I’ve covered several chocolate chip cookie types so far and thought that now would be a good time to review how to tweak the ingredients of cookies to make different styles. The first cookie recipe we tried, the Nestle Tollhouse cookie, was a good start, and it got even better with a bit of tweaking. For the changes to the original recipe, we turned to Alton Brown who used that recipe as a base for three variants: chewy, thin, and puffy.
It’s great that we now have three more recipes in our arsenal, but how and why do these changes matter? It’s all based on how the ingredients react to one another during the baking process. This science is applicable to all baked goods, not just cookies; so it’s good to know the magic behind baking if you like tweaking recipes.
Changes in brief
The modifications were kicked off with a dangerously chewy chocolate chip cookie. The important changes to the recipe were to use bread flour, melted butter, one egg plus one yolk, more brown sugar than white, and to chill the dough before baking. These changes allowed the cookies to stay moist and chewy.
The super thin cookies (a favorite of mine) developed both a pleasing crunch and a slight chew. This was achieved by using all-purpose flour, softened butter, one egg plus milk, and more white sugar than brown. These cookies were not refrigerated, which meant that they spread and ‘melted’ as they baked.
The puffy cookies were last. The distinction here was to use cake flour, shortening (not butter), two eggs, baking powder (instead of baking soda), and chilled dough (like the chewy cookies). These tweaks allow the cookies to rise and puff as it baked.
But whyyyyy? Sure, you just read the differences in the recipes, but what actually happens? What is the difference between the three kinds of flour? Why change from butter to shortening?
Settle down, settle down, all will be revealed…
Let’s take it in order…
- The most obvious change was to use bread flour. Bread flour is important because it has a higher protein content than other flours. The proteins, when mixed with water, form gluten. More gluten equals more chew. This is why bread is kneaded for before baking. It’s also why biscuits and muffins are generally just quickly combined instead of kneaded (ever seen a chewy biscuit? Neither have I).
- The butter is liquefied and milk is added. When the butter liquefies, the fat and water can easily separate. This means that the water in the butter (and the milk) bond with the proteins in the flour and form the gluten we just talked about.
- The recipe also called for a higher proportion of brown sugar to white sugar. The extra moisture and molasses in the brown sugar not only helps keep the cookies together as they bake, but also keeps the dough moist.
- Removing the egg white from one of the two eggs is important too. Have you ever seen a meringue? The main ingredient is, of course, egg whites. After it’s baked, the resulting dessert is dry and crispy. In the case of meringue, that’s a good thing; however, in chewy cookies-not so much. The removal of the egg white stops the cookie from drying out.
- The standard leavening of baking soda is unchanged in this recipe. The object is to provide the cookies with a little ‘give’, so when you bite into them they aren’t as hard as rocks. Baking soda is sufficient on it’s own to achieve this.
- Finally, the dough is chilled before baking. If you keep an eye on these cookies in the oven you notice minimal spreading. By the time the heat softens the chilled dough, the shape has already started to set.
- All-purpose flour, which has a moderate amount of protein, was used in this recipe. AP flour is suitable for, well, all purposes. It can be kneaded into a bread dough, or it can be lightly stirred into a muffin mixture. When used in this recipe, the mixing incorporates the flour with the ingredients and forms some gluten, but not so much as to make it chewy. Even if gluten does form, there are a few more tricks to ensure it does not adversely affect the cookie.
- The butter is softened to room temperature, not turned it into a liquid. This means that the water in the butter doesn’t have as much time to bond with the proteins to form gluten.
- Only one egg was used, the second egg was replaced by a couple ounces of milk. Why remove an egg? Eggs set and puff when they are heated (soufflé, anyone?). Liquids… well… spread.
- Leavening is provided by the baking soda. This gives the cookies enough power to stay together and have a bit of chew, but not so much as to prevent them from spreading.
- In direct contrast to the chewy cookies, more white sugar is used than brown sugar. The lack of moisture and molasses normally found in brown sugar allows the cookies to spread as they bake, while the dry white sugar adds a crispier texture.
- Finally, this dough was scooped out and baked right after mixing. This room temperature, buttery dough beings to spread as soon as it is placed into the oven. By the time the dough sets, it has already spread into a thin (and might I add, delicious) cookie.
- Cake flour, not bread or AP, is used in this recipe. Cake flour has the lowest protein content of all the flours-meaning less gluten can develop-so these cookies have the least chew.
- Shortening is used instead of butter because it has a much higher melting point. This means that there is less spreading of the cookie as it bakes.
- Baking powder is used instead of baking soda. Baking powder has a more powerful leavening effect than baking soda due to the acids that react with liquids in the dough. The acidic baking powder releases carbon dioxide, which forces air into the dough. This is why these cookies develop that Chips Ahoy style crunch, and are so well suited for dunking.
- Lastly, the dough is chilled before baking. This same technique is used in the chewy cookies to help keep them mounded as they bake. If you watch the baking process, they spread out a bit first and, as the shortening starts to melt, the baking powder reacts, giving the cookies a lift half way through the baking process.
Now you know. Go forth and make chocolate chip cookies!