NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Time for Baking!

Time for Baking!


                Cooler weather and family gatherings associated with the upcoming holidays, drives many of us into our kitchens where we pull our out favorite cookie recipes.  One of the most popular of all baked goods, cookies come in a variety of tastes and skills required to make.  The basic ingredients of cookies –flour, some type of fat, a leavening agent and items that add flavor – are easy to find and to work with, but there are always a few tips that will ensure your cookies become family favorites.

                Flour - Most cookie recipes call for all-purpose or pastry flour. If you use bread flour with its high gluten protein content, or cake flour, which is high in starch, you’ll end up with cookies that tend to spread less when you bake them. Recipes for shortbread cookies or other cookies with a crumbly texture usually have a higher flour-to-liquid ratio.

                Leaveners - These are the ingredients that make baked goods puff up. In cookie recipes, the two most common leaveners are baking soda and baking powder. Baking soda is simply bicarbonate of soda. It neutralizes the acidity of the dough, allowing the cookies to brown in the oven.  Baking powder is a combination of bicarbonate of soda plus cream of tartar, an acidic ingredient. Since baking powder already contains its own acid, it will not reduce the acidity in the dough, and the resulting cookies will be puffier and lighter in color.

                Fats - Fats are all about flavor and spread—what a cookie tastes like, and whether it keeps its shape or flattens as the fats heat and liquefy in the oven. In general, more fat in the recipe produces flat, crispy cookies, while less fat produces puffier, cake-like cookies.

                The kind of fat you use also makes a difference. Cookies are made primarily with butter, margarine or shortening, and each behaves differently. Whipped spreads are not suitable for baking.             Cookies made with butter tend to spread out because it melts at body temperature—a much lower temperature than other solid fats—resulting in a “melt-in-your-mouth” burst of flavor. In fact, butter is an essential flavor agent in certain cookies, such as shortbreads. If cookies spread more than you’d like them to, try lowering the amount of butter, sugar, or baking soda in the recipe.        

                Shortening has a much higher melting point than butter, and will help cookies keep their original unbaked shapes. Margarine has only a slightly higher melting point than butter.

                Sugars - Like fats, sugars liquefy when they heat in the oven. The type and amount of sugar both play a big role in cookie performance.  White sugar makes a crisper cookie than does brown sugar or honey. Cookies made from brown sugar will absorb moisture after baking, helping to ensure that they stay chewy. Most chocolate chip cookie recipes contain both brown and white sugars.  If you lower the amount of sugar called for in a cookie recipe, the final baked cookie will be puffier than its high-sugar counterpart.

                Eggs and Liquids - Eggs are a binding agent, holding ingredients together. Egg yolks add richness but allow a crisp texture after baking, but egg whites tend to make cookies dry and cakey. To make up for the drying effect of the egg whites, extra sugar is often added. This is why cookies made with just egg whites tend to be so sweet—think of light and airy French macarons.  Liquids can either cause cookies to puff up or spread. If egg is the liquid, it will create a puffy, cake-like texture. Just a tablespoon or two of water or other liquid will help your cookies spread into flatter and crisper rounds.

                If you have a cookie recipe that you love, but aren’t getting the desired results, use these tips to get your perfect cookie:

  • How to make cookies flatter: If you want your cookies on the flat side, you can do some or all of the following things: Use all butter, use all-purpose flour or bread flour, increase the sugar content slightly, add a bit of liquid to your dough, and bring the dough to room temperature before baking.
  • How to make cookies puffier: For light, puffy cookies, use shortening or margarine and cut back on the amount of fat; add an egg, cut back on the sugar, use cake flour or pastry flour, use baking powder instead of baking soda, and refrigerate your dough before baking.
  • How to make cookies chewier: Try melting the butter before adding it to the sugars when mixing. Remove cookies from the oven a few minutes before they are done, while their centers are still soft but are just cooked through. The edges should be golden. Use brown sugar, honey, or molasses as a sweetener. Let cookies cool on the pan for several minutes after baking before transferring to cooling rack.
  • How to make cookies crispier: For crisp, crunchy cookies, use all butter and a proportion of white sugar. Use egg yolks in place of a whole egg. Cookies should be baked completely. Let cool on the baking sheet for one minute before transferring to a cooling rack.
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