by Martin Murmel
What was invented centuries ago, derives its name from the Dutch language, has its own, dedicated container and a hairy monster?
It is the cookie, of course.
Outside North America, all crisp cookies are called biscuits. Only a particular type of round bake is called a cookie (chocolate chip, for instance).
In the UK, Ireland and Australia the cookie jar is a biscuit tin.
For example, an Orio in the US is two cookies with a sweet filling in between while the same thing is called an Orio biscuit in the rest of the English speaking world.
Sometimes the term is used interchangeably, and it is not always clear what is what.
That's the way the cookie crumbles.
You never know what exactly is going to happen, but you have to accept the outcome - just like each cookie crumbles in innumerable different ways.
We could consider the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato the forerunners of the cookie crumbling concept.
They observed that reality and idea usually don't match.
Only the theory can be perfect; the reality of the same idea always turns out differently.
An example is making cookies from an identical, perfectly shaped mold. In theory, every cookie should look the same, but we all know this doesn't happen in reality.
Each baked cookie looks slightly different from the previous one regardless of how careful you fill the mold.
That's just how the cookie crumbles.
There is only a handful of ingredients you need to make a delicious cookie.
- Egg & Liquids
- Raising agent or Leavener
You can combine those with other flavoring ingredients like chocolate, dried fruits (raisins, dates), vanilla, fresh fruits (like blueberries or cherries), nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashew), spices (cinnamon, cardamom), and many many more.
The most common type for baking is the all-purpose flour.
Depending on the desired outcome, you might need to use bread flour (more proteins) or cake flour (more starch).
There is also glutenfree flour available for coeliac-friendly cookies.
Your choice of butter, margarine or shortening will influence the flavor and spreadability of your cookies.
The fat melts in the baking process, therefore the more you add to your dough the flatter and crispier your cookies will get. Less fat produces puffier and taller ones.
Butter cookies spread very well and have a crumbly texture and rich taste (for example, shortbread).
Due to a higher melting temperature, cookies made with shortening will hold their shape much better and result in a firmer, crispier texture.
Oils usually don't work well.
Beside the sweetening, the sugar performs other essential functions in baking. Due to the high heat, the sugar crystals melt in the oven and help the dough to spread. They slowly caramelize and make the cookie crisp and crunchy.
Replacing granulated sugar (white or brown) with honey, maple syrup, molasses or agave syrup is tricky business. If you add liquid sweetener, you have to reduce other liquids (egg for instance) by the same amount. Otherwise, your cookie will be soggy.
To produce chewy cookies, you should use brown sugar (and some liquid sweetener) and underbake the dough slightly.
The high sugar content also increases the shelf life of cookies considerably.
Eggs & Liquids
They add richness to the mixture and bind all ingredients.
Using just the egg yolk will make the cookie crispier while the white result in dryer versions like the French macaroon or Italian biscotti.
Sometimes it might be necessary to add a tablespoon of water (or other liquids like juice) to the dough to make it more spreadable.
Raising Agent or Leavener
To make proper cookies, you need baking soda or baking powder or both. They increase the volume and make for a lighter final product.
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and there to neutralize the acidity of the dough (a process which produces the bubbles in baked goods).
Baking powder contains bicarbonate of soda and a mild acidic component (e.g. cream of tartar). The alkaline and acidic components will get activated when you introduce a liquid to the dough (and cause the dough to rise).
Baking the Dough
All ingredients should have the same room temperature.
Mix them well but don't overwork the dough.
Sometimes it can be helpful to refrigerate or even freeze the portioned dough before the baking. For example, cut-out cookies will keep their shape and definition much better this way.
The baking temperature is given in each recipe and depends on the type of cookie. It is advisable to invest in an oven thermometer to get this part right. Due to the thin and delicate nature of the cookies, they easily overbake and burn.
The baking time is slightly different for each cookie recipe.
Don't rely just on the timer. Check the state of the baking process regularly through the oven window. If they look the right color (usually light golden), they are most likely done.
Another useful (and cheap) investment is a cooling rack. If you leave the cookies on the hot baking tray, they will still bake even when the oven is turned off. Moving them to a cooling rack will ensure the right crispness and texture.
Get creative - decorating Cookies
Your imagination is the limit, but:
Always let the cookies fully cool before you add any decorating.
You can make it as simple or elaborate as you wish.
Many decorations can be done by or with your kids to involve them in the cookie making process.
You could start with some sprinkling, use food colors to paint or make frosting and icings for more luxurious toppings.
Seasonal themes like Easter eggs, Halloween faces or Christmas trees create the right spirit in the house.
Let your creativity get the better of you. Nobody is judging.
Rules of thumb for cookie baking
Always use the best ingredients you can afford.
Make sure to measure all ingredients correctly.
The amount of flour and fat should be roughly 2:1
The amount of fat and sugars should be roughly the same.
Use approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of raising agent for each cup of liquid or flour.
To get an even bake, use a tool (like an ice cream scoop) to portion the dough.
A non-stick baking sheet will help to remove the cookies from the baking tray easily.
Only decorate once the cookies are thoroughly cooled down.
Give it a go.
Imagine your homebaked cookies, dunked in a glass of milk or a cup of tea, melting slowly in your mouth.
Enjoy in moderation and let the cookie monster guide you:
"Cookies are a sometimes food."