C is for cookie, and that’s (not quite) good enough for me.

Why are some chocolate chip cookies chewy, flat, crispy, puffy, soft, etc? The secret is in the food science. 

Freshly baked, and studded with gooey chocolate pockets, who doesn’t love a good chocolate chip cookie? This weekend I made a batch to welcome my brothers-in-law to our house.  Warm, puffy, and right out of the oven, the tasty beauties beckoned for sinful snacking. I pulled the first batch out of the oven on Friday afternoon, and by Saturday evening my big pile of cookies was reduced to crumbs!

Chocolate chip cookies was one of the first recipes I tested in the kitchen. I started with a tried-and-true formula, then experimented! I added (or removed) an egg, swapped granulated sugar for brown sugar, poured in a splash of milk, creamed cold butter with sugar, (and creamed really warm butter with sugar) – I tried lots of iterations.  For most cookie-bakers, a couple of warm cookies and a glass of milk would be a rewarding end to the experiments, but I wasn’t satisfied until I could pinpoint which ingredients caused different finished attributes. After much testing, and a little reading, I’m finally satisfied! A few secrets to share…

  • Want a puffier cookie?  Start with room temperature, but still slightly cool, butter (your finger should just leave an imprint when pressed into the wrapper). Only slightly cream butter with sugar – cookies will not retain their shape if too much creaming occurs. Chill dough prior to baking.
  • A flat/chewy cookie? Use a higher proportion of brown sugar to granulated sugar. The molasses in the brown sugar will add extra chew. Incorporate a lot of air during creaming – this will cause a “spreading” effect when the cookies bake. Underbaking yields chewier cookies as well.
  • A softer cookie? Use a recipe that is higher in moisture, and lower in fat/sugar. Recipes with hygroscopic ingredients like honey, molasses, and corn syrup help make a soft cookie. The hygroscopic ingredients grab and retain moisture. Also, use bigger drops of dough to help retain moisture during baking.

A Food Science tid-bite: To keep cookies soft, store in an airtight container with a slice of moist bread. This is an amazing little trick, which demonstrates moisture migration brilliantly. The moisture from the bread will migrate to the cookies, leaving the bread dry and cookies soft. 


Source: Wayne Gisslen. Professional Baking Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1985, 1994.

3 thoughts

  1. As one of the said “brothers-in-law”, I will be (and was) the first to rave about the homemade cookies. Soft, but not too soft. Firm, but not hard. Good weight in-hand. Extra delicious when eaten warm. Well done, Mary, well done!

  2. Hi Mary, my 4th grade son just did a science fair project about the moisture migration from bread to cookies. We thought hard about how to test the cookies for softness/moisture in a measurable way…tried a few things but were not really successful (including a balsa-wood-and-thumbtack device with weights…uh, nope!). My son ended up just writing down his observations about how at first, the non-bread cookies were soft all the way through and bent eaily, then over time, their edges became crisper, and they stopped bending as easily, ultimately snapping rather than bending in half. Would the angle achieved by bending (measured at the point where the cookie snapped) be a good measure? Just wondering about your thoughts, if indeed you are still thinking about cookies in 2014. 🙂 Thanks and I will have fun exploring your blog!

    1. What a clever experiment! Sounds like you might have a future foodie (or food scientist? 😉 ) on your hands! I’m impressed by the work your 4th grader has completed. While I experiment loads with cookies at home, I’ve not done much work professionally with cookie tenderness. I am familiar with a few machines which analyze food products using method similar to your at-home balsa wood/thumbtack simulation. This type of equipment can measure break point, brittleness, crispness, toughness, snap, etc, and can be used to analyze many products industrially (think ice cream cones, wafers, crackers, etc). I think you’re right on with challenging your 4th grader to record his observations (the angle at break point is a good measure to track). Just remind him to try to keep is experiment as controlled as possible! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.