Two baking questions
July 4, 2011 11:37 AM   Subscribe

1) All of my chocolate cookie recipes yield cookies that are gooey and soft and wonderful just out of the oven, but not as wonderful once they (inevitably) cool and become crusty and hard. What's the key to keeping cookies soft and moist? 2) A recipe calls for self-raising flour but all I have is all-purpose flour. Is there a way to turn the latter into the former, or do I need to make a run to the store?
posted by BadgerDoctor to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Self raising flour = plain flour + baking powder
posted by kenchie at 11:40 AM on July 4, 2011

Do you use butter or margarine? Butter makes hard, crunchy cookies. Margarine = soft & moist.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:41 AM on July 4, 2011

I have no idea how to bake, but the best cookies I've ever eaten had a little sour cream in them. Kept them moist (in sealed tupperware) for well over a week.
posted by eisenkr at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2011

I've had the opposite experience, bolognius maximus, but I've also found that different margarines produce wildly different cookies (not too surprising, since they're made from a wide variety of oils treated in a wide variety of ways).
posted by hattifattener at 11:45 AM on July 4, 2011

posted by supercres at 11:46 AM on July 4, 2011

I just put a piece of bread in the container with the cookies. The bread dries out quick but cookies stay moist
posted by dstopps at 11:48 AM on July 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It's about ratios, and more specifically, about eggs. Eggs in the batter = chewier. 1 part sugar to 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour is Ruhlman's basic ratio and it has yet to serve me wrong. Break it down a bit to a 1:1:1 ratio and add an egg for a chewier cookie. Take em out of the oven a bit before they're done so they don't overcook on the rack.

Using margarine instead of butter is a cardinal baking sin.
posted by t_dubs at 11:50 AM on July 4, 2011 [28 favorites]

I know it sounds gross, but some crisco works really well.
posted by j at 11:50 AM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take them out of the oven before they're done cooking.

Also: Lard is magical.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:50 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Brown sugar results in a softer cookie. White sugar in a harder and crumblier cookie. Yes a lot of recipes call for both but look at the ratios. More of one or the other type will alter the texture of the cookie.

There are other factors as well, but this is one of the simplest to control.
posted by sardonyx at 11:51 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Butter and brown sugar keep cookies moist and chewy. I have had the opposite experience from bolognius maxiumus; if I want a crispier cookie, I use a butter substitute.

Another little trick: if you spend a long time beating the eggs (like, a really long time, until they get foamy), then the cookies will be really gooey on the inside but have a delicate crust on the outside. Something to do with the eggs forming a meringue that crisps on the outside of the cookie. Deeeelicious.
posted by phunniemee at 11:52 AM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Second putting a piece of bread in with the cookies in an airtight container.

Alton Brown's cookies are the baseline for me.

I'm guessing you should leave out the baking soda if you use self rising flour.

If you have a smart phone, you might want to try the Cookulus app. You adjust the sliders to the type of cookie you want, thick/thin, chewy/crumbly, soft /crispy, it customizes the recipe.
posted by Marky at 12:00 PM on July 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Shirley Corriher's excellent food science cookbook Cookwise goes into this in some detail (which escapes me now). But I do remember that she gave a recipe that you could alter to get either result--either soft or crunchy chocolate chip cookies.

That book is so awesome that even if someone does pipe up with the definitive answer in the thread, I think you should read the book anyway!
posted by Sublimity at 12:01 PM on July 4, 2011

Less time in the oven -- so they don't quite seem done as you're taking them out -- can solve this problem.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:02 PM on July 4, 2011

Reduce your white sugar and add corn syrup instead.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:07 PM on July 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with MonkeyToes, this is what the Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen people suggest.
posted by Caravantea at 12:09 PM on July 4, 2011

Seconding J. Wilson and Sys Rq. Take them out before they're done. Take them out before your instincts tell you to. Do not trust the recipe or yourself. Before you try anything else, try this (I make a LOT of cookies):

If the recipe says 12 minutes, take them out at 10. Leave them on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then move them to a wire rack. Test them when they're cool enough to eat. Are they raw? I mean, REALLY raw: not just gooey, but liquid. If they are, bake the next batch at 11, repeat (and you can revive the raw cookies by putting them back in the oven. they won't be perfect, but they're fresh cookies. Who's complaining?). If they're just slightly gooey, leave them till tomorrow then try then. I have found that my oven finishes most cookies in 2-5 minutes less than the recipe time.

The issue is that cookies continue to cook after they've come out of the oven, so if you take them out when they look perfect they're actually going to be overcooked when all is said and done.
posted by AmandaA at 12:12 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Many thanks for all the suggestions.

with six hours until picnic-time, I have time to test each one out by making one cookie accordingly--one with molasses, one with corn syrup, one with brown sugar, one baked for 10 min, one for 11, etc.

We'll see which turns out best.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 12:37 PM on July 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Echoing the above comments. Some brown sugar, all butter (no lard, crisco, margarine, etc. Those are cardinal sins. Resist the urge to be cast into baking hell.), egg yolks over whole eggs. To convert all purpose to self rising, I typically use 1 tsp of baking powder for every cup of flour.

Finally, I would be highly suspicious of any recipe that calls for self rising flour. Whenever I think about recipes that use self rising flour, I think of my grandmother and her cohorts from the '50s. Not necessarily a bad thing, but baking has come a long way in the intervening 50+ years, both in the quality of the results and the understanding of what's going on inside your oven.
posted by conradjones at 12:42 PM on July 4, 2011

posted by queens86 at 12:52 PM on July 4, 2011

Should have been more specific -- if your recipe calls for 3/4 c. brown sugar and 3/4 c. white sugar, add only 1/2 c. white sugar and then 1/4 c. corn syrup. Yes on the all butter (though I have been known to add applesauce when I'm running short on butter). Extra flour doesn't hurt, especially as the corn syrup substitution adds liquid to your recipe as well as sweetness.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:08 PM on July 4, 2011

Adding to the "take them out of the oven before they get overcooked" chorus (I find that cookies bake in less time than the recipe says). In addition, get one of those little hanging oven thermometers and hang it from the rack. Use THIS as the guide to how hot your oven gets. I've had so many ovens be hotter or cooler than the dial or digital temp setting indicates. If your oven is too hot (the 375 setting heats to 400, for instance) you'll get raw-inside-scorched-outside cookies.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:12 PM on July 4, 2011

If you want to keep it really simple, you don't even need to add the corn syrup. Just decrease the amount of white sugar (or even eliminate it all together).

This is what I've been doing recently do with the basic chocolate chip recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag (it doesn't matter which brand you buy, the recipes on the back are all pretty similar), as I typically find most cookies too sweet.
posted by sardonyx at 1:18 PM on July 4, 2011

After years of messing around unsuccessfully with ingredient ratios, oven temps and baking times, this recipe on Allrecipes has been my holy grail for reliably soft and chewy chocolate-chip cookies. The unexpected secret ingredient is instant vanilla pudding mix, which has no effect on taste, but makes the final texture just perfect.
posted by Bardolph at 1:19 PM on July 4, 2011

To keep them soft, put them into an airtight container as soon as possible after they've cooled and pack them tight - the less air in the container, the softer the cookies. If you absolutely can't fill up the container completely, put a piece of plastic wrap on top of the cookies to separate them from the air pocket. If the cookies should harden up later, you can soften them by putting a piece of fresh bread into the container with them.

mmmmmmm ..... love them chocolate chip cookies ...
posted by aryma at 2:07 PM on July 4, 2011

Half brown sugar, half white and an extra egg yolk is my way to chewy-cookie heaven. Also, it might help if you melt the butter before mixing it into the sugars.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:30 PM on July 4, 2011

I also find that white sugar makes for crispier cookies, and substituting brown sugar (or replacing a bit of white sugar with molasses or honey) makes for much softer cookies. If taken too far, the cookies can be floppy and sticky.
posted by JiBB at 2:53 PM on July 4, 2011

Best answer: Moistness / softness is mostly a function of two things: fat and residual water. More specifically, the ratio of both of those to solids.

Just straight adding water can be dicey as it can upset the consistency, but as mentioned above you can pull the cookies from the oven a bit early. Introducing water after the fact (place in a sealed container with apple / damp cloth / etc.) is a popular work-around. Using ingredients which hold water and release it slowly also helps. For example, a bit of chunky applesauce in the batter will retain some moisture during cooking and release it to keep the cookie moist.

Adding fat can be dicey in the same manner; imagine adding a lot of room-temperature butter to a standard dough. As the butter is semi-solid, it won't appear to much alter the consistency of things. As soon as the cookies go in the oven, though, the butter melts and so do your cookies. Adding oil is "safer" for the inexperienced cook, but note that sometimes you actually want the butter melt described above in controlled quantities.

Sugars and proteins also have some effect on the softness / moistness of the cookie, but you can mostly ignore them when you're first starting learning. Things like eggs sort of function as fats, water, and protein, making them one of the major weapons for waging your own personal war on lousy cookies.
posted by introp at 5:54 PM on July 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

They shouldn't be 'gooey and wonderful straight out of the oven'. They should seem undercooked and inedible. Take them out sooner! Seriously. We've all been guilty of it. I see that you've favorited a few answers, but none that tell you to bake them for less time. Just try it.
posted by 200burritos at 6:41 PM on July 4, 2011

The person I knew who made fantastic chocolate cookies was very disciplined about removing them from the oven very promptly, and getting them on a rack to cool.
posted by theora55 at 6:46 PM on July 4, 2011

The softest recipe I have tried is one with sweetened condensed milk in it. And yes, you need to take them out well before they seem ready.
posted by lollusc at 9:06 PM on July 4, 2011

Oh, please don't underbake your cookies. Nobody wants to eat raw dough.

I won't give away all my secrets for award-winning cookies, but here's one:
Put STALE bread in the storage container with them. Bread that's been left on the counter for a day provides just enough softness to the cookies, I've found. Using fresh bread makes the cookies so soft they fall apart. That's not good.
posted by booth at 9:18 PM on July 4, 2011

Nobody wants to eat raw dough.

Speak for yourself, booth!

There's no need to make separate batches with molasses and brown sugar. Most brown sugar is just regular sugar with molasses added to it. (And agreeing with everyone else on underbaking the cookies. I don't think I've ever followed the recipe instructions on bake time. I always undercut it by at least 2 minutes.)
posted by phunniemee at 4:13 AM on July 5, 2011

Seconding the getting them off the hot cookie sheet immediately after they come out of the oven. Moving them to a cool cookie sheet helps a lot.
posted by martianna at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2011

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