What happened to my cookies?
Deconstructing a Snickerdoodle recipe to avoid pitfalls and achieve the perfect cookie.
The greatest enjoyment I get from writing my blog is being able to share the recipes I've tried, how they turned out, what I think of them and what, if anything, I would suggest to make them better. It absolutely makes my day when someone tries a recipe I've blogged about and enjoyed it for themselves. It also absolutely distresses me when someone tells me they tried something but "it didn't turn out" like mine. For the longest time, I just didn't get it. I posted the exact same recipe I followed, I talked about what I did and, depending on the recipe, what mistakes I made that people shouldn't do so they can avoid the problems I had with something and make theirs better than mine.Skip to next paragraph
The Pastry Chef’s Baking
Carol Ramos trained to be a pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America and has her certification in baking and pastry arts, but she has never baked professionally. Baking is just something she loves to do. Her blog chronicles her baking odyssey as she tests out different recipes. Her goals are to share her love of baking and convert people into becoming bakers, one dessert at a time.
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In trying to do an autopsy, so to speak, on my friends' and relatives' baking mishaps, I started to ask more detailed questions to get to the root causes of the problems: What ingredients did you use? How long did you bake it? What did it look like when you took it out of the oven? What did your batter or dough look like? What pan did you use? Did you preheat the oven? The varying answers I got made something really clear to me: it's not just about the recipe, it's also about the technique. I've blogged before about some simple baking tips so I won't repeat those here. But I will add further to the list and, for this post, in the context of cookie making.
Some weeks ago, my friend Karen was baking batch after batch of cookies but was dissatisfied with her results as they weren't coming out the way she wanted them to. In making chocolate chip cookies, the different recipes she tried either weren't spreading like she wanted or they were too dry. The dryness was easy to remedy as I discovered she was baking them until the middles were done. Oh no. For chocolate chip cookies and anything of their texture, bake until the edges are done and the middles are just barely not doughy-looking anymore. They might puff during baking but you want the middles to sink when they cool. That'll give them their chewy and moist texture. If you bake until the middles are done, the cookies will be dry. So that solved the problem of the chocolate chip cookie. In Karen's own words, "oh the middles are supposed to sink!" Yep, that's right.
But bear in mind this doesn't hold true for all cookies because it really depends on what type of cookie you're making. Once Karen had conquered the chocolate chip cookie issue, she moved on to Snickerdoodles and was trying this recipe from Magnolia Bakery, a cookbook I have and a recipe I've also tried before. They weren't turning out like she had made them before at a friend's place: The cookies weren't spreading and they were coming out either too dry or too underdone. I couldn't diagnose the issue virtually so I went over to her house to watch her in action. The best way to help someone is to have them do it themselves and observe what's happening.
As near as I can tell, Karen was doing everything right: All her ingredients were at room temperature when she started, she mixed correctly according to the recipe, and she had chilled the dough before baking it. Yet something was still off. The only thing I corrected in her mixing of the dough was to teach her the dip and sweep method in measuring the flour. You never want to tamp the flour down in the measuring cup. You'll end up with too much flour, too stiff of a dough and dry cookies. Karen didn't make this mistake but in general, you also want to add the dry ingredients in 2-3 parts, not all at once, so that you can incorporate the dry ingredients well into the dough or batter and let the dough "come together".