of them away to avoid the remainder of the trans fats (see below* for what to do with the rest of the Crisco…).

I agree with Christine that substituting egg for some or all of the water should help make the cookies more cake-like if you use butter. However, the thing that I think might make the biggest difference for you (which Christine also mentioned briefly) is how you cream the butter and sugar—in fact, I would suggest that you whip them with an electric mixer until VERY light and fluffy. It may take five minutes or so to aerate them fully. Other things that may help reduce spread include using cake flour instead of all purpose flour, and substituting an appropriate amount of baking powder for the soda (the higher acidity of baking powder causes the ingredients to coagulate faster).

Of course, as you pointed out yourself, it may be easier to just find a new recipe. If I had one, I’d post it for you. One final thought, though—it seems to me that I heard there are some trans fat free vegetable shortenings available now, although I think they may have a shorter (no pun intended) shelf life. Maybe it’s worth checking them out….

Good luck! Let us know what you discover!

*Bird Cake Recipe
  Melt remaining Crisco from Fluffy Spice Cookie experiment with equal amount of peanut butter (the cheap generic crunchy kind is perfect).
  Mix it with cornmeal and flour (about 4 parts cornmeal to 1 part flour) until it holds together.
  Mix in peanuts, other nuts, dried fruit, pieces of oranges (woodpeckers love oranges), birdseed, etc.
  Spread it in foil lined cookie sheets and freeze.
  Remove from cookie sheets, cut into bird cake feeder size pieces (I make my liners the size of my feeders).
  Feed birds.
  Wrap extra pieces in plastic and store in freezer until needed.
  Feed birds again.

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Posted: 02 December 2008 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Crisco reformulated their shortening, and it is now trans fat free.  If you check the nutrition information label, you can make sure.  I don’t find any differences using the new formula when baking cookies.  The only place I’ve had trouble is with rolled fondant (that’s a whole other topic thats been debated in the cake forum).  Hope your cookie turns out!

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Posted: 02 December 2008 11:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks for all the input - I am forming plans for some testing this weekend.  Additional recipes and hints still welcome!

> Crisco reformulated their shortening, and it
> is now trans fat free.

Crisco now has a trans-fat-free version, which I think is actually their original 1920 formula brought back into production.  They still have the with-trans-fat version too.  My wife and I tested the no-trans version for pies and cookies respectively and found that we did not like the taste.  YMMV.

sPh

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