The Chemistry of a Cookie

Many people perceive baking as an art form, but in reality it’s really more of a science. Yes there are definitely many elements of art in the baking I do.  The presentation and appearance of the product is always very important. But the actual process of baking is all chemistry. I think this is what draws me most to creating things in the kitchen. If you think about it, there’s really only a few basic ingredients used in baking. But when you change the amounts, and pairings, butter eggs and flour can turn into a million different things.

Cookies, for example, come in all different types and textures. Specifically chocolate chip cookies. It’s surprising the number of variations you can find from just one simple dessert. Many people have different preferences for what they like, for example a chewier or crunchier cookie. These different textures and types all come from the ingredients, and amounts, used.

This past weekend I attempted to bake my mother’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I’ve made it many times before, but here in Ecuador they always come out a little different. And by different I mean not perfect. And an imperfect cookie is not something that I want, ever. The most frustrating part of the whole situation is that what comes out of the kitchen, ultimately, represents my abilities as a baker. These cookies are other people’s impressions of me. And I am definitely here to impress. So after a disappointing end product, I went back to try to figure out what I did wrong.

What I found was that it didn’t really have anything to do with me (a relief) and more to do with the sugar I was using. The white sugar here in Ecuador is less refined, resulting in a larger and coarser sugar crystal. The brown sugar is also slightly different. It too was coarser. Another thing I noticed was that it was much lighter in color than brown sugar found in the states. This, I concluded, must mean there was a much lower molasses content. And without an adequate amount of molasses, the moisture level of the cookie suffers. And this is where my problem was. My chocolate chip cookies had ended up quite dry and crunchy, not because of over baking, but because of the change in the sugar.

Another theory I had, although not confirmed, was that the gluten content of the flour here may have been higher than normal All-Purpose flour. The flour also comes pre-mixed with baking powder in it, so that could have easily affected the outcome as well.

I’m determined to figure out exactly how to overcome these little obstacles while I’m here. I’d like to try to figure out how to use these differences to my advantage. But if all else fails, I’m requesting that my mother fill a suitcase with sugar and flour when she visits in October. And hopefully airport security doesn’t ask too many questions…

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