Let’s talk about the science of cookies today. Did you not know that there was science to baking cookies? There is, and lots of it.
But today we’ll keep it relatively simple and just talk about the most basic cookie ratio:
The Basic Cookie Ratio:
3 parts flour : 2 parts butter: 1 part sugar
Perhaps you’ll remember from the cake emails, that flour provides structure and butter and sugar weakens structure.
In this cookie ratio, the structure makers and the structure weakeners are perfectly balanced. As a result, the cookie dough made with this ratio is workable, but doesn’t spread very much when baked.
In fact, it’s a perfect dough for rolling into a log and then cutting the log into rounds for the cookies. And that’s exactly what you’ll do in the gluten free shortbread recipe included at the end of this email.
Breaking the Rules:
Now, not everyone wants shortbread all of the time, so people started tinkering around with the cookie ratio to make different sorts of cookies. To help identify some of the common tweaks, I’ll show you the metamorphosis of a shortbread cookie into a chocolate chip cookie in 5 simple steps.
1) Adjust the ratio – How do you go from a shortbread type cookie that doesn’t spread at all, to a drop cookie that does spread? You move the ratio much closer to 1 part flour : 1 part butter : 1 part sugar. The chocolate cookie recipe that we’re using as a reference has a ratio of 1.45 flour: 1.25 sugar: 1 part butter.
2) Change the sugars – A shortbread cookie is a lovely tint of yellow, while a chocolate chip cookie is a lovely brown. The difference is in the sugar. A shortbread cookie contains white, granulated sugar.
An even mixture of brown and white sugar is generally used in chocolate chip cookie recipes. The brown sugar is also slightly acidic, which contributes to an acidic dough. The acidity of the dough affects how much the cookie spreads and how much it browns, and it actually a very important part aspect to consider when you’re developing (or making substitutions to) a cookie recipe.
3) Add eggs – Now that we’re using a cookie ratio that is almost 1 : 1 : 1, the stucture weakeners (butter and sugar) are going to overpower the sole structure builder (flour). So, to keep the cookies from running all over the place, one to two eggs are added to the recipe.
4) Add leavening – Baking soda is a common ingredient in cookies, and it’s not just there to help the cookies rise. The baking soda also helps the the cookie brown.
The amount of baking soda used is important. If the recipe calls for too much, then the dough will be alkaline and will spread too much. 1/4 tsp. of baking soda will perfectly leaven one cup of flour (approx 4 – 4.5 oz of flour). If you have a cookie recipe that is spreading too much, an excess of baking soda is one (of many) possible culprits.
5) Add flavorings – The chocolate chip cookies include chocolate chips (of course!) and vanilla. The brown sugar also adds molasses notes to the flavor.
Cookies are very tricky. The amount, type, and even brand, of every ingredient can have a huge impact on the finished cookie. And that’s before you even consider mixing techniques, choice of pans, whether to refrigerate the dough (and for how long, if you do), the spacing of the cookies on the pans, and the oven temperature.
It’s daunting, I know. It’s why I don’t teach a gluten free cookie class.
If you start your gluten free baking experiments with cookies and run into some horrible failures, don’t beat yourself up. Try baking some gluten free bread; it’s much easier!
Here’s a recipe for gluten free shortbread. I have tested it with my flour mix and it worked wonderfully. That does not mean that it will work with another flour mix though!
The absorbency of the flour is super important in cookie making because they contain so little moisture. However, this recipe makes a pretty small batch of cookies, so don’t be afraid to play around with it. You could even cut the recipe in half for testing purposes.
Gluten Free Shortbread
6 oz. of my gluten free flour mix
4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces
2 oz. sugar
pinch of salt
Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix the ingredients together until a dough forms. I do this by hand and it can take a good bit of work. If you want or need to use a mixer, then let your butter soften and cream the butter and sugar together before adding the flour.
Once you have a dough, roll it into a log and cut the log into 1/4″ cookies. Bake the cookies on a cooking sheet in a 350 degrees oven until they look (and feel) like they are firming up.
You’ll probably have to poke at them a bit to tell. Take the cookies out and let them cool. If they seem crumbly, don’t worry about moving them until they’ve firmed up. These cookies do not have a lot of sugar, so there’s not much risk of them sticking to the pan.