Thursday, January 15, 2009

Week 2: Cookies

Cookies are my go-to dessert. They are easy to whip together when you're up late studying or writing a paper. You don't need a plate and fork to eat them. And they are sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not so decadent that you can only eat a few bites. I usually make cookies once a week, much to my boyfriend's chagrin.

When I looked over this week's reading, I immediately gravitated toward the cookie section in Bakewise (Shirley Corriher). Corriher deconstructs cookies into four parts, which coincidentally reminded me of Harold McGees four protagonists in cooking – protein, water, fat, and carbohydrates. Cookies need flour, fat, sugar, and baking powder or soda.

Protein in flour provides structure for the cookie. Flour holds the cookie together and gives the cookie its form and texture. When flour is mixed with a liquid (water or soymilk), it forms glutenous strands of protein. If your flour has a lot of protein, your cookies will be tougher and you will need to add more liquid to achieve a soft dough. On the other hand, low-protein flours yield tender cookies and require less liquid. Ideally, you want flour to consist of eight to 10 percent protein.1

Obviously, you don't want a lot of gluten in your cookies. That's where fat and sugar come in. Fat (butter, margarine, shortening) coats the flour proteins, preventing all of them from binding with the liquid and forming gluten. Sugar also repels liquid from protein, combining with the protein rather than coating it like fat.

Fat and sugar work in other ways, too. They add flavor. They might even leaven and soften. A fat like shortening, while lacking flavor, enhances leavening and reduces spread. One of the downsides of butter and margarine is that both have low melting points; in other words, when butter-based cookies enter the hot oven, the butter melts and causes cookies to spread or flatten. Shortening can withstand heat better and cookies made with shortening will be thicker, softer, and puffier (puffy is Corriher's word choice). You can use a buttery margarine in cookies and still achieve soft cookies. The trick is to cream the butter when it is soft enough that you can leave a fingerprint in it, and to keep the cookie dough cold until you pop it in the oven.

Sugar also adds moisture to cookies. Remember those soft Mrs. Fields cookies? Moisture keeps cookies soft after they cool down. One way to increase the moisture in your cookies is to use brown sugar. Brown sugar is made of sugar and molasses. It's why you have to pack brown sugar to measure it accurately.

Finally, baking powder/soda provide the leavening in cookies. What is leavening? I had to Wikipedia it, actually! Leavening is the process by which the leavening agent, moisture, and heat interact to create bubbles in the dough. Leavening causes cookies to expand and rise a bit. Now you're wondering, what is the difference between baking powder and soda? I have often asked myself this while dumping both into cookie mixes. According to The Joy of Vegan Baking, baking soda becomes active when it comes into contact with moisture and an acidic food. (Acidic foods include vinegar, citrus juice, nondairy yogurt, chocolate, cocoa, molasses, brown sugar, fruit, and maple syrup). Baking powder is a combination of baking soda, acid(s), and corn starch.

Technically, baking powder is a time-saver because you don't need to think about how to activate it. It's simply one teaspoon of baking powder to one cup flour. (Baking soda is a half teaspoon.) The catch is that if you are making something that has an acidic food in it, like ginger cookies (molasses) or a citrus-based dessert, the baking powder won't neutralize the acid. So in the instance that you're making cranberry orange scones, you should probably opt for baking soda which will neutralize the acid by interacting with it. Did that make sense? I hope so. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau explains it very well in Joy of Vegan Baking.

PS – Salt is important in recipes, but its role is mainly for increasing sweetness (and reducing bitterness) in baked goods. Who knew?

That brings me to the cookies I made! I'll go in reverse order. On Tuesday, I made Chocolate Crinkles (Joy of Vegan Baking). These are fudgy chocolate cookies rolled in powdered sugar for their black-and-white look. I read in Bakewise that Chocolate Crinkles need to be rolled in granulated sugar before they are rolled in powdered sugar. Why? Two reasons. First, it prevents the powdered sugar from soaking into the dough. I had this problem when I previously made Chocolate Crinkles because Joy of Vegan Baking only tells you to roll in powdered sugar. Second, granulated sugar increases the crunchy cookie surface because not all of it dissolves while baking.

So I made enough dough for a dozen crinkles – six rolled only in powdered sugar and six rolled in granulated sugar before dipped in powdered sugar.

Bakewise was correct! The double rolled crinkles had more powdered sugar stick to the final cookie and had a crisp exterior. They reminded me of the glaze on donuts.

At left is the single rolled; at right is the double rolled.

On Monday I created my first recipe! And I will share it with you. I love soft cookies (hence the Mrs. Fields reference). So I set out to make a classic soft chocolate chip cookie. Then some chocolate lentils (MnM's) and white chocolate chips came in the mail, and I decided to make monster cookies. To make these cookies soft and buttery, I used a combination of shortening and Earth Balance margarine. To that end, I also used a disproportionate amount of brown sugar to white sugar to increase the moisture. (I didn't use all brown sugar because I didn't want it to leave an aftertaste). Because I used so much brown sugar and chocolate, I decided throw in some baking soda in addition to the baking powder to neutralize an acidic taste.

Monster Cookies

½ c. Earth Balance margarine

½ c. shortening

½ c. white sugar

1 ¼ c. brown sugar, packed

3 egg equivalents (4 t Ener-G Egg Replacer + 4 T water*)

1 ½ t vanilla extract

2 ½ c. flour

¾ c. rolled oats

¾ t salt

1 t baking powder

1 t baking soda

½ c. chocolate chips

½ c. white chocolate chips

½ c. chocolate lentils (MnM's)

Cream together the Earth Balance, shortening, sugars, egg replacer, and vanilla for a minute on medium-high speed.

In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda). Beat together the wet and dry mixes, adding the dry to wet in two increments. Mix in the chocolate chips and lentils.

Cover the bowl of cookie dough with plastic wrap and put into the refrigerator. Meanwhile, grease two baking pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven is ready, take out the chilled cookie dough. Roll dough into golf-sized balls and drop onto the pan two inches apart. Slightly flatten with your palm. Bake for 10 minutes only. They may look undercooked, but press forward knowing they will firm up and that cooking a minute longer will make them too crisp.

Keep dough in the fridge, covered, while one pan of cookies is baking. In the last minute of baking, take out the chilled dough and prepare the next cookie pan. Once out of the oven, cookies should stay on the pan for a few minutes before being moved to a plate or cooling rack.

* If you use a different egg replacer, keep in mind that the cookies need that 4 tablespoons of water. If your cookie dough is dry and crumbly, try adding a tablespoon of water at a time until the dough reaches a smooth consistency.

Questions remaining for this week:

  • Where do oats figure into the dry ingredients? Are they like four in that they add protein to the dough? Or are they like chocolate chips – just add-in's that don't affect the dough?

1Pastry flour is low-protein, but all-purpose flour can range from 10 to 12 percent protein!

1 comment:

  1. I heard Corriher talk about the granulated sugar + powdered sugar when she was on NPR back in December. Her little secret trick stuck in my brain and I'm SO happy to see that you've demonstrated and proven her technique.

    I think that you'll find that oats, even rolled oats, add colloidal starches to the mix -- colloidal starches hold moisture, so that will affect the softness of the cookie. That's provided there is enough 'excess' moisture and enough time for the rolled oats to absorb the water. Oat flour is helpful in bread baking in just this way.

    Keep up the good work!