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Shirley on cookies

Ozark's picture

Shirley on cookies (post #64148)


Good article by Shirley O. Corriher

We all love great cookies. But cookies can drive us crazy. They can be too crumbly or pitifully pale. They can stick to the baking sheet like cement. They can spread all over the place. Then there is the question of the soft, puffy cookie vs. the flat, crisp cookie. Sometimes we want one kind and sometimes we want the other. How can we control the kind of cookie we get? Let's work our way through the issues, one at a time.

Even experienced cookie bakers have told me they have sent wonderful cookies to their grandchildren, only to have them arrive as nothing but crumbs. This one is easy to solve. When the baker adds a little water to flour and stirs, two proteins in the flour grab water and each other and join to form springy, elastic sheets of gluten. This gluten holds baked goods together. So to help prevent cookies from crumbling, what we need is a little gluten.

By nature, cookies don't contain much gluten. This is because when we mix fat with flour (cookies normally have a lot of fat), the fat greases the proteins so that they can't grab water or each other to make gluten. But there is an easy solution. All we have to do is stimulate a little gluten in the flour before we add the fat.

Here's how. For a cookie recipe containing 1 to 2 cups of flour, take 1 cup flour from the total in the recipe and sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over it. Stir the flour briefly and then add it to the other ingredients as directed in the recipe. There will be a few lumps, but don't worry about them. They will disappear when the ingredients are combined. The more water that is added, the stronger the cookie will become.

Maybe the cookies taste great but are unappetizingly pale. What can we do? Proper browning requires three things: protein, nonacidic conditions and a certain type of sugar. We can increase the protein in the cookies by switching to a higher protein flour such as bread flour or unbleached flour.

But another, perhaps easier solution is to add 1 teaspoon of corn syrup. Corn syrup is glucose, the sugar that enhances browning. So we can make cookies dramatically browner just by adding 1 teaspoon of corn syrup to the batter.

One reason baked goods don't brown well is that they are too acidic. Light-colored loaves of sourdough bread are a good example. The pale hue occurs because the batter is very acidic. To reduce the acidity in cookies, many recipes contain abnormally high amounts of baking soda. The soda is not added as a leavening agent but to reduce the acidity and, thus, increase browning. The type of sugar used also helps determine cookie crispness. Cookies made with honey or brown sugar will become soft the next day because both honey and brown sugar contain fructose, a sugar that absorbs water from the air. (Conversely, cookies made with regular granular sugar tend to stay crisp.)

Some cookie recipes advise us not to grease the baking sheet. That is in part because some cooks think not greasing the sheet will limit the spread. This is not true.

The spread is controlled by the thickness of the batter and the type of fat in the cookies. To prevent sticking, spray the baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line it with foil that has a nonstick coating on one side (Reynolds Wrap release foil is one example) or a nonstick baking sheet liner such as Silpat. I love the release foil. I can bake a tray of cookies, pull the foil off the baking sheet and place it, along with the cookies, on a cooling rack. That leaves my baking sheet free for another batch.

If the baking sheet is greased, when cookies are first removed from the oven they will tear when we try to remove them. But 1 to 2 minutes later they will have partially set. This is the ideal time to lift them from the baking sheet. Wait 10 minutes and the cookies will be more difficult to remove. With an ungreased baking sheet, the cookies might become cemented to the sheet if they have not been removed at the ideal time of 2 minutes.

Cookie spread is another issue that perplexes even experienced bakers. This, too, is easy to control. When we put cookies made with butter in a hot oven, the butter melts and the cookies spread. But butter-flavored shortening stays solid over a wide range of temperatures. So when cookies are made with all or part butter- flavored shortening, the shortening does not immediately melt and the cookies hold their shape.

The kind of liquid in the cookie batter - water (maybe only the water in the butter) or eggs - also influences cookie spread. In the Lava Cookies that follow, the eggs set and prevent the all-butter and high cocoa butter (in the chocolate) dough from spreading too thin. The eggs also produce a crisp meringuelike surface while the chocolate center remains soft.

he other major contributor to spread is thickness of batter. If the batter is firm, the cookies will not spread as much. Batters with more moisture will spread more. The batter of Laura's Extra Crunchy Oatmeal Cookies (recipe follows) is very stiff and shortening is the fat, so the cookies don't spread and become thin.

Flour also can be a factor in soft and puffy vs. flat and crisp. If we want soft, puffy cookies, use cake flour, which is acidic and will help limit spread. We also can use butter-flavored shortening and egg for the liquid. All-purpose flour mixed with all butter and a little baking soda can produce flat, crisp cookies.

Try out the preceding tips with one or both of the two accompanying cookie recipes. You might find you have more control than you thought. Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher is author of CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, (William Morrow, 1997).

"Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement"


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