cookie baking 101

cookie baking 101

Cookie Baking 101



This section ought to be titled "shortening."  Vegetable shortening, margarine and butter in some recipes are interchangeable. Ask most experienced bakers, though, and they will tell you that one of their secret weapons is plain, pure butter. Butter serves several purposes in cookie baking, it tenderizes and conveys the flavor of the cookie. Compare the difference between a shortbread cookie and that of biscotti. Shortbread cookies seem to almost melt in your mouth, where as biscotti has a much lower butter content and are hard and crunchy.

If a cookie recipe calls for butter, I'd use the butter, especially in cookies where butter is the flavor of the cookie. On the other hand cookies such as Molasses or gingerbread, I wouldn't hesitate to use shortening.

Do not use "reduced fat" or whipped butter products when you bake cookies, they can contain up to 58% water.

cookie baking tips


Besides the obvious of sugar as a sweetener, sugar also helps to tenderize cookies and it helps the cookie to absorb heat which browns the cookie. Sugar is also hygroscopic, which means it draws moisture or water to itself.

There are basically 2 types of sugar, white sugar and brown sugar, both light and dark. Both white and brown sugar are refined. Brown sugar may get its color from molasses being added to it after processing. The molasses, because of its high water content, helps brown sugar have stronger hygroscopic properties than white sugar. This is why, in addition to some flavor benefits, brown sugar and white sugar are often used in tandem in cookie recipes -- they both help to sweeten, and the brown sugar boosts the moisture-holding properties of the white sugar.

Granulated sugar and brown sugar are rarely interchangeable. Brown sugar is moister, heavier and coarser than granulated sugar, so it will also change the cookie texture.

cookie baking tips


There are many types of flour that are suitable for cookie baking. For cookie recipes on this site, unless noted otherwise, use All-Purpose Flour.

All-purpose: Flours labeled "all-purpose" usually contain a blend of high gluten hard wheat and low gluten soft wheat. When a flour calls for all-purpose you can use bleached or unbleached flour. Has a protein count of 12 -13 grams per cup.

Bread Flour: Has a protein count of about 14 grams per cup.

Cake and pastry flour: Has a protein count of about 8 grams per cup and are used when a very tender crumb is desired.

Why is this important? Gluten is formed by the amount of proteins in flour. When gluten is developed it is what gives the dough the strength to rise. Gluten is great in bread but not what you want when you make cookies, cakes or a pie crust.

cookie baking tips

Other ingredients...

Leavening agents are an important part of most cookie recipes. The most commonly used leaveners for cookies are baking powder and baking soda. Possibly the single biggest culprit in cookie failure is the tendency of the cook to misread which one is called for and add the wrong one.

The big difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking soda requires the cookie dough to have at least one acidic ingredient, while baking powder has its own acid built in as acid salts -- cream of tartar, usually. Baking soda can be activated by buttermilk, sour cream, creme fraiche, yogurt, fruit juices, brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, honey, maple syrup and cocoa (not the Dutch-processed kind, which is acid-neutral). A quick formula is: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of liquid.

Baking powder tends to be used in recipes that have no acidic ingredients, or call for chocolate or cocoa. Single-acting baking powder produces all of its bubbles when it gets wet. The batter must be cooked immediately. Double-acting baking powder produces bubbles when it gets wet and again when it gets hot. This means the batter does not have to be cooked immediately. For cookie purposes, use the Double-acting baking powder. A quick formula is: 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every cup of flour.

Eggs are another common cookie leavener, but their main job is to serve, frequently, as the only liquid in the ingredient list. Egg whites tend to dry out cookies, while egg yolks enrich and soften the dough.

cookie baking tips

What happens if? 

You want the cookies to spread more: Use all butter or add 1 to 2 tablespoons liquid (water, milk or cream) or use a low-protein flour such as bleached all-purpose (but not one that is chlorinated) or add 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar.

You want the cookies to spread less: Cut the sugar by a few tablespoons or add 1/4-1/2 cup additional flour.

You want the cookies to have a chewy quality: Melt the butter instead of simply using it at room temperature.

Note: Some of the information in this article comes form the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.

cookie baking tips

You'll find more information here: Baking Tips

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