Happy frigid Wednesday. To take your mind off this week’s whimsical weather patterns, how about something cool to read? Whether or not you remember a certain “I Love Lucy” episode from 1952, you’ll appreciate Jim Webster’s story about the time he set out to make bread and ended up with . . . well you’ll have to read about it. You can find it here.
Also in Food this week, Tim Carman got to spend some farmers market and kitchen time with famous Danish chef Rene Redzepi, whose restaurant Noma is considered one of the best in the world. And Bonnie S. Benwick did a lot of reading (and cooking) to come up with a list of notable cookbooks of 2013, just in time for holiday giving.
By now, I hope you’ve digested last week’s holiday cookie issue and are well on your way to making platefuls of treats. If you have questions about cookies, bread, Danish chefs, cookbooks or anything else with a culinary angle, plan to be at your computer at noon sharp today for our weekly Free Range chat. It’s an edifying hour, guaranteed. I’ll kick things off with a leftover cookie question from last week’s chat:
Would you offer some tips on how to determine from reading a recipe whether a cookie will be soft-chewy or crispy-crunchy? I understand that often this has to do with the butter-flour-sugar ratios, but I’d like to get a better sense of how to know, especially since I serve cookie eaters with definite preferences.
A cookie’s texture has a lot to do with spread. Cookies that hold their shape in the oven tend to be softer and chewier; cookies that spread end up thinner and crisper. So the key is eyeballing a recipe for ingredients or techniques that will lead to one result or the other. There are always exceptions, but here are a few guidelines that might help you figure out just what you’re baking before it comes out of the oven.
Fat: If a recipe calls for all or part shortening, you can expect the cookies to be on the soft side. Shortening doesn’t melt as soon or as fast as butter, so it inhibits spread. The higher the ratio of fat to flour, the more spread you’ll get.
Flour: A recipe that includes cake flour or potato flour will produce a softer cookie than one that uses only all-purpose flour. Also, the higher the ratio of flour to fat, the less spread you’ll get.
Sugar: A cookie with all or part brown sugar will be softer than one with only regular sugar. Brown sugar is wetter and holds on to moisture, creating a moister cookie. (The same is true for honey; too much of that, and a cookie can end up limp.) A cookie made with all or part confectioners’ sugar will spread more and be crisper because the powdery particles melt faster than regular granulated sugar.
Leavener: Baking powder inhibits spread; baking soda does not.
Liquid: A recipe that calls for cream, milk or water in the dough is more likely to produce a crisp cookie.
Eggs: A dough that contains whole eggs or egg yolks is less likely to spread. A dough that contains only egg whites could be dry and crunchy (like a meringue).
Cocoa and melted chocolate: Note what kind the recipe calls for. Dutch-process cocoa encourages spreading more than regular cocoa. Milk and semisweet chocolate encourages spreading more than unsweetened chocolate.
Chilling: A dough that goes into the oven cold tends to hold its shape better. If a recipe tells you to form the dough into balls and chill them before baking, you can expect the cookies to be soft.
Cooling: In general, if a recipe directs you to transfer the baked cookies to a cooling rack immediately (or after, say, one minute), the goal is probably a crisper cookie.
As I said earlier, there are tons of exceptions, but this should give you a starting point.