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17 December 2008 @ 12:21 pm
Last night I made more cookies  
When I was a kid, my father used to complain that my mother's recipe for chocolate chip cookies "weren't hard enough," meaning texture and crispness. He didn't want soft cookies, he wanted crunchy ones like the store bought ones. My mother tried all sorts of things, but they either ended up soft or so crispy, they were tasteless and bitter. Finally, she found a good balance, and things were okay for years until Keebler introduced "Soft Batch" and then my father wanted soft cookies again. My mother was livid.

One day, she told me the secret behind her cookies. She had perfected a chocolate chip cookie recipe based on a "Tollhouse recipe" she got from somewhere. She said she'd take the instructions off the back of a Nestle's wrapper, change some stuff around, and then "eye the dough as you go along." She was an amateur gourmet chef, and she knew her cooking well. One of the things she told me was that cooking "by touch and feel" or "by eye" was a lot more reliable than recipes right out of a book once you got used to it. While book recipes work 90% of the time, in her experience, a good eye of experience will also tell you, "That dough is a little too runny for something baking at this temperature..." Some days, you need to add more or less flour than usual if the humidity in your kitchen was extremely low or high. Another thing to consider is that not only is everyone's oven different, but cooking things in batches can change from batch to batch. The first batch of cookies take 10 minutes, the next might take 7, and the ones after that may take 12... you never know. Same dough, same sheets, and you'd never know. If you went by hard literal recipe and did 10 minutes each time: the first batch may be undercooked, the second burnt, the third maybe okay, the fourth burnt... you get the idea. "You can always cook more," she said, "not less." The same goes for adding salt.

After years of learning how to cook, I got that sixth sense as well. I forget how ingrained these lessons are until I cook, which is really rare these days due to my diet change. But as I baked the cookies, like a reflex took over. Here's how the batches went:

1st batch: I put down "7-9 minutes" in my recipe notes so I set the time for 7 minutes. It took about 12.

2nd batch: This batch took about 10 minutes. This is probably because the baking sheets were cold, and I was swapping them out, but the oven was starting to reach a steady level heat due to a large pizza stone I keep in the oven for just that purpose (If I don't have that, I store my cast iron skillets in the oven).

3rd batch: This batch took 8 minutes, probably because the baking sheet was still warm from batch 1.

4th batch: This took 6 minutes, but the edges were getting a little crispy and the middles were still too soft. The oven temp was the same, so this was probably because to dough was reaching room temp, and the pans were too hot.

5th batch: After storing the dough in the fridge between spooning them out and letting the sheets cool down longer, this batch took 10 minutes. I reached nirvana perfection in cookie consitency, and I swear I hear a choir sigh.

6th batch: I was getting to the bottom of the bowl, where chocolate chips tend to be thin. No matter how evenly I think I mix them, by the end, I really just have brown sugar cookies with maybe one chip in them. Cookies came out a little more crispy than I strive for after 10 minutes.

7th batch: I didn't care at this point, I just wanted to use the excess dough I was scraping from the bowl. I finished with one really long cookie with no chips in it at all. Oddly enough, these last cookies came out perfect after 12 minutes, evebn if they were a little short on chips.
 
 
 
Helena Handbasket: Cookingkellfire on December 17th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
Splendid Table on NPR did an interesting segment on the chemistry of cookies. Apparently flour these days has less protein than in the days of Tollhouse. And the water bonding with the protein is what causes spread (crisp) or rise (soft) cookies. They interviewed Shirley O. Corriher who wrote BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes

http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/store/?1416560785
Aurienneaurienne on December 17th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
My big discovery was weighing flour, so that 1 cup was always 5 oz. With our humidity, it often changes. (Also, we use King Arthur unbleached I think because the protein content is more precise or something -- Ironkite's the super-expert -- Cook's Illustrated has a lot of "food tech" if you're into that stuff. Harold McGee has even more -- way hardcore science. Fun to read in small bits, but overwhelms my little head very quickly.
Aynne: Yuleaynne_witch on December 18th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
baking cookies, bread, cakes etc is always part formula, part artistic touch

that's why there are good bakers, ok bakers and hockey puck makers heheheheheheh