Last time, I wrote about how I would likely write about either baking cookies – which is surprisingly easy – or drinking bourbon (notice how my bottle is empty). It’s a good thing I know how to do both. So, buckle in – today we will be tackling the chemical processes of baking chocolate chip cookies. Here is the recipe.
There are two different types of people in this world – those that like their cookies crispy and those that like their cookies chewy. I am the latter. I don’t know how it started, but the fact of the matter is that thin, crisp cookies will never be as good to me as big chewy ones. If you’re a crispy person – fear not! There’s a secret to that difference.
The first step – regardless of your cookie preference – is to take a stick of butter and let it hang out at room temperature (20°C for me) for an hour or so. If you’re less patient – I know I can be – give it 10 seconds in the microwave and then cut it into chunks. Measure out 75 grams each of white and brown sugar, 2 grams of baking soda, 3 grams of table salt, and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Since eggs are difficult to measure, just use one. Toss this all into your handy-dandy mixer and
beat the ever-loving shit out of it homogenize the mixture.
The goal is largely to disperse the fat molecules from the butter and dissolve the sugars and salts. The small amounts of salt are difficult to evenly distribute in the mixer once the flour gets in, so I find it best to get it mixed in from the beginning. Before I discuss the leavening or the caramelization caused by baking, we need to get to discussing gluten. A lot of people lately are going gluten free, and if that’s your prerogative, I don’t recommend baking cookies. But gluten makes the difference between chewy cookies or crispy cookies.
I use 250 grams of all purpose flour. If you want crispy cookies, cut the flour back to 175 grams. All-purpose flour has a protein content of 10-12%. For reference, bread flour (high gluten) comes in at 13-14% protein content. Gluten (from the Latin for glue) is formed when a gliadin protein and a glutenin protein are hydrated and join together. The salt in the recipe hinders gluten production some, but you added
a crap ton so much more flour than salt, the hindrance is fairly small. As you mix in your flour – a little at a time – it will stick to the walls and make your dough look kind of dry. Fear not! It’s fine.
Add in your 170 grams (about a half a bag, usually) and by hand mix in the chocolate chips. Now – there is a debate, chips vs chunks. The chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter (fat) and that means they will hold their shape at high temperatures. Chunks make a mess and spread with the cookie. Different strokes. Important part – hand fold the chips into the cookie dough. Life will be better.
I have a problem at this point: I eat the cookie dough. Don’t worry: the chance of salmonella from an egg, estimated, is 11 in 100,000 or 0.011%. Eat away! Let the dough sit for a minute in the fridge. This gets the butter to harden up, gives the gluten a chance to develop, gives everything a chance to relax. This helps build taller cookies. I like 30 minutes to an hour of set time; there are some people who say to wrap it up and leave it overnight. The idea is the same – resolidify the butter and reduce the temperature of the dough. I took the time to make a pot of french press coffee and take notes. Yes – that’s a lab notebook (with carbons). I then added the coffee to a cup with a little bourbon – I call that Kentucky Coffee (like Irish Coffee, only…bourbon!).
After letting the dough rest, portion it into 2-3 centimeter balls – if you don’t eat too much, this recipe gets about 24 cookies. Bake these at 175°C (350°F) for 10-12 minutes. Success! 1) Bake cookies! 2) ????? 3) Profit!
In the oven, a few really cool things happen. Leavening of the cookies is caused by rising steam and by the thermal decomposition of the baking soda. Some of the acids in the brown sugar (acetic and various organics) react with the baking soda and form carbon dioxide. The egg forms complex protein matrices and builds strength. The gluten, along with the egg protein matrix, catches the steam and the carbon dioxide bubbles and help the cookies rise. As all of this happens, the butter melts and the cookie settle into cookie shape versus ball shape.
Once the oven timer goes off, take the cookies out and count to 60 before taking the cookies off the baking sheet and moving them to a cooling rack. The baking sheet continues cooking the bottom of the cookie, caramelizing the sucrose, forming fructose and glucose (and a hundred other complex reactions far above my pay-grade). Let the cookies cool – voila. You have baked amazing, chewy, delicious cookies. Dip them in your Kentucky Coffee – it’s good, promise.