How do you sift and measure flour?
I've embarked on the Christmas bake-a-thon. Every year my mother's rolled gingerbread cookies are much more tender than mine, although we use the same recipe. Every year I swear to figure out how to get a better cookie, crisp but not hard. This year I sifted the flour into a bowl, spooned it gently out of the bowl into a dry measure cup, and deliberately omitted the last half-cup of flour (so 3 cups instead of 3.5.) The dough is chilling in the fridge. What do you think -- will I achieve cookie nirvana this year?
You'd have gotten a more accurate measurement if you had sifted the flour directly from the sifter into the measuring cup (I do it with the measuring cup inside a large bowl or on a cookie sheet covered with parchment to catch the flour that misses the measuring cup) but I suspect you'll have a better result than you had using the dip/level/pour method of measuring. Does the recipe you're using call for butter? Do you use "butter" and avoid margarine as a substitute? That'll make a huge difference. You might even like the results with using solid shortening instead of butter (reduces the water). Cake flour, in place of AP flour, will also make a difference. But they aren't the same weight, cup for cup, so you'd need to make the necessary adjustment if substituting.
Believe it or not, the amount of mixing/beating you do in preparing the batter will have a significant affect on the texture of your gingerbread. Overmixing increases the development of gluten in the flour, making it heavier in final texture. Try to mix only long enough to incorporate all ingredients before chillling, and chill at least overnight.
reducing the flour was a smart move. the other thing you might consider is to bake them at a lower temperature than usual - just increase the baking time by a few minutes to compensate. they'll be less likely to brown & crisp up at a lower temperature so they'll be more tender.
if this batch doesn't turn out the way you want it to, try replacing about 1/2 cup of flour with corn starch or tapioca starch next time. it may seem like an unorthodox ingredient, but it will produce a crisp, yet tender cookie.
I only use butter, with the one exception being butter and crisco for pie crust. But for cookies, only butter.
You raise an interesting point. I have several sets of what I was taught were "dry" measuring cups, in various volumes. They are metal or plastic and the full measurement means that the ingredient fills the cup up to the very brim. Then I have Pyrex cups, which I learned were for "wet" ingredients. They have a pouring rim and space above the top measurement so liquids don't spill. Are you suggesting that I put my sifter on top of my large 4-cup Pyrex thing, and then sift? I have done this in the past, but decided that somehow the measurmenet in that cup would not be the same as if I measured the same amount of flour in a dry measuring cup. However, now that i think about it, I may simply be being stupid about it. What I should do is see if 1 cup of flour in my dry cup measures out to be 1 cup of flour in my wet cup. If so, I should certainly adopt your very sensible method.
Appears we're graduates of the same school. I never measure dry ingredients into a spout equiped vessel; they're intended for liquid measure. Even if you compared the fixed measurement devices designed for dry ingredients with the Pyrex variety, you'd be no further ahead. Trouble is, the Pryrex variety are difficult to use with any degree of accuracy when filled with dry ingredients because the dry stuff doesn't level perfectly and skimming the top off to level things out is impossible at any measurement. Wet ingredients are self leveling. I would sift into the dry ingredient measuring cup as many times as necessary to collect the total amount of flour needed for the recipe. My largest dry ingredient measuring vessel is one cup, but that's large enough for most of my baking. I convert most of the recipes that use more than two or three cups of flour to weight rather than bulk.
Those "dry ingredient" measuring cups will measure liquids accurately, ounce per ounce, along side the Pyrex liquid measuring cups. It's just that dry ingredients can't be managed as accurately in the Pyrex style vessel.
Buy a digital kitchen scale (they're getting less expensive every year, and you can get an entirely adequate one for around $20) and never have to worry about measuring flour again.
Tender cookies can be a result of a lot more than just flour quantity.
1. Flour age- flour develops gluten as it ages. The older the flour, the greater the gluten, the tougher the cookies. This can apply to both flour you've stored on your shelf as well as flour that's sat on the grocery shelf (or both).
2. Brand of flour-Regardless of the nutritional label, there's always slight differences in protein/gluten content from brand to brand.
3. Dough Processing- because the sugar in cookies is a gluten inhibitor, people tend to be less gentle with cookie dough than they do pie dough, but it still doesn't hurt to remember that where ever there's flour and water, there's potential for gluten. Don't overmix the dough. It also will help to let it rest a few times, especially after you've rolled it out.
By all means, acquire an electronic scale, but if you really want to put your Mother's gingerbread cookies to shame, obtain some unbleached pastry flour from a local bakery and work the dough as little as possible.
I was unaware that gluten develops as the flour ages, but I do know that weighing flour that is packaged in unlined paper bags is unreliable because it readily absorbs moisture from ambient air.
If you cant get pasty flour you can use the all purpose White Lilly flour because it has a low protein content. You can also order Round Table flour from King Arthur but the shipping cost is astronomical.
I suppose this goes without saying, but you must do everything exactly as your mother does. Does she use bleached flour, perhaps? That was the choice of home bakers until not so long ago. Even CI recommends it for some cookies. It has less gluten than unbleached flour, so I think it would make a cookie that's more tender. As for measuring, how does your mother do it? Does she whisk and spoon and level? If not, you shouldn't either.