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Jun 9, 2010 04:57 AM

The "rules" of cookie baking--how important are they?

I've always been very particular about making cookies, whisk dry ingredients, cream butter/sugar well, often to light and fluffy; butter/eggs at room temp, weigh ingredients, don't overbeat flour, etc. I love the results. My daughter made cookies by herself yesterday. I popped in periodically to watch. I came by as she dropped the flour right into cold eggs and butter (and white sugar) that she didn't cream well first. Mixed it all. Realized she forgot brown sugar. Added that at the end. I thought it was a little gummy so I added a large tablespoon of cornstarch. Result? The best chocolate chip cookies (nice chew on the outside, soft on the inside, bendy but not soft). Really? Have I been sticking to rules that really are unimportant?

What "rules" of cookie baking do you no longer follow because you found it made no difference? I'm wondering what would happen if I just put in all the ingredients and mixed.

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  1. I follow the rules closely, apart from the butter/eggs at room temperature thing (I tend to forget to keep them out), except if I am working with melted chocolate (nothing worse than seized chocolate when combined with cold eggs, as I found out the very first time).

    I once followed a cake recipe exactly, where they tell you to bung everything into a mixer bowl and beat. It seemed wrong, but I tried it anyway as it was a recipe by Michel Roux. It was one miserable mess; I could not even eat the mistake.

    4 Replies
    1. re: souschef

      I did the same thing w/ a cake recipe, even though it seemed wrong to me. I can't remember who it was from but someone I trusted. It was terrible.

      1. re: chowser

        I have pledged never to make a "one bowl" cake again.

        cookies - yeah, that's part of what makes them so loveable...they're tolerant. The only thing I ever worry about room temp eggs for is angel food cake.

        1. re: chowser

          Even worse than that is another Michel Roux recipe where you are supposed to take a cake out of the freezer and pour melted chocolate over it. Needless to say, I did not do it. Amazing, coming from a chef with multiple restaurants with 3 Michelin stars, and who has France's highest honours in pastry (MOF).

        2. re: souschef

          I forget where I learned this tip, but if you just put a bit of wax paper around butter and go to town on it with a rolling pin, it softens the butter in about 15 seconds. And it's rather satisfying in a primal sort of way, lol.

        3. I find cookies to be way more forgiving than most other baked goods.

          2 Replies
          1. re: visciole

            Definitely. Even as simple as timing--underbaking a cookie is fine but underbaking a cake doesn't work.

            1. re: visciole

              Shirley O. Corriher's "Cookwise" has an excellent section on cookies, which lays out the adjustments to use to create your preferred style of the same cookie recipe - e.g., thin and crisp, puffy and soft, etc. These can be minor changes in ingredients, method of mixing, baking time/temp, etc. Much more flexibility than with cake recipes. I assume the same material is covered in her later book, "Bakewise" - one Amazon review says it's almost identical.

            2. I think how we like our cookies are more subjective than how we like cakes. Some like soft and chewry, others crispy, therefore, rules are still important if we want the cookies to come out exactly the way we want them to. It would be interesting if you can duplicate the batch of chocolate chip cookies that you and your daughter made.

              2 Replies
              1. re: PBSF

                I don't think we could duplicate it. ;-) There was flour everywhere, after measuring, and who knows how much of everything she really did use, vs. what she thinks she did.

                1. re: PBSF

                  This was my reaction to the OP as well. Good cookie recipes are aiming for a certain type of cookie - change the recipe, change the cookie.

                  I once made the mistake of a spatula handle pushing up the temperature in the oven as I cooked a fruit crisp. Mistake=crispier top and chewier sides. No better or worse than the original, just different.

                  I don't think my cheesecake would be nearly so forgiving though (and in fact has already punished me for my transgressions on many an occasion).

                2. I hardly ever follow "rules" for cookies.

                  Think about it. Between the butter, sugar, chocolate (or whatever additions), eggs, etc., how can it not taste good.

                  And so if you don't cream enough, over emphasize one type of ingredient over another (baking soda for example), you'll just get a different texture in your cookie, but it'll still taste pretty darn good.

                  I have the same philosophy for cheesecakes. Even a bad cheesecake is still pretty darn tasty ... I mean, c'mon, sour cream, cream cheese, sugar, etc. is always going to be tasty.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Do you just throw everything in for cookies? I think I'm going to do it next time and see what happens. Maybe I've been anal retentive for nothing,

                    I feel the same way about cheeescakes, even ingredients. I've added extra blocks of cream cheese, eggs, sour cream and it's all turned out great.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Generally, yes.

                      Think about it for a minute, chowser. Those logs of frozen cookie dough that Nestle and other manufacturers make? Isn't that the same thing as throwing everything in at the same time? And, let's be honest, the cookies from frozen commercial doughs aren't all that bad.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        They also aren't all that good ;)

                        But I do subscribe to the hard-to-ruin-cookies theory.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Okay, I'm going to do side by side batches, one being anal retentive, the other just throwing caution to the wind. I'll use the NY Times recipe which is my favorite and let them rest overnight since that's my standard M.O. and compare. Maybe I'll have time this weekend and I'll report back.

                          1. re: chowser

                            I would like to participate in the tasting, please.

                            BTW what NYT recipe is your favorite?

                    2. Chower,

                      I believe these rules are useful for turning out certain cookies. There are certainly recipes which insist on using cold chunk butter to give them more texture and flakiness. The cookie rules you mentioned give consistent homogeneous texture. The steps your daughter follows give more heterogeneous texture.