The other day, at a friends' dinner party, I lucked into some amazing homemade chocolate chip cookies that were richer, softer, and all-around more intense than the typical Toll House version. Turns out that the cookies' baker, Steve Freedberg, a biology professor at St. Olaf, approaches cooking like a scientist, and has made adjustments to his recipe based on how different ingredients react to the baking process. "My main philosophy in cookie baking is to fight moisture loss and spread, while keeping the flavor," Freedberg says. "My ideal cookie has all the gooeyness of cookie dough without all the salmonella." Here's what Freedberg had to say about each of his secrets:
1. Flour Wheat flour contains gluten, a protein that gives baked goods structural support. Bleaching flour denatures (destroys) the proteins, causing cookies to spread out. Unbleached flour, with all its intact glutens, allows the cookies to stay dense and chewy. (I grew up on east coast pizza that has extremely glutinous crust--it is decidedly unfluffy and has the structural integrity of sheet metal.)
2. Eggs The yolks contain more fat than albumen, and trap more moisture. If a recipe calls for 4 eggs, I'll go with five yolks, 3 whites, and make an egg white omelet with the leftovers.
3. Sugar Brown sugar gets its color from molasses, which is hygroscopic--a nerdy word for drawing moisture out of the air. Normally, the cookie dough is so much moister than the cookie because water is lost to evaporation. The hygroscopy of molasses helps to counteract the moisture loss--I replace white sugar with brown sugar but also increase the amount, since a decent amount of the volume of brown sugar is water.
**Freedberg also adds extra chocolate chips and tucks a mini-Reese's cup into the middle of each cookie. No real science behind those decisions--just common sense.