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Why can't I make chewy cookies?


Sobaicecream
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Hi everyone. I have this cookie-making dilemna that refuses to be solved: my cookies think they're cakes... or muffin tops. Every time.

I love cakes and muffins. But when I bake cookies, I like them chewy. If I wanted to make muffins, I'd make muffins.

I've tried tons of different chewy cookie recipes--Cook's Illustrated, Alton Brown's, etc.--but every time, my cookies come out light and fluffy.

The only thing I can think of that is ruining the outcome is that I always drastically cut back on the amount of sugar. I like my cookies barely sweeet, so I usually half the amount of sugar called for. Is this the root of my problem? But I figure that cakes use tons of sugar, so surely that can't be it. Would it help if I used molasses instead of sugar?

And although I thought whipping up a batch of cookie dough is pretty straightforward, is there actually a certain technique? Perhaps I am stirring my ingredients too long or not long enough.

Would appreciate any advice or even guesses!

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Halving the sugar could certainly change texture that much. Sugar isn't only there to add sweetness - it also helps make a cookie chewy as well. I'm not well versed enough in chemistry to suggest how to fix your cookies, but the easy fix would be to start with recipes that aren't as sweet to begin with so you don't need to change them so drastically.

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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Hi tejon,

:sad: Oh dear, so I guess my quest for a chewy not-so-sweet cookie might be a hopeless one. It was dumb of me to think I could change a recipe so much and not suffer the consequences--and I suffer them often, being a compulsive tinkerer.

I love your avatar, by the way. Is that your son? He looks so sweet (from what I can make out behind that giant Chinese(?) spoon! :raz:)

Will heed your advice though and search for a lower-sugar recipe. Thanks again!

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Thanks! That's my three year old, Arden, slurping up some miso soup. :biggrin:

There's nothing wrong with tinkering - all recipes come from someone messing with ingredients in some way or another. The trick is to find out enough about how all the ingredients work together so the final result is what you hoped for in the first place. Baking is far closer to pure chemistry than any other type of cooking, so more knowledge really helps.

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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Arden (lovely name)! A boy with good taste. I love miso soup too.

You're right, a person should have at least a rough idea of the science behind baking before they start messing around. I definitely should not be allowed to tinker (some would even go so far as to say I should not be allowed in the kitchen... but we won't get into that), but I just can't help myself! :biggrin:

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I'm sure someone will provide some more technical details soon, but basically, sugar is hygroscopic, or it absorbs water. The result of halving it would be to make your cookies drier, therefore less moist, which a chewy cookie would have to be. Next time you halve the sugar in a recipe, be sure to halve the flour, eggs, butter and other ingredients as well. :raz:

But seriously, I wonder if using honey (or corn syrup) in place of some sugar will allow you to reduce the total amount of sugar, since it adds moisture as well?

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Try experimenting with different types of fat combinations in the recipe: butter, shortening, oil. I remember reading somewhere that the type of fat makes a difference in crispy vs. chewy cookies, but of course I can never remember which one does which.....................

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En route to finding the desired chewiness in your cookie recipes, try some experimentation:

*Reduce the flour content by 15-20%;

*Use shortening (or unsalted margarine -- definitely wouldn't be my choice, but might be an option you'd like) which would provide for a chewier texture than that imparted by butter;

*Substitute liquid invert sugar for the granulated type: consider using corn syrup, honey, glucose for about 10% of the sugar weight; the baker's general rule-of-thumb for interchaging sugar types is 7/8 cup honey for 1 cup granulated, 3/4 cup maple syrup per 1 cup granulated..but, beware! You could be risking imbalances in the recipe due to acidity & moisture changes -- not least of all, taste;

*Remove the cookies from the oven & sheets just before they've finished baking and immediately transfer them onto cooling grids;

"Dinner is theater. Ah, but dessert is the fireworks!" ~ Paul Bocuse

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Thank you for that quick lesson on sugar, Rachel! I love it when I learn that seemingly innocuous ingredients like sugar have such important jobs, like being hygroscopic! Definitely a new word. :biggrin:

I was glad to hear that you might consider using a liquid sweetner to be a possible solution to reduced-sugar cookies (ugh, I generally am not partial to the word "reduced" in recipes). I suppose the main problem would be that the dough could turn pretty liquid and might not sit in obedient little mounds on the cookie sheet. I hestitate to even consider this but...would nixing the egg(s) from a cookie recipe have diastrous effects? (And would the taste be horrendously altered?)

I tried to search online for exactly what job eggs play in cookie dough but was rater unsuccessful. Anyone know the answer to that one?

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Oh! I was writing my reply to Rachel and then I got interrupted by work, and by the time I finished and posted, a few more suggestions had gone up.

Thanks so much for all the tips. I gotta say that I'm one of those who feel you just gotta have butter for cookies! :rolleyes:

So it looks like I have a bit of a science project on my hands. Think I will--uh oh--*tinker* with liquid sweetners (most inclined to using molasses), maybe flour content, and eggs, or lack of them.

kuan: I'm afraid I've never seen instant pudding in a Japanese grocery store.

Redsugar: I recently read on America's Test Kitchen that leaving the cookies to cool on the sheet is actually one way to chewier cookies--whaddya think? I know, the whole too hot-overcooked thing... but these are the Cook's Illustrated people, sort of, aren't they (not quite clear on the affiliation, but)??

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Honestly, I don't believe theres one way to achieve this. Theres tons of factors that determine how your finished cookie turns out.......each cookie recipe is different, each handled different.

I've come to many conclusions based on experience, but I can't tell you a way to achieve chew cookies all the time in all your cookies. Then chances are whatever I post someone will contend and in the long run you'll have to find out which to believe by experience yourself. Having said that, heres a few things that come to my mind on the topic:

I find using shortening creates crunchie cookies, butter or margarine will be chewier in comparision. Shortening is 100% fat which equals crunch. 100%shortening is used in cookies like chinesse almond cookies, snickerdoodles.

'Short' cookies don't contain eggs at all. They are flour, sugar and butter with items like nuts or fruit rind for flavor enhansing. Some well known examples: mexican wedding cakes, shortbread cookies.

Mixing method does matter. Over mixing can be as simple as "creaming together" your fat and sugar which most recipes tell you to do. But it's whips air into your batter and that does change the texture of your finished cookie. I find a well creamed cookie batter bakes up cake like. If you take the same exact ingredients and mix them differently, like just barely combining them-you'll get a different texture.

Chilling your cookie batter and even baking it from a frozen state greatly effects your finished product also. BUT then I also think leaving it out on the counter (unscooped) for a couple hours also has an similar effects (you can feel the difference). Perhaps it's as simiple as giving the gluten time to relax or the butter time to firm up........I can't tell you exactly which, but each does effect your texture.

Higher oven heat will crisp up the exterior before the interior finishes baking. Just like underbaking effects the tenderness/softness of your cookies because your leaving it partically raw or underbaked.

If you melt your butter, let it cool and then use it in your recipe that also changes your finished product. Similarly cutting back on your flour or sugar will have effects or even changing the type of sugar you use. BUT again, it's effect is going to be different from one recipe to the next. Your not going to find one rule/method/way to change a cookie into a chewie one.

Eggs play different roles in different cookies. Typically eggs add fat=moisture. But they also add rise and bind ingredients. In different quantities and different recipes I think they play different roles.

Lastly, I don't know that I've ever eaten a "chewie" cookie and if I did was it desirable. Can you name a mass produced cookie fits this discription of "chewie" for all of us to use as a comparision? The description of "chewie" is subjective, I think. I'm more likely to think you mean a moist cookie........

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Hi Sinclair,

That was wonderful! Cookies 101. I would gladly attend the full-length lecture.

Regarding my definition of chewy, l'm thinking of something that, yes, is moist (but then so are my muffin tops--er, cookies). I want something with bite--thick, dense, but not raw-tasting. Sort of like... have you ever tried the cookies at Dean & Deluca, especially the oatmeal raisin ones? I'm afraid it's been a while since I sank my teeth into a commercial cookie so I'm a bit hard-pressed to give a mass-produced comparison... but I remember those Dean & Deluca cookies from when I used to live in New York. Mmmm, good memories.

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Gosh, there are several things that may be going on with your cookies... I'll try to tackle a few briefly. Having one of your recipes would help in pinpointing specifically, but I will make comments that I think everyone would appreciate hearing, as they apply across the board...

Cookies, as simple as they may seem, are interesting in that they are like a microcosm of baking in general. (that's not my idea, I heard Shirley Corriher say that in a lecture once, and it has always stuck with me.) Each ingredient has very specific purposes, and due to the very low moisture added, each role these ingredients play becomes magnified. Therefore, a slight deviation in balance or changing the ingredients makes a much bigger difference in your end result than it would in, say, a cake.

Sugar does several things:

sweetens,

flavors,

tenderizes by weakening the gluten structure,

adds volume which affects grain and texture,

adds color (more sugar means browner finished product),

retains moisture,

and also acts as a creaming agent (with fat) and a foaming agent (with eggs)

-- both the latter creates friction and thereby trapping air cells--basically acting as a leavener too.

Specifically, in a cookie with high sucrose (granulated table sugar) as well as low moisture (which all cookies have) and no acid to balance,-- the cookies will be hard and crispy as the cookie cools because the sugar crystallizes. Other sweeteners like brown sugars, honey, corn syrups and molasses contain more moisture, acids, and other types of sugars (invert, fructose, glucose etc)which chemically alter your final product. That's why cookies made with these sugars are "chewier" and often get soft after sitting. (altho baking ANYTHING too long will make it crispy! :shock: )

The acid in the leavener (in the case of baking powder) helps the cookies to bake faster, and spread less, but won't brown as well. Baking soda (a neutralizer) is therefore often added not for leavening, but for browning.

The type of fat used is also a consideration. Butter (which is about 15% water) will spread more because it melts faster, therefore creating a flatter, crisper cookie. (The water is not trapped, and so leaves the cookie). Using regular shortening creams well but also makes for less spread, because it stays the same texture/shape longer as it is melting. Although it is 100% fat, it "holds" the water in. Going one step further, by using a high ratio or emulsified shortening holds even more water, (which is why it's used in icings) and will create a moister, finer textured and puffier cookie. That why you will often see cookie recipies that do half reg shortening and half butter, which is what i prefer, so you get the right balance, size and spread, because of the handling qualities of shortening -- but also a good taste from the butter.

Flour can also affect your cookie. Different flours absorb diff amounts of water. A cake flour or low-protein flour like White Lily doesn't soak up water and will instead steam, creating soft, tender, puffy cookies. Lo-p flours are also often bleached and slightly acidic, which helps the cookie to spread less and set faster. A high protein flour absorbs the water, making the cookies drier, crisper, but also holds together better. Holding together better is important for making chewy cookies. So you can see the importance of balancing/counteracting all the ingredients in your recipe. (Hi-p flour also makes a cookie darker upon baking too)

If the moisture (water) gets to the flour, before the flour proteins are coated with fat, gluten is formed. This will make your cookie less crumbly.

One note on why I keep mention browning: If something browns less, it "appears" to be not cooked as long. If it browns faster, by having more sugar, baking soda, or a hi-protein flour, then you assume (by sight) that it is "done" more, thereby taking it out of the oven sooner. In your case, by halving the sugar, you are essentially "waiting" for the cookie to brown (which will take longer with less sugar), therefore you may have the tendency to leave it in longer until it's the "right" color, but ends up being a drier cookie.

Eggs create a delicate balance. They "set" the cookie while baking. The right amount puffs the cookie up, but too much moisture makes it spread. The whites will dry a cookie out more, therefore enough sugar is also needed to make up for the dryness.

Technique also plays a part. That is probably the number one reason why when you give the same choc chip cookie recipe to 5 people -- they all turn out different!!!

When I make to be what I consider the perfect cookie-- that is moist and chewy in the inside but crispy on the outside-- I handle very carefully. I beat the sugar and eggs in the mixer (but not too long, don't want too much air, as that will make your cookie puff way up, then sink as it cools), but I ALWAYS add the flour by hand and then DON"T OVERMIX. (I also add the chips and the flour at the same time, so that I stop stirring as soon as the flour has barely disappeared. I also do my choc chip cookies, for instance, in a tad lower oven, but leave in longer to make sure they cook enough, but then watch them carefully, remove them just as soon as the second they are done. Then I DON"T LET THEM COOL ON THEIR BAKING SHEET. I remove them to another cool sheet instead. This stops the retained heat from baking the cookies any longer, which will dry them out and no longer be a chewy cookie.

One last thing, as far as the role eggs play, they are VITAL. Do not omit!!!

1)They are a binder for your dough/batter.

2)The are the moisture in your dough.

3)They contribute to the leavening by incorporating air when beating.

4)The protein creates the structure (when it works with the flour --see above).

Not to mention 5,6,7)adding flavor, richness and color.

(Eggs, in too great a quanity, tho, will add toughness, which is why fat and sugar are needed to tenderize. again, proper balance)

So much for your mini-lesson in chemistry. Hope this wasn't too confusing, but as you can see, cookies really are not as simple as they seem. The good thing is that everybody likes them different... so whether they are crispy, puffy, or chewy, someone is bound to love them!

(edited to add before posting:

while I was writing this, the eG server was down, and I saw that Wendy had also replied at the same time, but getting her response in before the downtime. Sorry if I have repeated any info already mentioned by her)

I like to cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.

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To GordonCooks: yup, I actually have the transcript for AB's cookie episode bookmarked on my web browser! Baked his chewy cookie recipe yesterday. Got cake. :blink:

To simdelish: Another invaluable cookie lecture. You guys are the absolute best! :smile: I swear I'm going to save all these posts in a special new "Cookie" file on my computer.

I think that was a very good point about how the lack of (or slower) browning time could be keeping me from taking my cookies out of the oven early enough. Although, I remember a looong time ago, when I thought chocolate chip cookies had to be a deep golden brown before coming out of the oven, and the next day my cookies turned into flat, fragrant jawbreakers... But I don't *think* I'm overbaking now cause my cookies remain soft when they cool, but are just so darn fluffy.

And I'm *definitely* overmixing! I stir that sucker like there's no tomorrow cause I always think cookie dough doesn't need as much care and consideration as something more delicate, like a cake. So that is something else I'm going to change for sure.

Okay: I promise not to omit the eggs!

Hmm, very excited now to set up the lab and start testing! But, yawn, been a long day. Thanks so much again to everyone for your help. Good night!

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sorry, one last thing, as an example of how technique alone can make a difference:

This is a case of EVERYTHING else being consistent: the ingredients, the person measuring the ingredients, the kitchen temp, the oven temp, the time in the oven, etc, -- only the "operator" was different.

On the second to last day of my last job, I was "training" my temporary replacement. I had measured out and mixed up my (weekly batch of) absolutely fantastic best-ever choc chip cookie recipe, up to the last point of folding in the flour, scooping and baking off the cookies. I told my trainee EXACTLY what I wanted her to do... of course she didn't listen and I saw her mixing the flour to death (and with the paddle!!!! :shock::sad::shock: ). She also was a very sloppy scooper, and kept stirring the dough everytime she scooped. Although she baked them at the prescribed time in an oven that I had set, she also did not remove the cookies to a cool surface like I directed, but left them on the hot sheet pans.

The result? a completely different looking, and tasting, cookie!!!! They had puffed way up in the oven but then sank horribly upon cooling, getting all wrinkled. They were spread out more, with uneven shapes/edges, hard, flat, overbaked and dried out. Ugly for sure, and almost inedible, to my standards. :shock:

Needless to say, I refused to serve them on my last day... giving them all away to the staff instead... It was funny how everyone said how horrible they were, and how they all were going to miss "my incredible cookies" when I was gone! :biggrin:

I like to cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.

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The chewiest cookies I've ever made were from Jeffrey Steingarten's recipe. The recipe calls for quite a bit of sugar, and three types of sugar: granulated, light brown and dark brown. I think that probably has something to do with the chewiness. Also, the first time I made them, I accidentally doubled the baking soda and they had a different, and better, texture than when I made them the second time. I make my cookies quite big which might also have something to do with it.

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"

-Presiden Muffley, Dr. Strangelove

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Yes, dark pans will lend themselves towards a crisper cookie. The air-cushioned pans won't crisp a cookie as much or as quickly.

Re: Alton Brown

Click Here for the transcript of his cookie show "Three Chips for Sister Marsha". In it he explains the chemistry behind why different ingredients or combination of ingredients create different cookies. Or re-read simdelish's post for a lot of the same info. :wink:

Scroll down in the transcript to "The Chewy"/Scene 11 for info about chewy cookies. The key, says Alton, is to start with melted butter, use dark brown sugar and also molasses in the recipe.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Yep, everything Sinclair and simdelish said is right on the money. I have nothing more to add

other than my opinion......since......all I do all day long is mix cookie dough, scoop cookie dough and bake cookie dough. Ok, I do other stuff too....but mostly....it's cookies.

I will say this. Nothing has challenged me more (other than baking bread) in regard to being able to CONSISTENTLY crank out PERFECT product than cookies. Except for bread....that's even harder. Cookies are second. Truly, cookies are fussy li'l creatures. A scoop of extra sugar, and you've got a completely different batch of cookies than you mixed the last time. The oven is hotter because it's been going all day, as opposed to being on the cool side because you just fired it up will affect the cookie. A full oven as opposed to an semi-empty oven will affect it.

If you bake them on a dark baking sheet as opposed to a shiny baking sheet will affect it.

If the dough is cold as opposed to freshly mixed, you'll get a different thing. If the dough has been sitting awhile it will be different. Even though eggs are packaged according to size and grade, even natural subtle variations in eggs will affect your cookie. One time my supplier gave me extra fine sugar instead of the regular granulated that I use in my cookie doughs, and I knew

I would have to make adjustments for that, but it was a wild guess on my part. I knew I'd have to use less extra fine sugar....but how much less? Turned out it wasn't "less" enough....the cookie doughs I made with the extra fine sugar spread like crazy and were super crisp on the outside and nearly raw in the centers. What a nightmare. I should have just returned the sugar!

Oh well. Live and learn.

I know my cookies and my ovens so well now that I have it down to a science. I know which cookies I want to put on the dark baking sheets and which ones I want on the shiny baking sheets. I know which kind to put on what shelf in the convection oven. I know which cookies need a lot of flattening with my hand prior to baking and what ones need just a light press-down.

I know that my convection ovens have so many hot spots, that to get an even bake, I have to spin my sheet pans and rotate shelves midway through baking time. It's a chaotic cookie bakin' circus I tell you!

And, like simdelish said, a lot of times, it ain't the dough, but the operator. My boss admits he's not a baker, but he helps me bake cookies off a lot. Bless his heart....but he messes me up!

On Saturdays, when I'm by myself, I love it, because I do all of it.....and they're all PERFECT.

I love Saturdays. :wub:

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I would highly HIGHLY recommend Alton Brown's recipe for chewy cookies. My personal favorite (although not really on topic here) is his recipe for thin cookies.

The recipe for his chewy cookies can be found here

Some people say the glass is half empty, others say it is half full, I say, are you going to drink that?

Ben Wilcox

benherebfour@gmail.com

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At the risk of upsetting a few people............ Alton Brown is not a baker at all! I'm sure he uses good references, etc... but I've seen him do too many baking procedures that were way off and heard him tell you things that were just as off. I can't take him seriously as a reference for anything regarding baking. The recipe and efforts he published for his study on making chocolate chip cookies in the episode mentioned was better researched then any other advice I've seen him give on baking.

That aside, you have to consider that he's talking about chocolate chip cookies with his recipes. You can NOT take one issue like changing your granulated sugar and sub in invert sugar and get consistant results with all cookie doughs. All cookies are not made same, with the same ingredients, there is not 1 universal fix. Each cookie is unique and each will require different efforts/solutions to create a chewie cookie. Some cookies I don't think you can make chewie due to the ingredients needed to make them the cookie they are.

Of the professional bakers that weighed in on this thread so far, who know their ovens and their recipes like the back of their hands, if you take them out of their enviroment they'll have to experiment to find that balance again. Little differences can make big impacts in the final product, even for seasoned professionals. (as was mentioned)

There is no one definitive answer to any of the questions asked. No I'm not fond of dark baking sheets, but with modifications you can get the results you want on those pans. I've yet to encounter a cookie that doesn't bake well on parchement paper, BUT does that paper effect your cookies? Sure they do, fat gets absorbed into it. It can effect spread differently then a shiney metal surface. A silpat greatly effects cookies baked on it. Some cookies are a bear to make with-out them, some don't bake right at all on them, some it just doesn't matter.

I'm confused a little on the egg advice given previously. I disagree with eggs being vital to a cookie. Only some cookies. There are MANY cookies that do not contain egg.

I also disagree on hand mixing in your flour. I think more people (in general) are likely to undermix and have small pockets of dough with-out the right portion of flour using this method over using your mixer. (Although if your experienced you should be fine doing so, it's just not something for beginners to apply with-out the knowledge of: how much, how long.) I don't follow recipes dirrections that tell me to add my chips or add-in's after my flour. I always add my add-in's, then last my flour. I don't run my mixer long enough to break down my chips or add-in's. You also have to scrape down your bowl or your bound to get dough that clung to the sides of the bowl that didn't get the right balance of flour. So my ending technique is: add in my flour, give the paddle a couple turns, scrape down my bowl, re-mix a couple turns and it's done (although there are cookies that are an exception to this). When I have a huge batch (which is most of the time) I can't add all my flour at once with-out it flying out of the bowl when I start the paddle, nor could my arm handle mixing it in with-out a mixer regardless of my experience. With huge batches I add the flour in portions that fit into the mixing bowl so my flour won't create a dust storm.

Restating what I posted before, I think the issue of over mixing is more important when it comes to how much you cream your butter and sugar. I'd rather see you do that by hand then any other step. How soft your butter is when you beat it, changes texture. Again, theres a few recipes that are exceptions and need to be whipped to distribute ingred. properly. Every step has impact and not all 'rules' apply to all cookies.

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Cookies are driving me crazy at work right now. I checked my oven tonight with a pair of thermometers. All four corners of the oven, apparently, are the same temperature. So how (he asks rhetorically), can a cookie in one corner of the sheet be underbaked while the other corner is overbaked?

I wish I had more hair, just for the catharsis of pulling it out. Ugh.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Oh yeah, those dreaded hot spots. I've never worked in an oven that didn't have them. Really the only thing you can do is make sure you turn your pan during baking. I've also resorted to placing a empty sheet pan on the shelf to try and block a hot spot.........in my convection oven.

If it's really bad you can omit baking cookies along the edges of your pan. It will slow you down because it's less volume baking all the time..........but it's better then ruined inconsistant product. I place something heavy (like a knive or tongs) on the parchment in those blank areas so my parchment won't blow over on to my cookies.

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