Fabulous Old-Time Cookies
The Science of Baking
By Shane Bryan
While many people will tell you that cooking is an art form, there is
also a lot of science involved, especially in baking. Recipes are
formulated to get a specific end result. Knowing a little bit about
what your ingredients do and how they interact with each other will
make you a better baker. Armed with this knowledge you will also be
much more successful with modifying your recipes.
Sugar – Sugar does
a lot more than just sweeten your cookie. Sugar also plays an important
part in the structure and browning. The moisture content in sugar
affects your cookie’s chewiness. Brown sugar contains a lot more
moisture than white sugar. Use more brown sugar for a softer, chewier
cookie. Using more white sugar will give you a flatter, crispier
cookie. The use of artificial sweetners such as Splenda is not
recommended in doughs and batters as they can’t replace sugar’s other
functions in a recipe. Using Splenda in other capacities such as in
fillings is usually fine.
Fats – Butter and
margarine can usually be used interchangeably in a recipe. They give
cookies their flavor and crisp outside. Stay away from whipped butter
and low cal butter as they may ruin your recipe. These spreads have
added air and water that will change the consistency of your recipe.
Solid shortening melts slower than butter so cookies won’t spread as
much, giving you a softer, chewier cookie. If you decide to use butter
instead of shortening, you may want to raise your oven temperature a
little so your cookies set faster.
Baking Soda vs. Baking
Powder – Both produce carbon dioxide to help raise or leaven
your baking. Baking soda needs an acidic ingredient in your recipe to
be effective. Baking powder contains both baking soda and a dry acidic
ingredient (frequently cream of tartar) so it is not dependant on
acidic ingredients in your recipe. The liquids in your recipe activate
the baking powder. You will want to stir as little as possible after
adding the liquids so you don’t release all the carbon dioxide.
Double-acting baking powder also has an added ingredient that reacts to
heat for more rising action in the oven. Generally one teaspoon baking
flour will leaven one cup of flour. This may need to be increased if
using heavy ingredients like bananas or wheat germ.
Flour – Use as
little flour as possible to get the proper consistency for the cookie
type you are making. Too much flour will make your cookie firm, dry and
tough. Accurately measure your flour. Don’t scoop your flour straight
from the bag as this will pack the flour. The preferred method is to
spoon the flour into your measuring cup. Cake flour has more moisture
than all-purpose flour so it will give you a puffier cookie. Bread
flour will give you a drier, crispier cookie because it absorbs more
moisture from your recipe than other types of flour. Be aware that many
older recipes and cookbooks did not stipulate how much flour to use in
baking recipes. They instead relied on the cook’s experienced judgement
to assess factors such as the quality, mill, protein content, humidity
and moisture of their flour.
Eggs – Eggs are one
of the structural ingredients of your recipe. Eggs provide leavening;
add color, texture, flavor and richness to the batter. They are very
important in binding your ingredients together. Beating eggs adds air
which is important in leavening. Use all egg yolks if you want a
moister cookie. Egg whites tend to dry out cookies.
Temperature plays an important role in all phases of your cookie
production. Ideally, you want to have all your ingredients at room
temperature. They will mix better. Most recipes call for softened
butter because it provides the best blending consistency.
Cooler dough will spread more slowly in the oven producing a denser,
chewier cookie. I will frequently stick my dough in the freezer for a
few minutes to chill before baking. This is also why refrigerator
cookies hold their shape so well. On the flip side, a warm dough will
spread more quickly in the oven, giving you a flatter, crispier cookie.
Keep this in mind if you have a habit of dropping cookie dough onto
still hot cookie sheets. You may want to let your sheets cool first.
Light colored cookie sheets are preferable to dark colored cookie
sheets. Dark cookie sheets will cause your cookies to cook too fast and
brown too quickly. Try using parchment paper if all you have are dark
cookie sheets. It will make a difference. Cookie sheets with no sides
are also preferable. Your cookies will cook more evenly because the
heat will flow over them more evenly. I have recently started using
Airbake cookie sheets. I have been very impressed with the results and
recommend them. Just remember, with the Airbake sheets, you baking time
may be a little longer because the bottoms don’t brown as fast.
This should give you a better idea of how your ingredients work
together. Make substitutions at your own risk as they will change your
recipe. Knowing a little about the science of baking will make your
baking projects much more successful. Happy baking.
If you wish to learn more, joyofbaking.com has lots of excellent
information on ingredients. They go into much more detail than I have
in this short article.
This article was
taken from my new book “Fabulous Old-Time Cookies.” Now
you can bake delicious cookies just like grandma used to make. This
filled with 228 American heirloom cookies and old-world favorites. Plus, it is
just packed with baking tips, quotes and food trivia.To
Learn more go to
Valdez, AK 99686
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