Baking is a fine science. Every ingredient
plays a distinct, carefully balanced role. For example, lets take a look
at chocolate chip cookies.
Flour : The Basis of Structure
There would be no substance to a chocolate
chip cookie without flour. When mixed with liquid, the protein in flour
forms elastic, web-like sheets of gluten. These create the structure of
the cookie. The more you mix, the stronger this structure becomes (and the
chewier your cookies will get). The kind of flour you use also defines how
much structure you'll end up with. All-purpose flour holds the middle
ground in protein content, which is why it's popular for cookies. Cake
flour is low in protein, which makes it ideal for delicate baked goods
such as cakes. On the opposite spectrum is high-protein bread flour, which
creates the firm structure needed for yeast breads.
Sugar : Flavor, Texture, and Browning
Of course, sugar adds the sweet taste
expected in cookies and other baked goods. But it also affects tenderness,
crispness and browning. If you cut back on the granulated sugar in a
chocolate chip cookie recipe, the texture will be softer, dry and chewy,
almost bready like a scone. The color will be more pale than golden brown.
If you cut back on the brown sugar, you are also apt to get less puff.
Brown sugar contains molasses, which is acidic and reacts with baking soda
to help give the cookie its lift. If you increase the sugar (any type),
your cookie may become cloyingly sweet and overly moist. It is also likely
to spread more since the sugar is binding up the liquid that would
otherwise interact with flour proteins to form structure-building gluten.
Leavener : The Rise
That brings us to the leavener, which is
usually baking soda and/or baking powder. In baked goods such as cookies,
the leavener is a carefully balanced measurement designed to give the
cookie its maximum rise. If you decrease the baking soda and/or baking
powder, your cookie may not rise at all. If you increase it, your cookie
may rise so high that it falls. Additional leavener may also introduce off
flavors to the cookie. Eggs also contribute to leavening as well as to
tenderness and structure.
Fat : Tenderizer and Flavor Carrier
Finally, there is the fat. In baking, fat
contributes to tenderness by helping coat some of the flour and protect it
from liquid, which in turn limits gluten development. In a cookie recipe,
this helps prevent the cookies from becoming overly chewy. Lower the fat,
and you are likely to create a chewier cookie. Increase the fat, and you
will create a more tender cookie. For flavor, butter is the best. But
For less spread, cut back on the butter and replace it in part with
vegetable shortening. This will create a more tender, slightly chewy