I was working through a batch of chocolate chip cookies and trying craft them to plump but chewy perfection.
I desperately needed a break from the writing and editing process and for me, baking is therapy. Do you love to make cookies? I’m an unashamed cookie monster. I just love to bake cookies.
While baking cookies is delightful it can also be strewn with challenges. Are you amazed at how difficult it can be to get uniformity and conformity in multiple batches of cookies? I have been. Cookie baking is easier said than done sometimes. And, sometimes it is what we don’t know that inhibits the perfect cookie from being made.
One week I am thrilled with the chewy edges and the soft centers of oatmeal raisin cookies, the perfect color and velvety smoothness of spring sugar cookies and the way the molasses cookies look with the sugar sprinkles dusting their dark brown chewy tops. The next week my chocolate chip cookies look as flat as pancakes, the chips protruding from the cookie in a very unnatural way, as if they were meant to be somewhere else.
Bewilderment used to marks my baking as I wonder where I took a misstep with my cookies. I talk to the cookies and ask them what I did wrong. (They rarely answer back.)
After making over one thousand batches of cookies and listening and reading other bakers, I finally have begun to consistently make good cookies. When they don’t I now have a clue to what baking crimes I committed that led to the misshapen or misconstrued cookie.
1. Never underestimate the power of the leaveners.
Baking soda and baking powder are very important – both are leaveners and yet they work in different ways. A few years back my sister, Bethany, told me she had perfected her chocolate chip cookie recipe by using both baking soda and baking powder. I quickly tried her idea. By doing this she avoided the “flat pancake” cookie look.
I came to discover the wise people behind America’s Test Kitchen use this technique in many of their cookies. They explain why a combination of leaveners works in their “The Best of America’s Test Kitchen: Best Recipes and Reviews 2012.”
The answer is that the two (baking soda and baking powder) work in tandem to create cookies that not only rise, but spread, to the right degree.
Are you cookies not spreading or rising correctly? Try splitting the amount of leavening between the two leavening agents. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda, use ½ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of baking powder.
2. Different flours contain different ingredients and they affect the way the cookies bake, taste and rise.
Did you know King Arthur’s flour has a significant higher protein level than other flours? The amount of protein in the flour use will affect the density of your cookies. Additionally, not only does the brand of flour you use make a difference but the kind of flour: wheat 咖啡店 flour will make distinctively different chocolate chip cookies than using all-purpose white flour. Using the more artisanal flours such as spelt, rye or multi-grain can result in very different tastes and textures of cookies.
What is the easiest way to rectify this? Use the same kind of flour all the time- the same brand and the same type. Many times I buy the flour that is on sale or I have a coupon for. However, for the sake of consistency and perfecting my baking skills, I now buy one kind of flour and stick with that. I will change flours only when I want to experiment with different flours and am looking for different results in the cookies.
3. Check the expiration dates of your flour, baking powder and baking soda.
The age makes a difference. When in doubt, throw it out. These items are inexpensive. I tend to be fairly frugal but losing a batch of cookies over a 67 cent box of baking soda is SO not worth it.
4. The type of fat used in cookies changes the characteristics of the cookies.
I will use different types of fat depending on the recipe and what I have in the house. Butter, oil and shortening all produce different tastes and textures in cookies. By far, butter wins the taste test, especially in a pure cookie like a chocolate chip with no add-ins (coconut, nuts, oatmeal, etc.).
However I have had success using ½ cup of butter and ½ cup of oil or shortening in specific cookies. For example, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies oatmeal cookies work well with ½ cup of butter and ½ cup of oil. In Snickernoodles and Sugar cookies butter and shortening combination works well together.
5. Check the consistency of the temperature of your oven.
Changing the temperature by even ten degrees will affect the way the cookies rise, spread and taste. Few things are as frustrating as cookies that are a tad-too brown on the bottom and still gooey in the middle. Some ovens are not consistent in the temperature stated on the oven thermometer. Oven thermometers are an inexpensive and invaluable tool of every baker to ensure cookies baked to perfection.
I hope this information helps. More than anything, I hope you keep baking and working in the kitchen. It’s great therapy and results in delicious goodies that bring smiles and happiness to many people.