Science!: Gingerbread Cookies

December 8, 2008

Firstly, let me just remark upon how difficult it is to get time to blog when you have two siblings and a dad using the same computer.  Both my sister and my brother are somewhat computer addicts, so they eat up a lot of time.  And that’s why there was no update yesterday.

Today, though, I kicked off my little brother so I could get some posting accomplished.

Let me tell you about Saturday.  It was a fine day: I made gingerbread cookies.  Specifically, I made four seperate batches of experimental gingerbread cookies.

The thing I was trying to figure out was the sweetener.  The recipe I have calls for one cup of molasses and nothing else.  Since my family can’t handle sugar, this isn’t going to work.  So I decided to see what kind of things I could substitute.

First I made four experimental quantities of dough.  That is, I did a half-batch of the recipe dough, sans sweetener, and sorted it into four equal parts.  This gave me one batch for the “control group” – following the recipe exactly – and three batches of lovely, spicy and unsweetened dough to experiment with.

The first experimental batch addressed the issue of caramelization: whether Splenda could, with the addition of some water to the dough, be made to achieve approximately the same consistency as molasses.  It was sweetened only with Splenda.

The second batch addressed the issue of substitution: whether or not the dough would taste all right with only a fraction the amount of molasses.  It was sweetened with one part molasses to three parts Splenda.

The third batch addressed another substitution issue: whether or not I could use SugarTwin in the cookies and have them taste decent.  To make sure that no other factors were included, I used the same proportions as the second experimental batch: one part molasses to three parts SugarTwin.

The next phase in this experiment was to taste the dough.  Of course, it would turn out differently once baked, but these initial impressions were still useful.  I tasted (and ate, since I wasn’t being too professional about it) a small amount of each dough, rinsing my mouth between each sample to ensure that no flavors carried over.

It was obvious from the start that the control batch was made of fail.  I have no idea what they were thinking when they said to only use molasses in the cookies, but it was disgusting.  The Straight-Splenda batch was better, but a trifle bland, which indicates to me that molasses helps to enhance the flavor of the cookie seasonings.  The Molasses/Splenda was optimal, and the Molasses/SugarTwin came a close second (though it did, unfortunately, have a nasty ST flavor).

Next I baked them.  I did one batch in the microwave for a preliminary taste test, then one in the oven to see what the texture would be like.  There were a few differences from the dough, but overall the results were the same: the original dough, which actually tasted worse when baked, was a complete failure; not only was it disgusting but it hardened and became nearly impossible to chew.  The all-Splenda dough was still bland, and a bit too dry; I had to remove it sooner than the others.  The Molasses/Splenda was lovely.  The Molasses/SugarTwin was better once baked, but still had a slight bad flavor.

But since this experiment wasn’t just about me, I moved on to the next battery: feeding the dough to my family.

Surprisingly, both my mother and sister said that they preferred the Molasses/SugarTwin dough.  They said that the SugarTwin helped to bring out the spice flavor, and that they couldn’t pick up the bad aftertaste.

The men, on the other hand – dad and little brother – preferred the all-Splenda batch.  I suspect that this is because they are culinary lightweights who prefer sweetness over flavor.

Finally, I took all the remaining dough, mixed it together and baked it like that.  This also produced a good-tasting cookie, and my sister later said that it was her favorite.

So it seems to me that – despite claims otherwise from certain lightweights – none of these doughs were satisfactory as a finished product, except perhaps the combined formula.  I will conduct more tests in the future and see if I can perfect it.

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