Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How to bake cookies without a recipe

I have read a million cookbooks and cooking magazines and it has gotten to the point with my self teaching in the kitchen that I no longer need a recipe so long as I understand the technique
Problem is that it is harder to find cooking technique books than it is to find run-of-the-mill cookbooks.
I want to cook things without a recipe and do not want to rely on them.

Here I will use cookies for example, and I hope to teach someone something in the process.

The basic ingredients in cookies are:
Baking soda
Fat (Butter, margarine or any other fat)

Now it would make common sense not to use bacon grease as your fat, unless for some reason you wanted to make pork cookies, but the idea here is to learn the science behind cooking so if you ever wanted to make bacon cookies you could. The fat can also be a nut butter or shortening. Think FAT! Oil is not a particularly good choice here because it is not very stiff. 

I start with the fat and the sugar. About equal parts or each, however some like sugarier cookies. Remember more sugar will make them crumblier as the sugar does not bind as well as the other ingredients.
Also, with the sugar, whether you use brown, white, natural, cane or even finely crushed butterscotch or mint candies will make a big difference in your cookies. All white sugar will cause it to come out like a sugar cookie where as brown sugar gives it a softer chew. Crushed candies will also give a flavour to the cookies so you may want to omit any other flavouring. Experiment with whatever sugars you like, keep in mind that if you are looking for a chocolate chip cookie consistency it is usually done with a 50/50 mix of brown and white sugars. More white if you want it crispier and more brown if you want it softer. I personally like 75% brown and 25% white but again, whatever you like, have on hand or depending on the kind of cookie (I might make a bacon cookie with 100% brown sugar but a Christmas style sugar cookie would be made with all white sugar).
Mix this very well, some call it "creaming" the sugar and butter.

Eggs are kind of like the glue that holds it all together, it also causes the cookies to brown. Depending on what kind of cookies you are making and how many would determine how many eggs you use. I have never experimented with too many eggs, so I don't know what happens if you put lots of eggs in your cookies. The amount of egg to batter is hard to describe, but I personally like one egg to each cup of fat used. 

The flavouring is normally vanilla extract when making cookies, though any extract can be used (Almond, mint etc) as well as other kinds of liquid flavouring (Including juice) Add as much of this as you like, keeping in mind that too much will overpower the taste of the cookies and not enough will not have a strong taste at all. It would also be too much flavouring if it drastically changes the texture of the dough you have so far. For myself, I usually add a few tablespoons of flavouring or extract to each cup of fat used though I have seen many recipes and have used 2 eggs for each cup of fat so it doesn't have to be so precise (in fact, this whole process does not have to be precise).

Baking soda causes to cookies to rise. I usually about one teaspoon to each cup of fat used but I have made cookies without it and with extra. It really doesn't make a huge difference but if you want fluffy cookies, use it. 

I usually mix it at this point, but you can not over mix cookies, so mix as much as you like.

Extra stuff are things like oatmeal, chocolate chips, M&Ms, coconut, raisins, crushed candy bar pieces, nuts or really any thing else you want in your cookies. Add as much as you like here. This is really what makes the cookies special and individual so have fun. you can also chose not to add anything here.

Flour is of course the part that makes it all come together. More flour will make it stiffer and less four will make it runnier. The look and feel here will be the biggest key as to whether or not there is enough. You want to be able to make balls with the cookie dough.
If you wish to make a more chocolaty cookie, you can substitute some of the flour for cocoa. Cocoa will make the dough  gooey so I usually use a 25% cocoa to 75% flour mix if making chocolaty cookies. This makes black cookies as opposed to brown or white cookies and taste really chocolaty.

Stir this until it is all mixed well.

To bake, place cookies by balls on a cookie sheet. Grease the pan if your pan is conducive to things sticking to it. Parchment paper is a good idea and I have even used tin foil as well. Anything to keep the cookies from sticking. Of course you don't need to add anything if you have a nice non-stick baking pan.
Space them with enough room so that the cookies don't touch each other when they spread out from the heat. If you are concerned about the cookies spreading out and sticking to each other just put less on each pan and cook in more batches. Better to be safe than sorry and by the second batch you will know exactly how to space them for maximum cookies baked per batch.

Cook at about 325 degrees until browned on top and they look yummy. The bigger you made the balls the longer it will take to cook. Check them often because cookies cook quickly. small cookies cook in under 10 minutes where larger hand sized cookies can take about 15 minutes. This really depends on the size of the cookie. 

The cookies will be soft when they come out so you will want to let them cool. They can cool in the pan, on a cooling rack, in a plate or on a paper bag. You can let them cool wherever you like. this will help them stiffen and make them easier to eat and distribute. I know you want to eat them hot. Timing is key here, eat some when they are cooled off a little but still warm for best results though cookies are good totally cooled too (but you knew that!)

Hope that gave some insight to baking cookies. Now to figure out how to bake cake without a recipe! It's probably pretty similar.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info! Just what I needed. I recently found out I can no longer have choc chip cookies. I love them, the whole thing. Your tips will enable me to make pretty much the same cookie without the chips and nuts. I've been making cookies for years, but cookbooks don't explain the chemistry of baking, and your info comes close!