Cookie Chemistry



Ever wonder what part fats, sugars and other ingredients play in creating the perfect cookie?  Consider: 



The fats used in cookies can include butter, shortening or margarine.  Since butter melts the minute it hits a hot oven, cookies made with butter will spread more than those made with margarine or shortening.  Taste is also a factor in the butter versus shortening/margarine debate.  Most experts generally will prefer butter over margarine or shortening when it comes to baking, typically it will give you a better flavor to your baked goods.

If you decide to use margarine, make sure that you use the stick type of margarine, not the margarines that come in a tub.  The tub type margarine contains oil and are too soft for baking.  What about salted versus unsalted butter?  It really doesn’t make a difference, whatever you happen to have on hand.  Just be aware that salted butter has about ¼ teaspoon of salt, so adjust you’re the salt in your recipe accordingly.



Recipes specify what type of sugar to use in your cookies.  All sugars will bring sweetness to the cookie, but different sugars will add different qualities to the cookies.  White granulated sugar produces the crispiest texture, while brown sugar adds color and will produce a more “chewy” cookie.  Using powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar in a cookie recipe will reduce the amount of flour that is needed in a cookie and thus producing a light and airy cookie.  The “Mexican Wedding Cookie” is a fine example of this concept.  Lots of butter, powdered sugar, ground nuts and very little flour, produce a melt-in-your-mouth cookie.  Specialty sugars such as turbinado or coarse crystal sugars can be used to add a great crunch to the outside of cookies, but should not be substituted for granulated or brown sugar in a cookie recipe.



Bread flour, pastry flour and cake flour are all used frequently in baking.  However, most experts agree that for cookies, all-purpose flour yields the best results.  In terms of all-purpose, there are two varieties – bleached and unbleached flour.  For years there has been a debate regarding what type of all-purpose flour, bleached or unbleached, yields the best cookies.  There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that one or the other type of flour is better for making cookies.


Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Most cookie recipes require at least baking soda or baking powder or both.  Which one depends on the other ingredients in the cookie.  Baking soda usually produces a crisper cookie and requires an acidic ingredient such as cocoa, buttermilk or molasses to activate it.  Baking powder, which produces a more “chewier” cookie does not.



Vanilla is a typical flavoring that is added to lots of cookies and baked goods.  The most common varieties are pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla extract.  There is a significant cost difference between pure vanilla and the imitation vanilla extract.  If possible, use pure vanilla extract in your cookies, it definitely adds a much better flavor to your cookies.




Source:  McClatchy – Athens Banner Herald – December 10, 2008