Cookies… what is not to like about these little sweet morsels of goodness. You can practically create any flavor combination using a simple recipe. Here I talk about my walk through my cookie project and the art of cookie basics that taught me much about recipe development.
Did you know we get the word cookie from the Dutch termed Koekie and the English often refer to them as biscuits? When I think of a biscuit I tend to not think of cookies, but a buttery hunk of goodness with a pile of jam inside. Regardless, they are a popular treat around the world and equally loved here in our country.
I love that you can really almost take any dessert concept and design them into a cookie. There is really endless possibilities what you can create here as well as, different sizes and shapes. Some of my favorites are the scalloped round and square cutters.
I learned a great deal how the whole cookie process and recipe creating really works while competing in the YMCA Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Contest, here in Washington, D.C. I made it in the top 10 finalist and was excited to make the perfect cookie for the win. They were looking for a great chocolate chip cookie in which to put their name up against.
I was in culinary school at the time so I thought I would create a recipe totally from the ground up. Primarily, it was a lesson in how the ingredients in recipes can affect many characteristics of the finished cookie. Wow, who would have thought…
What I learned
It was then I entered my own kitchen chemistry experiment where many lessons were learned when developing the cookie recipe. Firstly, I started off using many different flours, including cake flour and different ratios of sugars, both brown and granulated. Interesting, using cake flour I learned was probably not a good flour for structure since it has a tender characteristic and didn’t hold the cookie together well in baking.
Second, when I combined the recipe with the cake flour and sugar, it caused the cookies to taste absolutely wonderful but the cookies spread a great deal when baking, they were huge!!!!! I tried refrigerating the dough before I scooped and baked them but it only helped minimally in the spreading. Most likely, the cause was the sugar and flour ratios being out of balance.
The Art of Cookie Basics-How do Ingredients work
As a general rule the more sugar in a recipe the greater the cookies will spread when baking. Course sugar will cause greater amounts of spreading than powdered sugar which actually restricts the spread. I found this to be totally true as I have a really great sugar cookie recipe with powdered sugar and they maintain their “scooped” shape even when baked.
The best sugar for cookies is the granulated version found at every grocery store and works very well in most recipes.
Eggs work to hold everything together in the recipe and gives a richness to the cookie. Protein (lecithin) is found in the yolk which is the primary binding agent. The more eggs in a recipe will provide a firmer dough with less spread when baking.
Fat plays a role in mouth feel and brings cookies a rich flavor which include butter and shortening. Butter brings the best flavor but melts quicker than shortening. The recipe contest would not allow for any trans fats, so shortening was not an option to add to the cookie dough.
The role of flour is to bring structure to the cookie, sort of like framing when building a new house. All purpose is generally the best as it provides the best structure. Cake flour was just not firm enough for cookies, as I found out.
Tips in Making Great Cookies:
Making cookies seem pretty straightforward right??? Mixing ingredients together, placing on baking sheet, and then baking in the oven. However, the way cookies are mixed can definitely impact the quality of the cookie. Here are some great tips I learned along the way for making great cookies that I want to pass along to you.
Creaming fat with sugar:
When you mix the butter or shortening together with the sugar, make sure they are creamed together long enough. If not, cookies have a tendency to spread more when they are baked. More importantly, creaming incorporates additional air which helps give cookies that lift in the oven.
Mixing in the Flour:
Mixing is also important especially after the flour is added. Once this is added, careful attention to not over mix as the flour can develop too much gluten and can make the cookie tough and the dough will not spread ideally when baked.
Temperature is also an important tool in the arsenal of cookie baking that can affect the quality and look of your finished cookies. This probably seems a bit of common sense but the lower the temperature in baking will give you a lighter color cookie and causes more spreading as it will have more time in the oven in which to do so. Conversely, the higher the oven temperature gives a darker cookie that doesn’t spread as much.
So you might be wondering how my ultimate chocolate chip ended up? My recipe had cream cheese, orange zest, and of course lots of chocolate chips, the flavors were just awesome. The chocolate went super well with the orange but I didn’t quite nail the structure as I would have liked it to be. The cookie that won was really amazing and it was a friend of mine who ultimately won it. Yeah! Very exciting and super fun to be a part of!
I hope this gives you some “food for thought” the next time you bake your favorite cookie. Baking is truly a science!!!