My father was a rocket scientist. He didn’t cook or bake very often, but when he did, it was according to the laws of physics. People tell me I’m a good cook, but I don’t believe them. If I’m lucky, the meals I prepare will turn out fine, and I do try, but I haven’t a clue why sometimes things fail or how to make things better.
When it comes time to throw together snacks for Family Home Evening, I tend to lean on the old standards — brownies or chocolate chip cookies. I’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies for a very long time, in many kinds of climates and even at high altitudes. And they never seem to turn out the same way twice!
But beyond the brown sugar and love that make up my recipes is a big helping of science. So grab your kids and have them help make refreshments this week. Maybe they’ll even learn some chemistry!
Chocolate Chip Cookie Fixes
A recent post on OZY.com is aimed to remedy that. The article gives the scientific reasons for crumby and chewy, crisp and flaky, so the baker can decide how to suit the tastes of the picky eaters in the family or at the church function. OZY also has links to a number of other sites that teach cookie science, so you can go even deeper into the tricks of the kitchen.
The starting point was, of course, the all-American Toll House Cookie as Nestle has transcribed it through decades of chocolate chip sales. Here are some scientific hints for changing the texture of the old standard according to what you perceive is wrong. Here’s the original Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe. Ooey-gooey: Add 2 cups more flour.
A nice tan: Set the oven higher than 350 degrees (maybe 360). Caramelization, which gives cookies their nice brown tops, occurs above 356 degrees, says the Ted video.
Crispy with a soft center: Use 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
Chewy: Substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour. Just like store-bought: Trade the butter for shortening. Arias notes that this ups the texture but reduces some flavor; her suggestion is to use half butter and half shortening. Thick (and less crispy): Freeze the batter for 30 to 60 minutes before baking. This solidifies the butter, which will spread less while baking. Find more fixes at OZY.
And then there’s the brownies. Even using a boxed mixed, things don’t always come out the way I’d like. FineCooking.com has the following to say:
Make them how you like them. Whether a brownie ends up dense and fudgy, moist and chewy, or light and cakey depends on the amounts of chocolate, butter, sugar, and flour.
OK, how about some concrete advice? The website not only has an interactive way to create your own brownie recipe, but it has three basic brownie recipes — one for cakey brownies, one for chewy brownies, and one for fudgy brownies. See them adapted below:
- 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
- 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature; more for the pan
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. light corn syrup
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup milk, lukewarm
- 2-1/4 oz. (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- Pinch salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over boiling water. Set aside. Butter an 8″ square pan, line with parchment paper and butter the paper. In a bowl, mash the butter with a fork, and add the corn syrup and sugar, mixing until smooth.
Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and then the milk and vanilla. Whisk in the melted chocolate. Blend dry ingredients together thoroughly in a separate bowl, then add to chocolate mixture. Add any goodies now — nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, cherries, candy pieces, whatever, and stir in.
Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake 20 – 30 minutes until inserted toothpick comes out clean (glass pans need to be in the oven longer than metal ones). Cool until the brownies can be handled and tip out of the pan and then invert onto a serving plate and cut into squares. Brownies are more chewy when you add more flour, and more fudgy when you add some semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate.