There is nothing more delicious than a well-made cookie. I mean absolutely nothing. My personal favorite cookie is chocolate chip, but this post goes beyond that. I want to introduce you to the concept of personalization. Sure you can go online and find random cookie recipes, but there is very little chance that the cookies will be exactly the way you want them to be. Make cookies exactly the way you want by reading this!
Muffins or Cream?
When I make cookies, my go to method is the creaming method. This method involves beating sugar into the fat (butter or Crisco). There’s not really a reason I prefer this to be honest. I just like the act of physically creaming butter with a fork. It just feels natural, who needs a stand mixer? The muffin method involves melting the fat used to allow the baker to mix all of the wet ingredients into all of the dry ingredients. The main difference between these methods is textural. Creaming method cookies tend to be more even throughout because the sugar molecules punch identical holes throughout the butter. Muffin method cookies tend to be less even because the baking soda and baking powder create the holes in the cookie structure while baking. Because of this, the holes in the cookies are made somewhat randomly and are difficult to impossible to control. If you are using butter as your fat, then the muffin method has the added benefit of creating a cookie that doesn’t flatten out in the oven. I’ll go more into this later, but if butter is used as a fat, them muffin method cookies have a tendency to flatten.
Fat Makes all the Difference
Typically in cookie making, butter (or margarine) and Crisco are the typical fat choices, if using the creaming method. However, have you actually considered that these two fat sources create completely different cookies? Butter creates are softer cookies that are almost cake like. Crisco creates crispier, thicker, and denser cookies. Crisco based cookies have a better rise than butter based cookies because Crisco has a much higher melting point. This is important because a cookie can only rise as much as the fat chosen will allow it. Butter melts before the cookies structure has a chance to reach its full potential. For this reason, it is common to see many recipes that call for freezing the cookie dough. The advantage to using butter is that is definitely has a more appealing taste than Crisco.
Knowing these differences, it is possible to create a cookie that exceeds all textural expectations. Of course we can choose between Crisco and butter, or if we want to be really daring we can use both butter and Crisco to create an individualized texture and taste. However, it should be noted that butter takes precedence in terms of texture because when it melts it destroys the cookies structure. A cookie recipe with a 1:1 ratio of butter to Crisco results in a very soft cookie that has a slightly better rise than pure butter cookies. If you want more of the crispier texture then I would suggest using a recipe that is 3:1 Crisco to butter (6 tbs Crisco to 2 tbs butter).
Along with the manipulation of fat comes controlling oven temperature. Baking cookies on lower temperatures creates more of a rise in cookies. This is because the cookies have more time to rise structurally before the butter melts. To test this, the next time you bake cookies. Bake one batch of cookies on 325˚F and another batch at 375˚F. The difference is dramatic
Of course there are more sources of fat than butter and Crisco. The trickiest one to use is peanut butter. We don’t typically think of peanut butter as a fat, but if you look at the back of nutrition facts label then you’ll realize that peanut butter is 50% fat. Thus incorporating it into cookie dough is a bit tricky. I’ve noticed a ton of recipes that just add peanut butter to a chocolate chip cookie dough recipe. The results of that method are not desirable. If you’re going to use one cup of peanut butter in a recipe, then I suggest omitting ½ of a cup of Crisco or butter. Other oils commonly used include coconut oil, lard, and peanut oil (eggs yolks also contribute a small amount of fat). By definition, liquid oils can only be used in muffin method cookies.
Sugar provides so much more to cookies than just taste. Structurally, sugar has a huge impact on creaming method cookies, muffin method cookies not so much. Sugar punches holes throughout butter, which creates tiny holes throughout the cookie dough. Baking soda and baking powder are heated in the oven to create carbon dioxide, which expands the holes that are already present in the dough.
The two most common forms of sugar are white sugar and brown sugar. Their impacts on cookies are pretty unique. White sugar is the goliath of sugar. The particles are larger than most sugars, so it punches larger holes in cookie dough than other types of sugar. Thus the rise of cookies that mainly use white sugars is larger. Brown sugar particles are like an army of gnats. On their own they are week, but together their force is overwhelming, or at the very least very annoying. The holes they punch are smaller of course, so the cookie doesn’t rise as much. They both have completely different tastes because of the molasses included in brown sugar. This molasses also makes brown sugar more acidic, which means that there may be some interaction between basic ingredients and brown sugar. This will have a small effect on the rise of the cookies
Flour deserves Flowers
When making cookies, have you ever considered the effect that flour has on a cookie. The protein content of flour dictates the chewiness, water retention, and rise of cookies. All three of these characteristics are dictated by gluten. You may recall that gluten is the combination of flour proteins bound by water. Thus if you want a cookie that has more chewiness, moisture, and rise, it may be a good idea to give a higher protein flour a try. Bread flour is a good choice. If you decide to use bread flour, utilize its ability to hold water by adding more liquids to the dough than you would typically use. Milk always works here.
I would stay away from lower protein flours like cake flour because they tend to create dry cookies with smaller crumb and less of a rise. The amount of fat in cookie dough already inhibits gluten from forming, so it is best not to press the envelope further by reducing the protein content.
Liquids are pretty much anything that I have not already mentioned. In many recipes, the main liquid sources are eggs and the vanilla extract. Little else is used. This isn’t intuitive, but the majority of water in cookie dough usually comes from butter. Butter is 80% fat and 20% water. This is crucial because it means that some gluten is forming in the cookie making process. Not many cookie recipes still enlist the aid of milk for help. If I find that my cookie dough is too dry, then I add more milk to it. Otherwise, I typically don’t use milk too often.
Now that you have all of this information, how will you use it? I recommend small changes initially. If you have a go to recipe that you would like to modify a bit, try changing one of the components. It really is a bit trial and error. If you’re additions are on the scale of 1//4 cup to ½ cup then you’ll see changes without completely ruining your cookies. Honestly, unless you overcook the cookies, there is very little chance of you messing up a cookie recipe anyway. No on to the flavorings!
What good is a chocolate chip cookie with no chocolate chips? Well, if you’ve gotten the steps in the proceeding paragraphs right, the cookies will still be delicious, but I prefer not to take any chances. The sky is the limit with cookies. We can aid any extract, chocolate, nut or flavoring that we desire. Artificial or natural (I won’t judge). Cocoa powder is also a fine choice. You can generally add it directly to the flour in the introductory stages. If you ask me though, I prefer to keep my cookies simple. You can never go wrong with chocolate chip cookies.