I have a friend of several decades, now living in Palm Springs, who has hosted a cookie tea each holiday season for as many decades. Fortunately for me, Pat does not have access to this paper, as our friendship might crumble, so to speak, after reading this column.
Each year my friend adds a new-found cookie recipe to her collection of 30 or more that are included on her beautifully decorated ‘cookie table,’ and each year I struggle with telling my friend just how she could improve on many of her cookie recipes—I have decided our friendship is more important than a properly baked cookie.
Prior to oven thermometers, cookies were discovered by bakers who used them to test the oven’s temperature by baking a small amount of their cake batter before baking the entire cake.
Pennsylvania’s German bakers in the early 1700s baked sugar cookies, and in the 1930s, Ruth Wakefield named her Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe after the Massachusetts hotel she owned, the Toll House Inn.
Using fresh ingredients, make sure your ingredients are at room temperature unless otherwise stated.
Once you have combined the wet and dry ingredients, stop…do not overmix.
Know how each ingredient affects the outcome of your cookies.
Fats: More causes flat and crispy and less causes cake like cookies. Using shortening makes the cookies hold their shape whereas butter makes the cookies spread out and flatten but will give a better flavor.
Flour: Bread and cake flour produce cookies that spread less. High flour content produces crumbly cookies.
Baking powder and baking soda: Baking soda reduces acidity in dough which allows cookies to brown in the oven whereas Baking powder creates lighter and fluffier cookies.
Sugar: Brown sugar or honey creates chewier cookies than white sugar. Lowering the sugar amount will make the cookies puffier.
Sour cream: This yields a moister cookie…do not substitute with fat-free.
Other items affecting your outcome: Chilled dough will hold its shape better, especially if using shape cutters. Work with smaller amounts when rolling out.
Different baking sheets: Thin sheets will cause the cookie bottoms to brown or burn faster. Insulated pans or jellyroll pans are the best for even cooking. Do not use whipped/tub butter.
Lastly, know how to achieve your desired effect by doing one or all of the following:
Flat: use all butter, use all purpose or bread flour, increase the sugar, add liquid or bring dough to room temperature.
Puffy: Use shortening, reduce the fat called for, add egg, decrease sugar, use cake or pastry flour, use baking powder or refrigerate dough.
Chewy: Melt butter (the secret to the chocolate chip recipe below) before adding to the sugars, remove from the oven a few minutes early while the center of the cookie is still puffy, use brown sugar as a sweetener, or let cookies cool on pan before moving to the cooking rack.
Crispy: Use all butter, use white sugar, use egg yolk instead of whole egg, bake completely, or move to the cooling rack immediately.
Now that you have all the answers, let’s bake the perfect crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside: chocolate chip cookies. The secret here is the melted and cooled butter.
Chocolate chip cookies (makes 30)
I use mega-sized chips. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Baking time no longer than 14 minutes.
In a bowl mix together and set aside:
2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
Melt and cool 12 Tbsps. butter and add:
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus one egg yolk
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Mix well then add dry ingredients from previous steps, mixing well
1 ½ cups chocolate chips (I use the mega ones)
½ cup chopped walnuts
Chill dough 15 minutes and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet drop dough in 2-inch sized balls two inches apart (12 to a cookie sheet). Bake, remove from the oven and then wait 5 minutes before moving cookies to a cooling rack. Santa will love these.
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at email@example.com