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Hi,

I tried Julia's Gingerbread and Sugar cookies recipes. LOVED the dough in both the cases. I didn't even want to bake the cookies and just eat the dough, the consistency and taste both were amazing.

This was my first attempt at gingerbread, we all loved the fragrance and taste of it, at home. Thank you @Julia M. Usher for being so amazing and doing what you do! You are my cookie hero!

I followed both your recipes very closely and the sugar cookies came out amazing.

The Gingerbread however, spread a lot. Maybe, I made some mistakes?

I sifted the flour (force of habit). However, I weighed the flour instead of using spoon measurement, so it should probably not matter that I sifted it?

Immediately, after the dough was ready, I rolled the dough to 6mm thickness since I do not have 3/16 inch or 5mm roller guide and cannot eyeball it and then put it in the refrigerator. So, I first rolled it and then refrigerated it and also rolled it thicker than recommended.

Also, instead of resting it in the fridge for 3 hours, I left for 7 hours (didn't have time to take it out earlier) When I took it out for cutting the cookies, it had puffed a bit (something like macarons developing the "feet" and also had small pores in it) So, I thought that maybe the leavening agent was causing the puff and pores?

After baking 3 inch cookies (rolled to 6 mm thickness) for 10 minutes and cooling it, the cookies at the edge were crispy (that's how I like it) and in the middle were chewy(instead of soft)

I saw Julia's video about Gingerbread dough and also read the other posts on this forum around spreading. I understand that if I halve the baking soda, it will reduce the spread.

However, I want to understand what might have gone wrong yesterday? If I want to maintain Julia's recipe and want to attain the same results, what could I have done differently? maybe the freezing for lesser time? first chilling then rolling? 3/16 inch thick cookies?

Substitution related questions:

If I want to remove all the spices from the gingerbread recipe, should I substitute the spices quantities with flour of the same quantity? Or should I keep every other ingredient the same quantity and just not add spices?

If I want to keep crisco as it is (and not substitute it with coconut oil) and yet want to substitute molasses with honey (should I add exactly same amount of honey as the amount of molasses called for in the recipe)?

Thank you for bearing with my long post. Appreciate your help.

P.S.: Attaching pictures of gingerbread cookies for reference

Attachments

Images (2)
  • The Puff?
  • The pores and spread
Last edited by Julia M. Usher
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Thanks for the nice words, and I'm sorry you struggled with the gingerbread recipe. That is not the result that my gingerbread recipe gives if the recipe was followed exactly and nothing was mismeasured or substituted. As you can see in all of my videos, the gingerbread surface is quite smooth with no pores, and it is relatively non-spreading. Not being there to see what you used and exactly how you measured, it's almost impossible to say with certainty what went awry.

But here are some guesses:

1) It looks like the flour was under-measured and the dough was perhaps too wet. It's very porous, and that is NOT typical. Be sure you are weighing properly, and, if the dough looks too wet, just add more flour, gradually. I always roll with some flour too, and that incorporates into the dough a touch and can contribute to less spreading (slightly though).
2) Did you use a different brand or type of molasses? If so, different brands have different moisture contents and that could be part of the issue.
3) The thicker you roll, the more most any dough will spread. I roll to about 3/16 inch.
4)  I never roll my dough and then chill it or rest it after rolling. I chill it in one big block, and then roll right before baking. I can't imagine that would be a problem though, but it's weird that you said the dough puffed even before it baked. Maybe it accumulated moisture in your fridge over all that time, particularly if it was left uncovered?? Or in resting like that, the baking soda had time to activate without the surrounding ingredients getting set in the heat of the oven, so the dough rose before it baked/set?? I would follow my recipe as it's written, and roll it and cut it right before it goes in the oven. See if that makes a difference. Not sure it will. Also, chilling in this recipe really has little impact on dough spreading since the dough is shortening-based and has no butter in it; shortening doesn't firm up much with chilling. You chill butter-based doughs to firm the butter before baking. Chilling in this recipe is done to allow time for the spice flavoring to meld into the dough.

I have a whole video about how to control dough spreading that uses my gingerbread as a test example (https://youtu.be/yiFqM0bEmTY). And another that discusses the honey and shortening/coconut oil substitutions at the end (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF7Gwdibvz4). They go in to great detail on all of these issues, more than I can write here, so I encourage you to listen to them.

But briefly, I would just not add the spices. If the dough spreads too much, add a bit more flour the next time. The honey substitution can be done one-for-one, as shown in my video, but the dough may spread a bit more and it will be A LOT sweeter.

All for now. Please email any other questions. I'm not sure this is the best spot to dissect anyone's recipes, and, as noted, it's nearly impossible to say what went wrong without watching what you did. 

Thanks for the nice words, and I'm sorry you struggled with the gingerbread recipe. That is not the result that my gingerbread recipe gives if the recipe was followed exactly and nothing was mismeasured or substituted. As you can see in all of my videos, the gingerbread surface is quite smooth with no pores, and it is relatively non-spreading. Not being there to see what you used and exactly how you measured, it's almost impossible to say with certainty what went awry.

But here are some guesses:

1) It looks like the flour was under-measured and the dough was perhaps too wet. It's very porous, and that is NOT typical. Be sure you are weighing properly, and, if the dough looks too wet, just add more flour, gradually. I always roll with some flour too, and that incorporates into the dough a touch and can contribute to less spreading (slightly though).
2) Did you use a different brand or type of molasses? If so, different brands have different moisture contents and that could be part of the issue.
3) The thicker you roll, the more most any dough will spread. I roll to about 3/16 inch.
4)  I never roll my dough and then chill it or rest it after rolling. I chill it in one big block, and then roll right before baking. I can't imagine that would be a problem though, but it's weird that you said the dough puffed even before it baked. Maybe it accumulated moisture in your fridge over all that time, particularly if it was left uncovered?? Or in resting like that, the baking soda had time to activate without the surrounding ingredients getting set in the heat of the oven, so the dough rose before it baked/set?? I would follow my recipe as it's written, and roll it and cut it right before it goes in the oven. See if that makes a difference. Not sure it will. Also, chilling in this recipe really has little impact on dough spreading since the dough is shortening-based and has no butter in it; shortening doesn't firm up much with chilling. You chill butter-based doughs to firm the butter before baking. Chilling in this recipe is done to allow time for the spice flavoring to meld into the dough.

I have a whole video about how to control dough spreading that uses my gingerbread as a test example (https://youtu.be/yiFqM0bEmTY). And another that discusses the honey and shortening/coconut oil substitutions at the end (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF7Gwdibvz4). They go in to great detail on all of these issues, more than I can write here, so I encourage you to listen to them.

But briefly, I would just not add the spices. If the dough spreads too much, add a bit more flour the next time. The honey substitution can be done one-for-one, as shown in my video, but the dough may spread a bit more and it will be A LOT sweeter.

All for now. Please email any other questions. I'm not sure this is the best spot to dissect anyone's recipes, and, as noted, it's nearly impossible to say what went wrong without watching what you did. 

@Julia M. Usher Thanks a lot for the detailed response. Appreciate you taking the time. Yes, I used a different brand of Molasses and yes, the dough was fairly wet-er? compared to the dough I see in your videos. 

I will take all your recommendations into consideration and try it again. I am waiting for my 5mm rings to arrive so I can roll it thinner. This time I will also rest it first and then roll it. 

Before I try it again I also look at the two videos that you have shared and I have taken a note of the information on substitutions. Here, I think I will do some trials with varying amounts of honey and another set of trails by removing the spices and checking if it needs flour addition.

Thanks again!

May I offer you an observation Iโ€™ve had with the sugar/gingerbread cookie dough and flour.  Iโ€™ve noticed that when most of the dough has pulled from the side you have the correct amount of flour.  Note this is only for dough Iโ€™m rolling out.  Lila Loaโ€™s end all chocolate cookie recipe is the exception if you go for the chill method,  I do chill all my cutout dough before I bake.  Partly better results, but also because I want all the dough rolled out and in the refrigerator before I start baking.  When itโ€™s warm my cookies have a problem with spreading.  So a warm oven or a hot day.  Good luck!

@Econlady posted:

May I offer you an observation Iโ€™ve had with the sugar/gingerbread cookie dough and flour.  Iโ€™ve noticed that when most of the dough has pulled from the side you have the correct amount of flour.  Note this is only for dough Iโ€™m rolling out.  Lila Loaโ€™s end all chocolate cookie recipe is the exception if you go for the chill method,  I do chill all my cutout dough before I bake.  Partly better results, but also because I want all the dough rolled out and in the refrigerator before I start baking.  When itโ€™s warm my cookies have a problem with spreading.  So a warm oven or a hot day.  Good luck!

@Econlady Thank you for sharing your observations. I hadn't thought about it or observed this, but will do going forward.

Yeah, I too prefer that my dough to be rolled out and in the fridge before I start baking.

However,this time I am going to try to refrigerate  the dough before rolling and after rolling both. Basically, whatever gets me cookies as amazing as Julia's

I, too, struggled with this recipe at first because I followed my normal routine (of rolling the dough between parchment and freezing before cutting) instead of Juliaโ€™s specific directions. The dough spread and puffed considerably compared to the smooth surface in her videos. Now that I follow her instructions exactly (chilling then rolling with flour), Iโ€™m in love with this recipe. Itโ€™s wonderful because I can store a big chunk of it in the freezer, and pull out just what I need (it never freezes solid so itโ€™s easy to cut off a bit even straight from the freezer). I do roll it with a considerable dusting of flour, but the spread is practically nonexistent now. If thereโ€™s ever any puffing, a quick ironing with a fondant smoother right out of the oven makes the surface perfectly flat and smooth. The instructions definitely matter with this recipe. Keep trying!

I, too, struggled with this recipe at first because I followed my normal routine (of rolling the dough between parchment and freezing before cutting) instead of Juliaโ€™s specific directions. The dough spread and puffed considerably compared to the smooth surface in her videos. Now that I follow her instructions exactly (chilling then rolling with flour), Iโ€™m in love with this recipe. Itโ€™s wonderful because I can store a big chunk of it in the freezer, and pull out just what I need (it never freezes solid so itโ€™s easy to cut off a bit even straight from the freezer). I do roll it with a considerable dusting of flour, but the spread is practically nonexistent now. If thereโ€™s ever any puffing, a quick ironing with a fondant smoother right out of the oven makes the surface perfectly flat and smooth. The instructions definitely matter with this recipe. Keep trying!

Thanks for sharing your experience. I test my recipes umpteen times over and also hire a team of recipe testers, both professionals and non-professionals, to test and re-test all of them. But they are always instructed to test the recipe EXACTLY as written, because deviations (even if they seem small to the user) in ingredients or method can cause variable results. Many ingredient substitutions won't matter much, but some will. And process steps are just as important to follow as ingredients and proportions. People need to remember that well-written recipes are intended to be followed, and that it's almost impossible for the author to troubleshoot what went wrong when multiple deviations are taken. Okay, off my soapbox!

Thanks for sharing your experience. I test my recipes umpteen times over and also hire a team of recipe testers, both professionals and non-professionals, to test and re-test all of them. But they are always instructed to test the recipe EXACTLY as written, because deviations (even if they seem small to the user) in ingredients or method can cause variable results. Many ingredient substitutions won't matter much, but some will. And process steps are just as important to follow as ingredients and proportions. People need to remember that well-written recipes are intended to be followed, and that it's almost impossible for the author to troubleshoot what went wrong when multiple deviations are taken. Okay, off my soapbox!

Julia have you ever tried adding cocoa to your recipe to make chocolate gingerbread?

Sorry, I am not following you at all - ideas for what??

For cocoa gingerbread? Is that what you meant? I'm not sure how much more I can help with that, if so. If I were to adapt my recipe, I would get in the kitchen and systematically test cocoa substitutions. I just don't have the time right now. But if you want to play with it, and let me know what you discover, I'd be interested.

For cocoa gingerbread? Is that what you meant? I'm not sure how much more I can help with that, if so. If I were to adapt my recipe, I would get in the kitchen and systematically test cocoa substitutions. I just don't have the time right now. But if you want to play with it, and let me know what you discover, I'd be interested.

No Iโ€™ll do it.  But if I want advice or an opinion may I contact you?  I have tasters in the neighborhood to test on.

@Econlady posted:

No Iโ€™ll do it.  But if I want advice or an opinion may I contact you?  I have tasters in the neighborhood to test on.

Sure, though I am traveling much of the rest of the month and pretty overwhelmed with work and personal matters right now. I will do my best to help, but please understand if I am slower than usual to respond.

I, too, struggled with this recipe at first because I followed my normal routine (of rolling the dough between parchment and freezing before cutting) instead of Juliaโ€™s specific directions. The dough spread and puffed considerably compared to the smooth surface in her videos. Now that I follow her instructions exactly (chilling then rolling with flour), Iโ€™m in love with this recipe. Itโ€™s wonderful because I can store a big chunk of it in the freezer, and pull out just what I need (it never freezes solid so itโ€™s easy to cut off a bit even straight from the freezer). I do roll it with a considerable dusting of flour, but the spread is practically nonexistent now. If thereโ€™s ever any puffing, a quick ironing with a fondant smoother right out of the oven makes the surface perfectly flat and smooth. The instructions definitely matter with this recipe. Keep trying!

@Aproned Artist : Thank you for sharing your experience. I did exactly that. I always roll the dough in between parchment and then chill and that is what I did here too.

In other cases it is just easier for me to roll the dough first and then refrigerate because chilled dough has always been hard for me to roll. In this case of course the dough isn't as hard owing to absence of butter, so I now realize that it will be easier to roll this even after refrigeration.

This time I am going to do exactly what is mentioned in Julia's video/recipe. Hoping for results closer to Julia's amazing cookies. Fingers crossed

Sure, though I am traveling much of the rest of the month and pretty overwhelmed with work and personal matters right now. I will do my best to help, but please understand if I am slower than usual to respond.

I understand, I just want to know I can.  With the heat and smoke from the fires Iโ€™m not doing much baking.  The air quality has been unhealthy for over a week.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I test my recipes umpteen times over and also hire a team of recipe testers, both professionals and non-professionals, to test and re-test all of them. But they are always instructed to test the recipe EXACTLY as written, because deviations (even if they seem small to the user) in ingredients or method can cause variable results. Many ingredient substitutions won't matter much, but some will. And process steps are just as important to follow as ingredients and proportions. People need to remember that well-written recipes are intended to be followed, and that it's almost impossible for the author to troubleshoot what went wrong when multiple deviations are taken. Okay, off my soapbox!

@Julia M. Usher Thank you for all that you do. I agree with you about following process and steps. Will do so, this time.

@Econlady posted:

Making cookies is also a matter of practice so you know instinctively that something is wrong.  Follow the recipes and work on your learning curve before you substitute.

@Econlady Thank you. I am on the learning curve, like you correctly mentioned.

I really appreciate having guidance and insights from experienced cookeirs, such as Julia, you and other talented cookie artists here. 

In case of Julia's recipes, my intention is never to experiment. My intention is only to follow the recipe. My experimentation is only with recipes I come up with on my own, still learning.

Thanks again

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