I’ve always found baking theory to be quite empowering. Knowing the chemistry behind some of my favourite recipes gives me the confidence to fine-tune them to my own preferences, and certainly gives me confidence in taking on similar recipes.
So, when we ran a poll on Instagram and baking theory turned out to be something you guys were interested in, I was thrilled. Cookie-lovers, you’re in for a treat. In this article, I’ll be talking about the science behind crafting your very own cookie recipes! Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to customise your very own cookies, however you like them.
We know some people enjoy crispier cookies while some enjoy chewier ones; some want a flatter, crackly surface, and some want a thicker, puffier one.
This guide will help you fine-tune any of your favourite cookie recipes – prefer a softer and thicker one? You’ll now know how to get the ultimate cookie of your dreams by simply changing an ingredient/baking technique. No need to find a whole new recipe all over again!
When we first started testing cookies for our baking kits, we tried at least 15 variations of butter-sugar combinations. A little less brown sugar here, a bit more butter there. But, what was arguably the biggest game-changer for our cookies was the test batch made by browning unsalted butter.
When you look at cookie recipes online, you often see butter and sugar being creamed at the first step. Quite rarely do you come across a basic cookie recipe that uses brown butter! But, because brown butter adds a complex, toasty, toffee-like flavour that really helps to elevate the flavour profile of your food, we decided to use this baking technique in all our cookie recipes.
When we conceptualised our cookie kits, we were looking to achieve cookies that are crispy on the edges, but soft and chewy on the inside. This, in our opinion, gives us the perfect cookie; the best of both worlds.
If you haven’t heard of brown butter, here’s what it is! Brown butter is a melted, aromatic, toasted and nutty flavoured butter that comes from heating regular butter to the point where its milk solids and fats are separated and turns brown.
This process imparts a caramel-like flavour, producing a much more aromatic cookie dough than simply using melted or creamed butter. Additionally, as the butter is in a liquid form (as opposed to creaming butter and sugar), the cookies are chewier.
>> If you are crafting your own cookie recipe and prefer chewier cookies, use melted/brown butter. If you prefer taller, more cake-y cookies, cream your butter and sugar instead.
In cookies, a higher moisture content yields a softer, chewier bite. We didn’t want a one-dimensional cookie, but rather something with contrasting textures. Hence, we used a combination of brown and white granulated sugars.
Brown sugar contains a higher moisture content than its granulated counterpart (due to molasses), and by combining both sugars, you create a cookie that is crisp on the edges but soft & chewy in the middle.
>> Keep in mind the ratio of brown sugar to granulated sugar in your cookie recipe. The more brown sugar you use, the chewier your cookies get.
While both baking powder and soda are leavening agents, in general, in a recipe that uses both, the baking powder is the one responsible for leavening the cookie. Of course, to make what we think is the perfect cookie, we needed a balance because baking powder gives you a softer cookie with some lift, whereas baking soda gives you a flatter, more crisp cookie.
To this extent, baking soda does more than simply providing some lift. Baking soda, otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate, is a slightly alkaline substance that helps to neutralise the acidity of the dough, which in turn helps the cookies brown in the oven, providing even more flavour and injecting some colour into your cookies.
>> Using a combination of both baking powder and soda will produce tasty, aesthetically pleasing cookies with just the right lift. A larger ratio of baking powder to baking soda gives you thicker and cakier cookies while more baking soda produces denser, rougher cookies.
This part here is pretty straightforward - what determines if your cookies resemble crumbly shortbread cookies, or soft, chewy cookies mainly comes down to the flour to liquid ratio. In the case of cookies, most of the liquid we’re looking at comes from the eggs in the recipe.
Take our shortbread cookies for example - they contain no eggs at all, and all the liquid in the recipe comes from the butter itself. This results in a high flour to liquid ratio, and in turn, creates a nice crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
>> Remember, the higher the amount of flour, the crumblier your cookies get (and also, the less spread your cookies will have).
In my opinion, one of the best things about baking is truly to marvel at how simple baking ingredients like flour and sugar can transform into something so well-loved by people all around. With these baking science bites, you can now tweak some of your favourite cookie recipes to make your very own version of a perfect cookie!
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