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Making Gingerbread Cookies Chewy

'Tis the holiday season.  I really enjoy gingerbread cookies, but  every time I make them, my gingerbread turns out hard and flat.  I was wondering what makes a cookie chewy, but not necessarily soft?


The first thing you need to check is whether the gingerbread recipe you are using is one intended to be used for making gingerbread houses.  Cookies tend to swell and round off during cooking.  Some gingerbread recipes used for making houses try to avoid this by using a drier dough and less leavening so that the pieces will fit together after they are baked.  That makes for a hard, flat cookie that isn't very good for eating.

Assuming that you have a recipe for cookies that are to be eaten, then here are some things you can try:

  • If the recipe uses only white sugar and molasses, try replacing some of the white sugar with either brown sugar or honey.  Both brown sugar and honey are hygroscopic, meaning that they will absorb moisture from the air.  Your cookies may come out of the oven hard, but over a day or so they will become more chewy.
  • When you add the dry ingredients to the wet, stir as little as possible to get all of the ingredients mixed.  Over stirring can build glutens which will make the dough tougher.
  • If you are using all-purpose or bread flour, try substituting cake flour for some or all of it.  Cake flour absorbs less water per volume than all-purpose or bread flour, leaving a moister dough that will rise better and and a cookie that crumbles more easily.
  • Finally, if the only fat used in the recipe is butter, try replacing some of that with vegetable shortening.  Different fats will react in different ways during baking.  Be careful though, because butter contains 16% to 18% of its weight in water, whereas shortening has none.  If you substitute 1 for 1, your dough will be drier, so you may need to add some water.  If your recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of butter, try using 1/4 cup of butter and 1/4 cup of shortening plus two teaspoons of water.

Some resources suggest that if you let the cookie cool longer on the pan before moving them to a rack they will end up more chewy.  I can't see the reason this would work, but it may be worth a try.  Just remember that because the pan is at oven temperature, it will continue to cook the underside of the cookies even after they come out of the oven, so they may end up too dark on their bottoms.

As always, when you fiddle with ingredients, you may need to try several combinations until you get the result you want.  Once you have a recipe you like, though, be sure to share it with KitchenSavvy readers.

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