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Old 08-04-2010, 10:33 PM   #1
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In Search of perfect Cookies: Baking tips

Hi everybody! This forum is so nice and very helpful! I have recently turned to baking, and I have been in search of the perfect cookie. What makes a great cookie? From my experience I know that even a teaspoon off of say, baking soda, can destroy a batch of cookies. I've also noticed that Cookies I've made recently are never consistent. Any idea, input, or thoughts? Anything is appreciated, and thanks in advance!


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Old 08-05-2010, 07:32 AM   #2
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Welcome to the forum.

In answer to your questions; there is no such thing as a "perfect" cookie, because that is a subjective concept. What is perfect to you may be only mediocre to me. Some people taste things differently and have different preferences. Different amounts of salty or sweet can please us in certain ways that others find objectional.

Yes, even being off a little bit of select ingredients can make a large difference in the outcome. Baking, unlike regular cooking, is more of a chemistry experiment, and A.) requires you to use or learn a tried and true recipe, and B.) unless you become an experience baker who is well grounded in all of the principals of baking, you should not stray from the recipe by "experimenting" or "whipping up something" on the fly.

Your inconsistency is most likely because you fail to precisely measure your ingredients. Most bakers can be found with a measuring cup in one hand and a set of measuring spoons in the other. Also, preheating your oven can make a difference. You can't just turn it on, wait a few, random minutes and then bake something and expect it to come out the same every time. Most ovens will signal you when it has reached the temperature setting, so you must wait until that setting is reached. And don't peek - least not until it is within a minute or so of being finished. Opening the oven door, even for a moment, changes the time that your product will need to bake thoroughly.

*Use a kitchen timer... always!
*Read... study the techniques of the professionals. Go to Barnes & Noble or an equivalent, buy a latte and relax with a few books written by some professional that you recognize and respect, and then read.
*Measure... measure... measure!

Once again, welcome and I hope you find a home here!
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Old 08-05-2010, 08:32 AM   #3
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Thanks!

Thank you for a response!

Now that I actually think of my question, it is fairly subjective, but I think that subjectivity would give me multiple perspectives and opinions about cookies.

As far as the concept of a chemistry experiment, that makes sense, as said before, being even slightly off can destroy results. I see where measuring incorrectly would lead to my inconsistency (). The only thing that bothers me is the fact that I measure everything, maybe not twice, but I do measure.
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Old 08-05-2010, 09:41 AM   #4
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Shel-First off, I ALWAYS line the cookie sheet with parchment paper. It keeps the bottoms of my cookies from burning and sticking to the cookie sheet. Second, if you're in the market for chocolate chip cookies, try a reciepe with molasses in it. The molasses gives the cc cookies a rich flavor (w/o being over-bearing) and keeps them soft for DAYS.
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Old 08-05-2010, 11:14 AM   #5
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There are so many types of cookies. Some are cake-like, while others are very similar to scones. And then there are the shortbread style and texture of cookie. And among even the favorites, such as chocolate chip, or peanut butter cookies, there are so many different versions. I have a brother-in-law that baked what was essentially, the Toll-House recipe, but added baking powder, and a bit of water to the cookie dough. By doing this, he change the cookie from a shortbread style cookie with chocolate chips, to a thick, more cake-like cookie, with the same flavor, but a completely different texture. He was famous among the people he knew for his chocolate chip cookies. No one else knew how to make them like he did.

There are some basics to good cookies. First, you have to get the flavor right. Let's take the humble chocolate chip cookie for example. The Nestle Toll house cookie recipe is as follows:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated [white] sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups (12-ounce package) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
BAKE in preheated 375-degree [Fahrenheit] oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
PAN COOKIE VARIATION: PREPARE dough as above. Spread into greased 15"x10" jelly-roll pan. Bake in preheated 375-degree [Fahrenheit] oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack.

FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (>5,200 feet): INCREASE flour to 2 1/2 cups; add 2 teaspoonfuls water with flour; reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookies for 17 to 19 minutes.

Ok, so let's break figure this recipe out. We start with all-purpose flour. It has enough gluten (whet protien) in it to give the cookie just enough elasticity to leaven (rise while baking). The alkali, baking soda, is the leavening agent and reacts with the acid in the chocolate chips and egg to give off carbon dioxide gas, which is the element causing the cookie to rise. But, you will notice in the end result, though the cookies rise while baking, when removed from the oven, they always seem to fall, and become a very flat, and depending on the baking time, either a gooey, chewy cookie, or a crispy one. That's because there was not enough moisture in the dough to allow the starches to bind together with the protien and develop the gluten sufficiently for the cookie to hold its shape.

The salt balances the sweetness of the dough, giving it a touch of savory flavor. Without it, though the cookie is sweet, the flavor is actually bland and uninteresting.

The egg adds protien and moisture to the dough, and helps bind everything together.

Both white sugar, and brown sugar are used. The brown sugar is white sugar blended with molasses. And as stated in an above post, the molasses adds a richness to the flavor.

Vanilla extract also is a flavoring agent that adds complexity, and therefore, makes the flavor more interesting.

The chocolate chips used are typically semi-sweet, which balances the sweet flavor of the sugars. Nuts are added to enhance both flavor and texture.

I find that taking a basic recipe as presented by the Toll House recipe, and changing it by adding something like cocoa powder, or baking powder, or more water can create an exceptional cookie. But you need to understand how each ingredient changes the end result. Add more butter, and sugar, and you have a brownie. If you want a chocolate flavored cookie, add dutched cocoa powder to the ingredient list. If you want the cookies to be lighter, add a couple tbs. of water, and a tsp. of baking powder to the recipe. If you like a sweeter cookie, use milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet chips. If you want your cookie crunchy, Cook it for the full 19 minutes. If you want the cookie chewy, cook it for 16 minutes.

Once you understand the dynamic properties of heat, and how the ingredients interact, baking again becomes less science, and more art. I rarely follow a recipe for making cakes, cookies, pastries, pie crust, breads, quickbreads, etc. And yet, I have one many local cooking contests at my church, or in other local contests for all of the above. I can do this because I know what flour is, and how it works to different conditions. The same is true of the other ingredients in the recipes. Once you understand these things, cooking truly opens up to you. And this is true of whether you are talking about cookies, or meats, or veggies, or sauces. You must understand your ingredients, how they play together to make textures, and flavors.

Good luck with your cookies. But don't be afraid to break the rules. Just remember, before you can successfully break them, you have to know them.

I get frustrated with the concept that baking has to be so exact. If everybody followed exact recipes, every time they made something, nothing new would ever be created. Now where's the fun in that? Let me give you a recipe that was botched, and because it was botched, gave me something new and wonderful. To make a long story short, I was making German Chocolate Cake icing. I inadvertently left out one ingredient, I believe it was canned milk, and ended up with a wonderful, no-bake drop cookie. Here it is.
Vanilla No-Bake Cookies

1 c Sugar
3 Egg yolks; slightly beaten
¼ cup milk
1 ts Vanilla
1/2 c Butter
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/3 c Coconut
1 cup Chopped pecans

Combine sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add coconut and pecans. Cool and beat occasionally until spreading consistency.
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Old 08-05-2010, 12:13 PM   #6
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There are so many types of cookies. Some are cake-like, while others are very similar to scones. And then there are the shortbread style and texture of cookie. And among even the favorites, such as chocolate chip, or peanut butter cookies, there are so many different versions. I have a brother-in-law that baked what was essentially, the Toll-House recipe, but added baking powder, and a bit of water to the cookie dough. By doing this, he change the cookie from a shortbread style cookie with chocolate chips, to a thick, more cake-like cookie, with the same flavor, but a completely different texture. He was famous among the people he knew for his chocolate chip cookies. No one else knew how to make them like he did.

There are some basics to good cookies. First, you have to get the flavor right. Let's take the humble chocolate chip cookie for example. The Nestle Toll house cookie recipe is as follows:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated [white] sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups (12-ounce package) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
BAKE in preheated 375-degree [Fahrenheit] oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
PAN COOKIE VARIATION: PREPARE dough as above. Spread into greased 15"x10" jelly-roll pan. Bake in preheated 375-degree [Fahrenheit] oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack.

FOR HIGH ALTITUDE BAKING (>5,200 feet): INCREASE flour to 2 1/2 cups; add 2 teaspoonfuls water with flour; reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookies for 17 to 19 minutes.

Ok, so let's break figure this recipe out. We start with all-purpose flour. It has enough gluten (whet protien) in it to give the cookie just enough elasticity to leaven (rise while baking). The alkali, baking soda, is the leavening agent and reacts with the acid in the chocolate chips and egg to give off carbon dioxide gas, which is the element causing the cookie to rise. But, you will notice in the end result, though the cookies rise while baking, when removed from the oven, they always seem to fall, and become a very flat, and depending on the baking time, either a gooey, chewy cookie, or a crispy one. That's because there was not enough moisture in the dough to allow the starches to bind together with the protien and develop the gluten sufficiently for the cookie to hold its shape.

The salt balances the sweetness of the dough, giving it a touch of savory flavor. Without it, though the cookie is sweet, the flavor is actually bland and uninteresting.

The egg adds protien and moisture to the dough, and helps bind everything together.

Both white sugar, and brown sugar are used. The brown sugar is white sugar blended with molasses. And as stated in an above post, the molasses adds a richness to the flavor.

Vanilla extract also is a flavoring agent that adds complexity, and therefore, makes the flavor more interesting.

The chocolate chips used are typically semi-sweet, which balances the sweet flavor of the sugars. Nuts are added to enhance both flavor and texture.

I find that taking a basic recipe as presented by the Toll House recipe, and changing it by adding something like cocoa powder, or baking powder, or more water can create an exceptional cookie. But you need to understand how each ingredient changes the end result. Add more butter, and sugar, and you have a brownie. If you want a chocolate flavored cookie, add dutched cocoa powder to the ingredient list. If you want the cookies to be lighter, add a couple tbs. of water, and a tsp. of baking powder to the recipe. If you like a sweeter cookie, use milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet chips. If you want your cookie crunchy, Cook it for the full 19 minutes. If you want the cookie chewy, cook it for 16 minutes.

Once you understand the dynamic properties of heat, and how the ingredients interact, baking again becomes less science, and more art. I rarely follow a recipe for making cakes, cookies, pastries, pie crust, breads, quickbreads, etc. And yet, I have one many local cooking contests at my church, or in other local contests for all of the above. I can do this because I know what flour is, and how it works to different conditions. The same is true of the other ingredients in the recipes. Once you understand these things, cooking truly opens up to you. And this is true of whether you are talking about cookies, or meats, or veggies, or sauces. You must understand your ingredients, how they play together to make textures, and flavors.

Good luck with your cookies. But don't be afraid to break the rules. Just remember, before you can successfully break them, you have to know them.

I get frustrated with the concept that baking has to be so exact. If everybody followed exact recipes, every time they made something, nothing new would ever be created. Now where's the fun in that? Let me give you a recipe that was botched, and because it was botched, gave me something new and wonderful. To make a long story short, I was making German Chocolate Cake icing. I inadvertently left out one ingredient, I believe it was canned milk, and ended up with a wonderful, no-bake drop cookie. Here it is.
Vanilla No-Bake Cookies

1 c Sugar
3 Egg yolks; slightly beaten
¼ cup milk
1 ts Vanilla
1/2 c Butter
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/3 c Coconut
1 cup Chopped pecans

Combine sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add coconut and pecans. Cool and beat occasionally until spreading consistency.
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Old 08-05-2010, 12:15 PM   #7
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Opps. Sorry about the double post.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
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Old 08-05-2010, 12:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ReKop View Post
Shel-First off, I ALWAYS line the cookie sheet with parchment paper. It keeps the bottoms of my cookies from burning and sticking to the cookie sheet. Second, if you're in the market for chocolate chip cookies, try a reciepe with molasses in it. The molasses gives the cc cookies a rich flavor (w/o being over-bearing) and keeps them soft for DAYS.
I've never used straight molasses before, but it sounds amazing! I must try it when I make cookies today. Now, I do wonder how would you go about placing molasses in a recipe that it's not normally in? I know it would affect the result, but I'm wondering how do you know enough is enough?

And to Goodweed of the North, amazing! I think your response gives me a better prespective on approaching cooking. I do look at cooking as fun and as an outlet, but I would like to have some success with what I prepare (). I agree completely that I need to learn how the ingredients work together, and I think If I get that, as you said, it would be more of an art. Thanks so much!!!
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Old 08-05-2010, 12:34 PM   #9
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The temperature you are baking in is important, too. I mean the temperature of your kitchen. If it is hot, butter and shortening are more liquid and this will effect the appearance of your cookies, they may be flattened. If baking in a hot kitchen, leaving it in the bowl or already panned, use the fridge to chill your dough before baking for a more consistent appearance.
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Old 08-05-2010, 12:48 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PrincessFiona60 View Post
The temperature you are baking in is important, too. I mean the temperature of your kitchen. If it is hot, butter and shortening are more liquid and this will effect the appearance of your cookies, they may be flattened. If baking in a hot kitchen, leaving it in the bowl or already panned, use the fridge to chill your dough before baking for a more consistent appearance.
Great Tip.

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