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The perfect chocolate chip cookie
What makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie?
Nirvana [(neer- vah -nuh, nur- vah -nuh)]
In Buddhism, the highest state of consciousness, in which the soul is freed from all desires and attachments. Nirvana is sometimes used as a synonym for heaven or paradise. (Or, it could be an 80's grunge band from Seattle).
What is your description of chocolate chip cookie Nirvana?
- A soft, buttery, cakey vanilla-scented dough flecked with melting milk chocolate chips.
- A chewy, moist-centered cookie with barely crisp edges, flecked with semi-sweet chocolate chips.
- A crunchy, crisp cookie wafer dotted with chunks of dark chocolate.
All chocolate chip cookies are made of the same basic ingredients:
- butter or shortening
- sugar (brown or white granulated or a little bit of both)
- baking powder and/or baking soda
Let's pause for a moment. You need to know that there is a science to baking. There is a reason that some cookies are tall and puffy and others are flat and crispy. (Yes, I know your eyes are rolling, but you can do this!).
Let's try to understand what happens in the oven
The oven is where the action is. Until the dough meets the cookie sheet (and the heat), dough is just dough. According to http://sweets.seriouseats.com here's a summary what happens in the oven:
- The dough spreads:. As the butter warms, it slackens. The cookie dough begins to turn more liquid and gradually spreads out.
- The edges set: As the cookie spreads, the edges thin out. This, coupled with the fact that they are fully exposed to the heat of the oven and are constantly reaching hotter areas of the baking pan, causes them to begin to set long before the center of the cookie does.
- The cookie rises: As the butter melts and the cookie's structure loosens, this frees up water, which in turn dissolves baking soda. This baking soda is then able to react with the acidic components of brown sugar, creating gases that cause the cookies to rise up and develop a more open interior structure.
- Egg proteins and starches set: Once they get hot enough, egg proteins and hydrated starches will begin to set in structure, finalizing the shape and size of the finished cookie.
- Sugar caramelizes: At its hottest areas—the edges and the underbelly in direct contact with the baking dish—sugar granules melt together, turning liquidy before starting to caramelize and brown, producing rich, sweet flavors.
- The Maillard reaction occurs: Proteins in the flour and the eggs brown along with the sugar in a process called the Maillard reaction—the same reaction responsible for giving your hamburger or bread a brown crust. It produces nutty, savory, toasted flavors.
What a minute, what is Maillard reaction?
The website www.wisegeek.com has an excellent description of the Maillard reaction:
The Maillard reaction, also known as the browning reaction, is the phenomenon responsible for turning meat brown, converting bread to toast and turning beer brown, along with hundreds of other examples. It is named for Louis-Camille Maillard, a French chemist who studied the science of browning during the early 1900s. This phenomenon can be a complicated bit of biochemistry, but what's most important to know is the effect it has on foods and other protein-based technologies.
In simple terms, certain foods contain carbohydrates in the form of sugars, while others contain amino acids in the form of proteins. These sugars and amino acids often exist side-by-side, as in the case of raw meats. They may also be blended together, as in the case of bread dough. As long as there is no outside catalyst, or cause for change, the meat remains red and the bread dough remains white.
This reaction is the catalyst for change, primarily by the addition of heat. When bread dough or meat is introduced to a hot oven, a complex chemical reaction occurs on the surface. The carbon molecules contained in the sugars, or carbohydrates, combine with the amino acids of the proteins. This combination cannot occur without the additional heat source. The end result of this chemical recombination is the Maillard reaction. The surface of the heated bread dough is now brown, as is the outer layer of the roasted meat.
And then what happens?
The cookie cools. Once it comes out of the oven, the baking isn't over. Remember that caramelized sugar? As the cookie cools that melted sugar begins to reharden--that's the crispy edge. At the same time, the air in the cookie is also cooling, and like a balloon with a slow leak the cookie slightly deflates.
So here are the ingredients (and amounts) you need to achieve your chocolate chip cookie Nirvana
1 1/3 cups
3/4 cup, melted
1/2 cup unsalted, at room temperature
white (granulated) sugar
brown (packed) sugar
1 1/2 cups
For Soft Cookies:
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- In large mixing bowl sift together flour, soda, baking powder and salt.
- In a separate bowl cream together shortening, sugars, and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Beat in flour mixture one cup at a time.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Form dough into 1 inch balls; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake 11-12 minutes.
- Allow cookies to rest for 10 minutes before removing from pan.
For Chewy Cookies:
- Preheat to 325 degrees.
- Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
- Sift together flour, soda, and salt; set aside.
- Cream together melted butter, sugars. Beat in vanilla, egg, and yolk until light and creamy.
- Mix in dry ingredients until just blended.Stir in chips.
- Drop cookie ¼ cup at at time onto prepared sheets, about 3 inches apart.
- Bake 15-17min or until edges are toasted. Cool on sheets a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool.
For Crisp Cookies:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with a hand held mixer until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Beat in the egg and then the vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, to make a soft dough.
- Stir in the chocolate chips.
- Spoon a heaping tablespoon of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 3-inches apart, (a standard pan can accommodate about 6 cookies).
- Bake the cookies until brown around the edges, about 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. (from Television Food Network).
So, where's the "science" in baking?
No, that's not a pronouncement of what you will be if you eat too many cookies. Fat is a primary and so very misunderstood component in baking. My grandparents ate butter (I'm sure they churned their own), and they lived to their 90's. A generation (or more) of us were led to believe that animal fats (butter) are unhealthy and that margarine is a good substitute until, that is, we heard the word "trans-fatty acids".
The truth is that butter has a high fat content (about 80 percent), and margarine about 35 percent. The decision to use butter rather than margarine has nothing to do with dietary restrictions or healthy eating habits (do you really eat a chocolate chip cookie to get healthy?). All fats have the same amount of calories (about 9 calories per gram). But the different between butter and margarine can make a significant difference in the quality of your baked goods.
- makes cookies tender (prevents gluten from forming)
- adds flavor--the milk proteins brown (aha, there's that malliard reaction) and contribute a caramelized flavor.
- provides lift/puffiness--if you cream butter with sugar some air will be incorporated. However, melting the butter instead of creaming it with the sugar will give a more dense cookie.
Obviously there are two main components to an egg--the white and the yolk. The white is mostly water (and some protein) which, combined with flour begins the formation of gluten. Yes, I know that I previously stated that gluten was a bad thing--well, not entirely. A bit is needed to provide structure (lift and height) for your cookie, but too much will give you a tough hockey puck.
Egg yolks are also a source of moisture, but their primary job is providing some fat. So, extra egg white will give you a taller cookie. Extra yolks will give you a more dense, fudge-like cookie.
The bottom line is that...brown sugar and white (granulated) sugar are NOT interchangeable. Brown sugar adds a net of about 1 percent more moisture overall to baked goods because most brown sugar in the United States is made by adding 5 percent molasses by volume to granulated white sugar.
Cookies made with brown sugar, or a combination of brown and white will be soft or chewy, while those baked with white only will be more crisp (see the table, above).
© 2014 Linda Lum