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Michael Ohene

Cookie Recipe Creator

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Hello,

I'm sure everyone has thought about this at one point in their life. A way to create cookie recipes based on sweetness and richness. I just finished writing an app create-a-cookie that lets novices create their own cookie recipes. The directions are in beta stage, meaning the information is correct but needs some polishing.

I would like to know what you all think of the app. I know there will be plenty of criticisms. A few notes about the app:

1. I may include a small batch mode for creating small quantities (e.g. 0.75 cups flour vs. 1.5 cups).

2. The recipes are not geared towards standard recipes, (i.e. no pie crust with vodka)

3. The app has a built in converter

Let me here from you, however intrigued or shocked you may be.

best,

Michael

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It won't be very useful if you're using volume measurement, as indicated in your post, instead of weight measurement. You should read The Kitchen Scale Manifesto.

What sort of conversions will the converter be performing?

And, how much experience do you have in tweaking cookie recipes? Sugar affects spread and browning as well as sweetness....

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Thanks Lisa,

I received some great specific feedback last time on my previous webtool, so I definitely welcome the feedback.

1. Your question about mass vs. volume (or more appropriately mass vs. volume vs. density) is a question about standard recipes themselves which my differ due to types of butter,flour, eggs, oven, etc used. Your statement is very broad and opens up a big can of worms, but in short, I have checked the figures and they work. If you can find something specific that is wrong, that is intrinsic in my tool and not recipes in general, I am all ears.

2. I can't make a webtool for weight-based recipes for people who don't use recipes. Many people use recipes as guides, so to aim at the non-critical precision (not accuracy) you suggest would be moot.

3. What conversions will the converter be performing? You should read my website.

4. You are right about sweetness,so the question is whether the changes in sweetness given by my webtool are acceptable or not.

-Michael

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You are making a website for people who by definition are following you as some sort of cookie formula expert. You can't say that you are a leader, guiding them to great results through formulas, then in the same breath say that actually accuracy is irrelevant. Good data defines a software application. Bad data makes software worthless.

Putting aside regional differences in protein content, a "cup" of AP flour can weigh anywhere from 3.5oz to 6.9oz depending on how the person measuring handles their tools, and, if their cup is accurate or not. (a lot of measuring cups/spoons sold in the US are not accurate) This is why when homemakers use old-fashioned volumetric recipes one person's cookies are vastly different from another person's cookies even though they used the same recipe.

At the beginning of my course of classes, I have students measure out a 'cup of flour' and then we weigh them. I have seen hundreds of different numbers as results. However, since one person's 'hand' is often consistent, they can get similar results for themselves over and over again -but no one else may be able to duplicate their work. This is why test kitchens use lots of people (CI uses in-house testers and a crew of 5,000 home testers) to test and retest 'recipe tolerance.' I'd like to hear more details about the tests that your group ran on your recipes.

I wasn't aware that there were so many types of chicken eggs. The ratio of yolk/white is fairly consistent across most sizes, but, in a commercial setting we weigh the yolk and white separately, which is the only accurate way to have a consistent result. I'd like to hear more about your concerns over the differences in eggs, in detail.

Unsalted butter is also fairly consistent throughout the US, at 20% water and 80% fat/solids. What are the differences you have encountered with butters, and why is volume measure more accurate than weight because of these differences?

Ovens differ, but, there are oven thermometers for sale to the public. And, time and temperature are given in recipes because they affect outcomes in important ways.

There may be minor variations in ingredients, but, that doesn't invalidate weight-based measurement for formulating baking recipes. Volume recipes were the innovation of the late 19th century. We moved on to better, more accurate and consistent methods decades ago.

Anyway, most ingredients in a cookie affect several parameters for which changing would change results. Not all of these parameters are covered in your selection options. So, your list doesn't sync up with even the most basic baking texts.

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I have to agree with what Lisa Shock says, and add that the absence of weight-based measures would be a criterion for my not even considering using such an app. The basic concept sounds interesting, so it'd be a shame to not go the extra miles, and make it something that helps people achieve consistent and reproducible results.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Okay thanks for your input Lisa and Michaela, I think I will move on for the following reasons b/c there is definitely a misunderstanding. The thread has become conceptual and I don't believe it is possible to reach people on a conceptual level, it is only possible factually.

1.I don't want a weight vs. volume argument. If a reply is off topic it's better to prvate message me, rather than discuss a topic that is a facsimile of 10s of other threads. My original question: is your concern with the recipe format that the majority of Americans use or with something intrinsic in my app? Because I can't build an application for a minority of the population unless it's by request.

2. I think you feel I am an iconclast here to desecrate the standard of weight based measurements. Honestly, if we were to discuss the topic of weight, which I am not, I would say that density (grams per volume) matters the most(i.e. 120grams of flour is not 120grams of flour, it is precise but not accurate). 120grams can be 1 cup sifted or it can be 0.83 Cups unsifted, hence a 120g measurement could mean many different things, and would probably be unacceptable for making a biscuit. But will it result in a valid baked good is the only important question?

3.To Mjx: Actually the web app does deal with weight. There is actually no way to tell what standard(volume/weight) the app deals with since "cups" can simply be a conversion from grams. You would have to understand how it was programmed first.

If you want to test it, you can generate a recipe and use the same app convert to grams, then scale up or down to compare it to one of your recipes.

4.You mentioned weight-based measurements are not invalidated by "minor variations", but earlier you held me to the higher standard of "duplication." I am not attempting duplication. It is actually impossible to say I don't meet the standards of validation unless you hasve test the app or you know the bounds of validation.

No, a gas oven does not cook bread the same as a convection oven, the outside textures are completely different. This is why they carry differing cooking times for the same temperature. Again, this is a flaw with standard recipes.

5.Accuracy is important in the finished product. The way I did the calculations uses a method called products and another mathematical method called ensemble vs. time series. I did this first by establishing a characterization of baked goods. This allows one to group baked goods based on recipes; it also establishes a range and tolerances through the products procedure. It says if you have, say, a cookie you can add ingredients to a certain point and still have a cookie.

Establishing the characterization/product was done through linear equations.

Next, the ensemble. If a recipe given volumetrically is well-approved (say, 1200 reviews with 96% approval/3.67 rating) , that is a vindication that the recipe works. This can be interpretted as, despite the variations, the recipe worked. This situation where almost 1200 people make an acceptable baked good is mathematically equivalent to one person using differing measuring techniques, still yield, not a duplicate, but a satisfactory baked good. If 1000 people use a recipe and 962 love it, that's good.

To verify this method, I had to make sure that all the recipes that were outside my ranges were given bad reviews, which they were.

You probably can not replicate the study, because I used a text web browser, lynx, to acquire some of the ratings. But some sites have since blocked the rating from being displayed in the lynx browser.

6. There are other factors in a cookie? I whole heartly disagree. The slight variations from the chosen salt content is what mathematicians call negligible, the recipe may not have the same kick, but it will not become invalid. The sugar level is fairly constant, all chocolate cookies (or any specific variety of baked good) have a standard salt, sweetness range, i.e. large variations like unsweetened chocolate chip cookies, super salty butter cookies do not exist, therefore the sugar content can be considered a fixed ratio and eliminated.

Example: For every passenger on a train, there are two shoes. Is it necessary to explicitly count the number of shoes given the number of passengers on a train? The answer is no.

This is not so for butter, because there are different variations in richness within each group (e.g. chocolate chip, oatmeal cookies, brownies, etc.)

bye.

best,

Michael

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Hm. I was responding to:

. . . .

Let me here from you, however intrigued or shocked you may be.

I didn't intend to mount an attack on what is clearly a substantial project. But the thing is, even novice bakers want consistency in results, and since they are novice bakers, they don't yet have a feel for ingredient adjustments, so they rely even more heavily on recipe accuracy than more experienced bakers; weight simply delivers better consistency than volume. Cook's Illustrated, which caters to cooks and bakers at every level does include weights for this reason.

I'm not saying the inclusion of weights is a 'must', but it is my opinion that it would be exceptionally valuable... and opinions were what you asked for!


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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America is the only major country in the world where publishers do not print recipes with weight-based measurement. As such, Americans are the minority in insisting on using volumetric measurement. The Internet serves the world, not just Americans.

Your paragraph 2 has flawed assumptions. Sifting has a very specific purpose. I strongly recommend that you read Rose Levy Berebaum's Masters' thesis on the topic. Sort answer: yes you will get great biscuits by using weight-based measurement then sifting. Commercial bakeries around the world, including the US, do it every day. That's the standard procedure for baking as taught in virtually every baking program around the world. One would never sift then measure, it doesn't happen, so density isn't an issue.

Cups are not a simple conversion from grams. A 'cup of flour' can be anything from 99.2233 to 195.611 grams.

Yes, ingredients can have variations. But, all you are doing by using wildly inaccurate measurements is adding to the chaos not ameliorating it.

Your research sample... is that a group of people you had controls set up for and ran measured tests with, or, did you just grab all the recipes off someplace like allrecipescom and hope for honesty in people's posted comments? -Because I don't see how a web browser is at all relevant to a person running their own tests. And, I don't don't trust online ratings much at all unless I personally know the rater, their work and what guidelines they are following. I follow ACF standards, and, I am an ACF competition judge. What standards did you impose?

To your claim that there are no other factors involved in cookie production ignores the accepted industry parameters of whether a cookie is soft like Archway, crisp like Oreo or spritz, or chewy like many oatmeal cookie. These categories are critical for most consumers when deciding to buy a cookie, and most consumers prefer to purchase cookies in one of the categories based upon personal preference. I subscribe to industry trade journals and see currant market research regularly. But, you heartily disagree, so, so be it.

Most good baking texts show options for tweaking various recipes to change results. And, most trained pastry chefs are educated enough to be able to calculate various results, like the tenderness of the crumb of a product by seeing the weight of eggs in a formula. I suggest you look into some basic education on the subject of baking. How Baking Works is a good place to begin.

I have to agree with Mjx. If I ran across your site on my own, I'd leave as soon as I saw the volumetric measurement.

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Okay, you got me.

Are you saying it is best to display the grams first instead of giving the option for conversion?

Would it be very complicated to do what CI does, which is to give the weight beside the volume measurements? Giving the option for conversion feels less reliable to me.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Would it be very complicated to do what CI does, which is to give the weight beside the volume measurements? Giving the option for conversion feels less reliable to me.

I agree to easy to foul it up...


Edited by heidih Fix quote tags (log)

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Given the garbage quality of the kitchen scales I see, I wouldn't bank on weight being more reliable, consistent OR accurate than volume.

Aside from that, lets say you have a rock solid reliabe scale:

at what level do you cut off from weight & shift back to volume? 1/4 cup? 2T ? 1/8 tsp?

And how do you know your 1/4 tsp measure is the same as mine?

The 5 I have are all different one from the other.

So, test the app already, as it stands, then make your argument(s).


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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My kitchen scale, sourced on ebay for $39, measures to 0.01g.

Kouign Aman is correct in that most measuring cups/spoons sold in the US to home users vary in size from brand to brand. Commercial cups, made for liquid measurement, are more accurate but that's because commercial producers are accountable to their states' weights and measures departments who inspect and verify commercial products.

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Sourced? or purchased? Or even bought?

Is it reproducible?

Mine claims one gram but its fooling itself. I put it at +- 50.

So,you are cooky maker who isnt familiar enough with cookies to make up your own recipe. You are therefore looking for an app. You are first going to drop $40 on a scale?

Doubtful.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Most cooks outside of the US, aka most of the Internet using world population, already own a scale. It's considered to be a basic kitchen tool in most of the civilized world.

I bought mine for actual money on eBay. This was a few years back. (2007, IIRC) It replaced an older one purchased in 1983 for $16. The exact model is no longer available. HERE is one for a similar price, with a similar weight range. If you are persistent, interesting things do appear on eBay from time to time. I wouldn't be surprised to see a better deal.

Someone in the US who has baked a lot of cookies but is dissatisfied and wants to customize results is probably already heavily invested in kitchen equipment and has probably gotten wind of the whole baking/science meme. Chances are, if they don't already own a scale, they know that they should have one. Cook's Illustrated has started using weight-based measurement and recommending scales.

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Most cooks outside of the US, aka most of the Internet using world population, already own a scale. It's considered to be a basic kitchen tool in most of the civilized world.

Precisely, which means that accurate, reliable scales are available at most price points, making them a worthwhile investment for anyone who think they might bake even just twice a year, unless they're feeling really indifferent to results. If something is unreliable, you return it.

Cook's Illustrated has started using weight-based measurement and recommending scales.

In their magazine, which is definitely not targeted at the experienced cook or baker alone, they've been using weights at least as far back as 2002.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Given that it's trivial to get weights instead of measures with the app, I don't see what all the fuss on that front is.

However, I find the app disconcerting to use.

1) When I change the settings for richness/sweetness, the batch size changes - sometimes significantly. I don't really have a use for recipes that call for 7 eggs, 8 cups of flour and 50 tablespoons of butter.

2) I don't seem to be able to manually change the batch size - I tend to make new recipes in a 1-egg batch (assuming that everything else scales easily) because I don't want to have to get rid of mediocre cookies or waste ingredients.

3) It doesn't seem repeatable. I can't get the same recipe out again if I've misplaced the copy I made. I can't even get a similar recipe out. I once got a chocolate chip recipe that called for cornmeal and I thought "Oh, that's an interesting idea. I'd like to try that rich, and not so sweet" - as soon as I changed a setting, the recipe was gone, never to be seen again.

Being able to look at a list of ingredients and pick a few, and pick an ingredient to standardize the recipe size around would be helpful. So I might like to say "I'd like a medium-rich, very sweet sugar cookie with ground almonds, but I only have 30 grams of almonds to use up." The drop-down boxes make it look like you can do that, but none of the other ingredients seem to change when I make my own adjustments.

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Volumetric recipes are extremely unreliable. If a person considers wasting time and money to be a trivial matter, than accurate weight would be irrelevant for them.

It's a basic principle in programming: GIGO. If the data you are processing is unreliable, then your results are unreliable.

I'm also not convinced that the author has actually tested his premise and made the recipes then altered the ingredients to check results. (aka basic research) It appears that he just took a bunch of recipes and is using a simple if/then algorithm to swap them out whole cloth. The work doesn't look like any of the textbook formulas where you see minor adjustments or substitutions to specific ingredients to change parameters like spread, loft, tenderness, chewiness, crispness, flakiness, etc. When I asked about his tests, I got a reply about software, no word about any hands-on experience with baking or chemistry.

Then there's the issue relying on online consumer reviews of amateur recipes to describe questionable results. There's a reason why many of us here are selective about what websites we trust to source recipes from. The sites that have professionals test and restest before publication (CI, the old Gourmet, Epicurious, etc.) have reliable formulas. Many home-user oriented sites have voting systems that are easy to manipulate into accepting multiple votes from the same computer. (people can also get their friends and family to vote up their submissions) And, many of the submitted recipes may be competent, but, they often aren't the best possible representation of the form. (is it an ok oatmeal cookie like the ones my mom who hates to cook makes, or an award-winning remarkably delicious one?)

I don't think a meta-analysis of a site like allrecipes.com (or whatever) would be a useful exercise, and I wouldn't waste my time and money gambling on the recipes the OP has chosen to promote.

If the site used accurate measurements and up-to-date data on the chemistry of ingredients and their interactions (like some of the charts in MC) it might be a useful tool. After all, we have a lot more hard scientific data available to us now than ever before. But, I am getting the impression that the author hasn't explored the chemistry he is trying to describe.

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All, Okay, I understand the grams argument. thank you.

ElaineK, you have very good points, and I will definitely alter the app.

1) About the 8 eggs, I can definitely, eliminate those extreme cases. They existed because they produce unique recipes that can't be scaled down cleanly. I will curtail the emphasis on randomness, i.e. generated all recipes and focus on practical recipes.

2)You have a good point about the small batches. Okay.

3)Saving the values of the previous input is a great suggestion. This will take some reconfiguring, but I want this too.

4) Choosing the ingredients. Another great suggestion. I can change this.

About the useless pull down menu, I have received another suggestion about the same topic. This is definitely a cornerstone of design, "only show the user what is necessary." I will fix this too.

Michael

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Could be. None of my family members cook with a scale (in England or Australia).

I get the argument for why its a good idea (tho my flour weight is different from yours, because of local humidity).

However, "Someone in the US who has baked a lot of cookies but is dissatisfied and wants to customize results is probably already heavily invested in kitchen equipment and has probably gotten wind of the whole baking/science meme."

maybe. Or maybe they do what I do, and what my friends do, and what my inspiration did, and just go mix things together without bothering with an app, since if they have baked a lot of cookies, they've learned a lot about the effects of various changes, and are willing to bake one or more test cookies along the way.

anyway, whatever. you arent going to test the guys app for him and I'm not either because I dont use apps nor any longer bake cookies enough to care, and he's mellow about it, so there we are!


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Most cooks outside of the US, aka most of the Internet using world population, already own a scale. It's considered to be a basic kitchen tool in most of the civilized world.

I would like to completely disagree with this point. It is simply not true that everyone except Americans cooks by weight. Even in the UK where recipes are given by weight, I know many people who make estimates when they follow recipes as they don't have a scale, or they can't be bothered to use the one tucked in the back of their cupboard. And in daily non-recipe-from-a-book cooking, people all over the world often have tea cup, a mug, a small bowl or whatver that they grab to make rough measures. The exceptions are avid bakers and people on a diet who are counting calories in a painfully accurate way.

Of course, you can usually get away with volume with non-baking recipes. I mean, if the potatoes in your veg stew are a little bit larger or a little bit smaller, it's not going to scupper the whole dish. But with baking, it does tend to mess things up as baking seems to me to be more of a science than an art and a little more or less of an ingredient here and there can completely ruin a dish. So yes, I do agree with you here that baking and other recipes where absolutely correct proportions are extremely important should be done by weight.

However, doesn't stop many many people from cooking from, sharing and writing volume based recipes. So I guess the question for the OP is are you aiming at casual cooks who like to make cookies regularly but aren't too serious about it in terms of equipment and such? Or are you aiming at serious bakers who are looking for completely accurate results.

My suggestion is that you base all of the calculations on weight and recommend that people follow this. That way the cookies should come out perfectly if the user follows the instructions fully. Then you could put in a volume converter for the (large) number of people without a scale, but warn people that results are not as reliable.

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Just another voice in wilderness ... I no longer buy cookbooks, especially pastry books, that omit weight measurements. Part of the reason is political: these publishers need to stop being jackasses and just get a clue. Part is that I don't want to be bothered with inferior recipes, and with reverse-engineering the weights and tweaking the formulas. There are enough high end professional sources that use weight. I'll use them.

To attempt a software-based baking forumula calculator that's based on volume would be a fail before the project even starts. I would simply ignore it.

On the other hand, if the software included a feature to translate final results into (approximated) volume measurements, for those who don't have a scale, that would be completely reasonable, and probably necessary if it's to find a popular audience.


Notes from the underbelly

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ElaineK

1. I got rid of the massive amounts of ingredients

2. I have implemented scaling

3. Saving recipes, is best done through bookmarking. I have a "save recipes" cookie jar but it is cleared after you close your browser. The "cookie jar" is also a little quirky, so bookmarking is your best bet.

4.This is a glitch in the printout of some values e.g. "1/2 tsp + 1/8 tsp" is displayed as "tsp (0.625)". It's manageable but needs to be fixed later on.

The app has cool features you'll like and its quite fun to use.

cheers.


Edited by Michael Ohene (log)

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