One for me, two for you and plate of carrots for the reindeer. The carrots are easy, it’s the cookies that can be finicky.
Once you get past the challenge of deciding on a style, you merely have to follow the recipe and out emerges the perfect cookie. Uh hum, happens all the time – for professional bakers at sea level.
Let this year be different. Not only because a cookie party with a competitive angle is in the future, or it’s your turn to host the family gathering, but simply because you are tired of 12 cookies baking into one. Perhaps you long for a crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, golden-brown delight to end your day. Or, you’d like to eat a cookie that didn’t leave dry, crumbly evidence stuck to the front of your shirt.
Yes, this year will be different because, along with your recipe, you’ll be going into the kitchen armed with knowledge from cookie chemistry 101.
While perfect is somewhat subjective, these tips will help you determine which modifications to make based on your preferences. Factors playing into cookie chemistry include elevation, chilling, measuring and choice of sugar and fat. For the record, not all cookie recipes need modification. A test batch will help you determine what, if any, changes to make based on your preferences.
Elevation adjustments for 6,500 to 8,500 feetIncrease baking temperature 15 to 25 degrees and reduce cooking time by 5 to 8 minutes per 30 minute recommended cooking time. Adjustment compensates for evaporation at elevation.Decrease sugar by 1 tablespoon per cup. Prevents excess sweetness because of evaporation. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons flour per recipe. Improves structure.Add 2 to 4 tablespoons liquid. Milk or 1 large egg yolk add moisture to prevent dry, crumbly cookies.Chill out, doughCookies formed by the drop-dough method should have chilled dough. Cold temperatures increase the time it takes for the fat to melt, thus reducing cookie spread.Chilling concentrates flavor as moisture evaporates. The result, a sweeter, crispier cookie.Measure by weight for best resultsThe true secret of professional bakers. Measuring by weight ensures accurate chemistry in baking.Sugar, impact beyond sweetnessTable sugar contains less water than brown sugar or honey, typically resulting in a crispier, thinner, browner cookie. Use in recipes that call for a creaming with the fat which helps prevent cookies from becoming too crisp and thin – unless that’s your objective. Brown sugar has slight acidity which reduces spread, especially when the recipe includes baking soda. When used in recipes that cream fat and sugar, a thinner cookie will result. Either way, the cookie tends to remain moister because of the hygroscopic (water attracting) capacity.Honey is very sweet and hygroscopic and produces a sweet cookie, dark in color, which remains soft. To use, replace 1 cup sugar with ¾ cup (255 g) honey.Fat Shortening is 100% fat with a high melting point, leaving less time for the cookie to spread. This fat coats protein molecules, so less gluten is formed, improving tenderness.Butter is 81% fat, resulting in a lower melting point which increases spread. Water and milk solids (the remaining 19% of butter) increase crispiness through gluten formation.Margarine also has about 80% fat, use interchangeably with butter.Baking is a form of chemistry, but with a little luck and strategic modification, the perfect cookie is possible. If you need someone to test your recipes before St. Nick makes his rounds, you have a willing group in the Extension Office at the fairgrounds. Happy holidays!
Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at email@example.com or 382-6461.Nicole Clark