How can I rescue cookie dough that has become a bread-like dough?
December 7, 2010 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Help! I'm trying to make gingerbread dough (using this recipe) but it's turning into a bread-like dough. Help!

I made a test batch last night and it worked fine. But today the only difference is that i'm using margarine / soft-spread ("Suitable for baking!") rather than butter, and it's making a springy, stretchy dough like a pizza base, rather than something you can make biscuits out of! I guess I'm going to go and try using real butter instead, but if you have any tips on how I can rescue the massive batch of stretchy gingerbread dough I've got sitting in bowls then that would be super, as it contains about 1/3rd of the ingredients I've bought. Adding massive amounts of flour seems to help a bit consistency-wise, but I've tried putting a bit in the oven and it even rises and goes puffy!

Kinda meant to be making 300 gingerbread men for 20 hours from now... so your culinary wisdom is much appreciated.

[One conspiracy theory is that this margarine contains loads of added water which is creating the flour+water=bread situation. True... or red herring?]
posted by so_necessary to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
Are you using very gluten-y flour (bread flour)? If so, using a lower-gluten flour (plain flour - I assume, as you refer to biscuits in this context, that you're in the UK) might help. Stretchy usually = more gluten.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:12 AM on December 7, 2010

Best answer: One conspiracy theory is that this margarine contains loads of added water which is creating the flour+water=bread situation. True... or red herring?]

absolutely true. That's how it stays spreadable. I'm afraid your other batch is unfixable, but only the texture will be messed up (and well, the marg for butter sub).
posted by JPD at 9:22 AM on December 7, 2010

Best answer: It could be the flour, as altolinguistic mentioned, but if you used the same flour for both batches, and one came out just right while the other got stretchy and puffed up in the oven, I'm thinking that the problem could indeed be the margarine, but not because of anything to do with the flour.

I think you're right that it's the loads of added water in the marg that's causing the trouble -- because it's reacting with the baking soda (a/k/a bicarb) you're using as a leavener. Bicarb is a "single-acting" leavener, meaning that it is activated upon contact with liquid. As the recipe is written, you're adding just enough liquid ingredients to dry ingredients to make a stiff dough. In the process, you're activating the leavener, but not overactivating it. But if you substitute spreadable margarine for butter, you're adding a lot more water to that mixture, and activating your bicarb a lot more vigorously. That could be what accounts for the difference in the dough. It's definitely what accounts for the rising/puffing in the oven.

I think that if you switch back to butter, or to solid (not spreadable!) margarine -- although I'm a snob about using butter, and would thus enthusiastically recommend the former -- your 300 gingerbread men will turn out fine. Do let us know how they turn out!
posted by bakerina at 9:31 AM on December 7, 2010

Best answer: ETA: Golden Syrup is about 20% water I think. Spreadable margarine is about 50%. Regular butter is 10-15%.

So your recipe calls for butter 125*.15 = 19g of water, 106g of fat
4 tbls of golden syrup is 100g, so 80g of sugar-ish, 20g of water

If you are using spreadable margerine its hard to see how you keep the fat/water/protein ratios in line even if you used sugar instead of golden syrup (and the texture might be weird then too). You've already formed gluten in your last batch (not just because the water was too high, but also because you lacked fat to buffer the glutens) so its unfixable. If you need a sub for butter try using a neutral oil + 10 by weight water. You might want to jigger the spice up a bit too as it'll taste a little flat w/o the butter.
posted by JPD at 9:36 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The difficulty is that the springiness of dough is actually caused by changes at the molecular level (gluten crosslinking, as altolinguistic said). I'd imagine it'll be pretty difficult to reverse those changes without ruining the dough in the process.

Once you've got the next batch of real-butter dough made, you could try experimenting with mixing together a small quantity of your new and your old dough, to see whether that produces an acceptably un-springy hybrid for baking. (But definitely avoid working the springy stuff too much, as that'll worsen the gluten development situation.)

You don't mention what these will be used for, but could another alternative be to convert the bready batch into some creative alternative formulation? Cakelike gingerbread might be nice when formed into balls with a white chocolate kiss inside, or rolled into a spiral shape with raisins added and icing sugar on top.
posted by Bardolph at 9:38 AM on December 7, 2010

Seeing bakerina's comments- I'd also add that since the butter is melted in the recipe I'm not sure you get much texture wise with using a more saturated fat like trad margarine - so might as well use the oil.

The bicarb is just acting on the air holding capabilites of the glutens btw - its what is making the texture messed up in that respect, but its a result not a cause. The bicarb is in the original recipe as well.
posted by JPD at 9:40 AM on December 7, 2010

Best answer: Och, I hit "send" too soon. As for the "stretchy" dough, I wouldn't use it for gingerbread men, but you could certainly roll it out, or cut it with cutters or bars, and just make good old ginger biscuits with them. Or use it as a base for bars of some kind, like flapjacks (that's UK flapjacks, not US :). I'm studying for a test today, but on my break, I'll go through my cookbooks and see if anything in them inspires a solution.

(Part fyi for future baking, part rant: Whenever I see "suitable for baking!" on either a fat substitute or a sugar substitute, it sets my teeth on edge. I know it's because some fat/sugar subs aren't suitable for baking in any capacity, and the manufacturers want to differentiate by noting that yes, you can bake with Brand X spreadable margarine but not Brand Y, which they formulate for people on special diets. But just because they've made something that can be used in baking doesn't mean that they've formulated it as an exact substitution for the ingredient it replaces -- which is how we end up with margarine that adds too much water to a dough, or sugar substitutes that don't have sugar's hydroscopic properties. Unfortunately, the instructions for how to substitute these ingredients are often either difficult to find on the packaging, inaccurate or just plain nonexistent.)

On preview: Also, what JPD said about the lack of fat to buffer the glutens. Lack of fat + additional water = overdeveloped gluten. I'm smiting my forehead for missing that. Thanks, JPD.
posted by bakerina at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2010

The higher water content in the margarine also means lower fat content. Fat plays an important role in preventing gluten from sticking together, so less fat and more water is double trouble in terms of gluten formation.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:48 AM on December 7, 2010

You *might* be able to reduce puffiness slightly when baking by thoroughly pricking it all over with a fork. And I do mean all over - you're going to want almost a golf ball dimple sort of effect.

Another alternative is to lay a sheet baking paper on top of the gingerbread and then put a metal tray on that. If you try this, you'll have to watch your baking times because the extra source of radiant heat (ie the top tray) will brown them faster.

Failing that, bake it and turn into gingerbread topping for an apple crisp and re-do with butter.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:03 PM on December 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all for the sound advice, encouraging words and scientific insight! It was indeed the nefarious spread, and 14 packs of Lurpak later... the gingerbread got finished five minutes before the deadline!

I have made you a picture to say thanks.
posted by so_necessary at 6:24 PM on December 9, 2010

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