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Science!

Today I stumbled on an article about making a better chocolate chip cookie which was linked from a blog entry about how to perhaps attain the same effect but in a shorter time. As the chocolate chip cookie is one of the greatest inventions of the modern world I was definitely intrigued. Reading the post at Ideas In Food however I was disappointed that the author didn't maintain a control sample during his experiment. There are so many variables in the baking of a chocolate chip cookie that it can be difficult to determine what changes had how much of an effect. Could vacuum sealing the cookie dough in a plastic bag have an effect on the cookie dough? Would it aid in the rate of hydration of the flour grains? The world must know!

I decided to use Science™ to find out.

I made up a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookie dough. I split the batch into 3 more or less equal portions. One portion was placed into a glass bowl and covered with plastic cling wrap. The second portion was vacuum sealed in a plastic bag with a consumer grade vacuum sealer. The third portion was left in the mixing bowl, covered with plastic cling wrap (this is my control). All three portions were placed in the fridge.

Three hours later I removed the vacuum sealed and control portions. I portioned the cookies out using a #20 disher on identical room temperature half sheet pans lined with parchment. Each cookie was sprinkled with a small amount of course sea salt. I baked each pan for 13 minutes at 375º F. I allowed the cookies to cool for about 30-45 minutes.

Willing test subject 1 (crankygirlie) tried both cookies and found the control to taste better, but detected a definite texture difference in the two samples.

It should be noted that I have identified an potential difficulty in preventing test subject 1 from exhausting the supply of test cookies. Hopefully I will be able to prevent such a catastrophe before completion of the experiment.

Should we make it to Friday with sufficient supply in hand I intend to conduct blind taste tests with more willing test subjects. Applications are now being accepted.

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
prettyh
Jul. 17th, 2008 09:15 am (UTC)
Do they ship well? *thinks about raising hand*
matthew
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:38 am (UTC)
Actually, they do. I would of course have to bake more, but it's not entirely out of the question.... Though I wonder if customs would eat them :/
qfemale
Jul. 17th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
*glares at large bodies of water between her and taste test*

DAMNIT!
matthew
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:41 am (UTC)
If you've got a stand mixer they are easy enough to make. The real tricks are using an ice cream scoop (disher) to make them all the same size and baking them til they are not quite done. They'll finish outside of the oven. Bake just until the edges turn a nice golden brown.
qfemale
Jul. 28th, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC)
It's not the same if I have to put the effort into it, beside then I'd just make way more than necessary and eat them all in one sitting.
mimsy
Jul. 17th, 2008 04:02 pm (UTC)
Should we make it to Friday with sufficient supply in hand I intend to conduct blind taste tests with more willing test subjects. Applications are now being accepted.

See, that's the thing that I was thinking as I read both articles. What qualities someone expects out of the perfect chocolate chip cookie varies greatly from person to person, so "better" is a hard thing to quantify without a large testing group.

I thought it was interesting that no one seemed to involve gluten in any of their cookie dough resting theories. You're not just hydrating the dry ingredients when you rest dough, you're hydrating the gluten. Which, to me, suggests that the rested cookies could be tougher than the freshly-mixed ones...which wouldn't go along with my personal perfect chocolate chip cookie requirements. =) Gluten hydration probably has its limits, though, so I don't think the 12 hour dough would be that much different than the 36 hour dough. I think a real trial would have to test the rested cookies against the control both hot out of the oven and after they've cooled. Without the "Warm Rule" in play to mask things, the non-rested ones might turn out to be the overall winners on texture.

Another thing they don't delve into is the properties of eggs in baking...the protein in them is what causes all that lovely caramelization, like when you brush an egg wash on top of a pastry. But they sort of get at that vaguely without explaining it. I do remember the dough being darker when it had sat around in the walk-in fridge for a week or more back when I was getting paid to scoop cookies, but I don't remember any huge difference in the finished product from a week with old dough versus a week where I had to make a fresh batch. I do know that the recipes we used for our cookies were all pretty dry and hard once they'd cooled. They kept better for the buffet that way, but I'm more of a fan of softer and/or chewier cookies. The older dough was definitely much easier to scoop, though, less soft and sticky. Older dough also spread less readily, which supports my thoughts about the gluten thing above, although I think temperature (refrigerated solidified butter in the dough versus room temperature recently creamed dough in the fresh stuff) probably accounted for a lot of that too.

Oh, and another thing that bugs me about this...I know it's less scientific, but cookies should be cooked by sight, not a timer, which could affect things as well. Because the egg is more thoroughly absorbed in the rested dough, my guess is that they'd have a slightly shorter cooking time because the protein would be more...readily affected, since I can't think of the word I want.

Therefore, I think one could devote several weeks, possibly years, to testing this method. Which sounds pretty tasty. I offer my services in this endeavor. ;-) I have my notes on what factors contribute to different cookie characteristics from pastry school if you're interested.
adrinna
Jul. 18th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
Which, to me, suggests that the rested cookies could be tougher than the freshly-mixed ones...

Sometimes at school we rest our doughs to "relax" the gluten. Gluten formation requires hydration AND agitation, right? Although I'm kind of unsure about what exactly is happening when the gluten is "relaxing." Is it becoming less elastic?

The other gluten factor I would assume is the fact that cookies have an incredibly high percentage of shortening (any kind of fat), which shortens gluten strands. Cookies are one of the things I don't spend much time worrying about over-mixing or becoming really tough because of this fact (not to say it's not possible, but it would probably take a lot of effort).
matthew
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
I hadn't heard that about fat and gluten. That would explain a little about why the cookie dough never gets tough no matter how much you mix it. Though, wouldn't the sugar also be getting in the way? Perhaps there just isn't enough gluten to get together around all that sugar.

I'm suddenly trying to imagine a high-gluten chocolate chip cookie and what it would look and taste like. Sort of the love child of a chocolate chip cookie and a baguette.
adrinna
Jul. 22nd, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think Alton Brown sort of refers to the shortening effect when he talks about fat "coating" the flour particles. I think what happens is that proteins are trapped inside a coating of fat and cannot wobble their coils all over the freaking place.... but it's the reason fat is referred to as "shortening" ... because it shortens gluten strands!

Also, about the double-panning thing. I've found that my oven is kind of nut-so and if I don't put two half sheet pans under my cookies on parchment, I get over-browned and even burned bottoms... the two pans are enough to sort of slow the conduction of heat, I guess. Although we do the double-panning thing at school, too.... and I'd like to think our oven isn't nut-so there.
matthew
Jul. 23rd, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
Ahhh! That makes so much sense. I always wondered why it was called shortening.

When you pull the cookies from the oven do you immediately de-pan them? I do and don't see any over-browning of the bottom of the cookie. I also try to let my pans cool down again before putting another sheet of cookies on them.
adrinna
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
Aha! That must be why... de-panning hot buttery cookies is danger danger for me, and no time to be careful about it at school, so that must be the reason. And yes, I always put new cookies on a room-temp pan.

Zoom zoom! We made a dragon sculpture today! It's so cool. We have an airbrusher we use to spray food coloring everywhere. My hands are blue and green and purple!!
matthew
Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
I de-pan by just sliding the whole sheet of parchment onto a cooling rack. I also only have 2 pans so I need to do this in order to cool the pan in time to make another batch.

The sculpture sounds cool. Did you take pictures? I've got a cheap old airbrush that could be used for such shenanigans. It sounds like fun :)
adrinna
Jul. 24th, 2008 02:47 am (UTC)
Heh, yeah, even sliding parchment is dangerous for me (both for burning and losing/breaking cookies).

Yes! Pictures... I just have to put them on smugmug.
matthew
Jul. 24th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
I can understand the burning thing... I'm pretty careful. However when my cookies come out they are still soft and gooey enough that de-panning doesn't risk breakage. They also stick to the parchment well enough that they don't fall off easily. Anyway, works for me.

*goes looking for pictures*
matthew
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:31 am (UTC)
I used AB's chewy recipe which calls for bread flour because of it's high gluten content. I didn't actually use bread flour this time because all I had was AP. I did mix the hell out of it though so the gluten in the flour was certainly given a good workout.

As for eggs, I only had one egg white and two yolks in the batter. That's not a lot of protein really. Doesn't the sugar in the dough brown up too? Or is that at a much higher temp?

As for scooping... this stuff was hard when I got it out of the fridge. Normally it's pretty easily scoopable this was like scooping ice cream or hard butter but with chunks in it.

Yes, I baked them by sight. The first batch was done at 13 minutes so I pulled them and timed the next batch the same. I checked for doneness by sight and they indeed baked in the same amount of time.

Further testing is indeed called for and we should plan to continue on in the name of science.
adrinna
Jul. 18th, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
Oh how I love the cookie experiments! Can I help?

I've found that I get more even browning if I double pan them, btw.
matthew
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:23 am (UTC)
Of course you can help!

What kind of browning, and what do you mean by double panning? Two sheet pans stacked?
crankygirlie
Jul. 19th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)
It's soooooo not my fault if you don't make enough control cookies for me to test.
matthew
Jul. 21st, 2008 05:23 am (UTC)
Indeed, next time I must make more.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )