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Cookie of the Week: Some Science behind the Chocolate Chip Cookie

Well there was no Cookie of the Week post last week, because I tried a new recipe and it was a complete disaster.

This week, at my husband’s request, I made old tried and true Chocolate Chip cookies. Now I know everyone probably already has a favorite Chocolate Chip cookie recipe. The one I use is the one my mom always used, and I think from the back of the chocolate chip bag.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

1/2 cup margarine

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp soda

1/2 tsp water

1 tsp vanilla

1 bag chocolate chips

Cream together sugar, margarine, shortening and eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 to 12 minutes.

I’ve learned two tricks to making these cookies over the years that improved them.

First, I started replacing all the butter and shortening with Butter Flavor Crisco.

Ever make cookies with butter or margarine, and find that they can really spread and come out flat? That happens because the butter or margarine melts too fast during the baking process.

Butter, margarine and Crisco or shortening are all fats. When the fat in a cookie melts in the oven, it releases moisture that the heat turns into steam. The steam helps the cookie rise. But it also pushes the cookie outward if there’s too much steam released before the dough has set. When you use Crisco the steam starts to release at about the same time the cookie starts to set. That gives you a nicely raised cookie that holds together.

For flavor it does have to be Butter Flavor Crisco. Plain shortening would affect the taste of the cookies. You can substitute Butter Flavor Crisco for butter or margarine in almost any cookie recipe. I use it to make biscuits too.

The other thing I’ve learned about Chocolate Chips cookies is that the type of cookie sheet you bake them on is important. I’ve used coated non-stick, Air-Bake and baking stones, but the sheet that gets the job done best is a thick aluminum baking sheet like professional bakers use. Nordic Ware make a great half-size professional grade aluminum baking sheet you can pick up for around nine dollars at discount department stores. It’s worth investing in a couple.

Aluminum heats up quickly and distributes heats evenly so that all the cookies bake at the same rate. A thicker sheet allows the cookies to cook through, and brown on tops and bottom at the same time. Dark, coated sheets brown the bottoms too fast. Usually you either end up with burned bottoms or raw middles. Air-Bake sheets are supposed to not burn the bottoms of cookie by using an insulating pocket of air. But I find they they can take to long to brown the cookies on bottom, or never even brown then at all. If you leave the cookies in the oven waiting for the tell-tale brown edges you can end up over-baking them. I don’t like the stones because they take too long to warm up. They can double the baking time in some cases.

Baking is really just a bunch of chemical reactions triggered by heat. If you learn a little bit about the science behind it, you can use it to make some of your favorite recipes even better. Or even make up your own.

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3 Responses to Cookie of the Week: Some Science behind the Chocolate Chip Cookie

  1. Gotta love those chocolate chip cookies!! lately I’ve been baking mine with whole wheat flour (completely replacing the white) and the cookies still taste great–if not better!!

  2. I remember making chocolate chips cookies in a Chemistry lab in college. One of the few labs I actually attended. And, yes, I remember the same point being made then that you make here. The science behind baking and cooking is fascinating!

    I am a fan of the stoneware. I just like it.

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