Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cookies and a Rant

I'm going to spare you the long and involved rant on why baking is fascinating from a chemistry perspective, because I know most of you aren't interested.  I will, however, expound upon proper measuring technique.  If you are actually interested in a science rant, hit me up on Facebook or Skype and I will gladly talk your ear off.

Measuring flavorings, like vanilla extract, chocolate chips, or lemon zest only effects the taste of your end result and as such can be tweaked as needed.  No lemons around?  Use oranges, limes, clementines, or grapefruit.  No chocolate chips?  Break up a candy bar or substitute with chopped nuts or dried fruit.  You can substitute almond extract for vanilla, or even peppermint extract if the recipe is appropriate.  And, fortunately for all of us, adding too little or too much of an ingredient will (usually) not totally destroy your finished baking product.  If you're a huge fan of lemon pound cake, feel free to use as much as double the lemon zest for a bigger lemon punch on your tastebuds.  Know someone who likes their food blander?  Back off on the vanilla extract.


If you mess around with the proportions of the 'baking necessary' ingredients, like flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and eggs, I hope you burn in a fiery pit of hell reserved especially for baking idiots.  You deserve to have your cookies come out flat and crumbly when you wanted soft and chewy.  You deserve to have dense, rock-like muffins.  You even deserve to have a cake that's burned on the edges but still pudding in the center.  Proper measuring technique is simple to learn and execute, and the ONLY excuse for fucked up baking is using a recipe that doesn't work in the first place.

I'll give you an example.

Measuring flour requires two things: 1) A measuring implement such as a 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, or cup measure and 2) a knife, clean finger, or other smoothing device.

A properly measured 1/4 cup of flour looks like this:




This is also applicable to measuring baking powder and baking soda, except that both these products tend to have handy smoothing implements built into their containers.

That being said, I nearly had a major fuck up making this next recipe.  I cut a 1/4 cup of butter to cream with the brown sugar.  I was looking at the result after beating it for a little while, thinking 'this can't be right, the ratio's all off!'.  Mama Bear poked her head in and immediately spotted the problem: "Are you sure you added enough butter?  That doesn't look right".  I went back to the recipe, and sure enough I had missed that oh so important 1/4 cup of butter.  That's what sometimes happens when I try to bake while anxious about something else.  Because, oh yeah, I have a phone interview for a full time job today!  My first phone interview, too.  And even though I am qualified for the job and confident in my resume, I will still be anxious, I will still obsess about my answers to obscure questions that I probably won't get asked but you never know and it doesn't hurt to be prepared and oh god is this where I ask my interviewer that huge list of questions about the position and the company or should I wait until the in-person interview?  What if I don't get an in-person interview?  Where'd I leave my other references' contact information?  What if she doesn't like me?  And on and on and on. 

It comes with the territory, folks.  Liva will always obsess over every little detail, but sometimes she can forget important things if her brain is obsessing harder about something that seems more imminent.

Oatmeal Chocolate Cherry Cookies
from Apt. 2B Baking Company

3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cup rolled or old fashioned oats*
1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375° F.  Thoroughly mix dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and spices) together in a small baking bowl.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until lighter in color and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients in thirds, mixing continuously, until wet and dry ingredients are fully incorporated.  Finally, mix in oats, cherries, and chocolate chips.  Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets (if you don't have parchment paper you can always just grease the cookie sheet with a little oil or butter).  Bake for approximately 12 minutes, rotating halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges.  Cool on a wire rack or paper towels.

Makes about 24 cookies.

*OATS.  They're sold under different names.  For example, quick cooking oats are also known as instant oats.  They are not the same as rolled or old fashioned oats.  Which are not the same as steel-cut or Irish oats.  Rolled and instant oats look similar, but instant oats have been mostly cooked before packaging, which is why they require less cooking time at home. 

In my opinion, instant oatmeal is good for nothing but a last resort.  Some baking recipes call for it, but they aren't generally worth your time either.  Rolled oats are best for baking, they add texture and flavor without being hard or grainy.  Steel-cut oats are the best for making actual oatmeal; porridge made from steel-cut oats is much less mushy than oatmeal made from rolled or instant oats.

So, these cookies were good.  Very tasty, very satisfying, and not at all cloying.  If you are craving oatmeal cookies, these would be a great fix.  I am not particularly in need of oatmeal cookies at the moment, so these were fine.  Not life-changing, but fine.

To be honest, I really tried this recipe because I found the Apt. 2B Baking Company blog and thought this would be a decent stress-free test recipe.  And I can say that I am excited to try some of their other posted recipes after making these cookies.  I think I saw a post on soft rye pretzels.  Something to think about.

Papa Bear commented that he thought the dried fruit was hard.  He suggested soaking, or reconstituting, the cherries before chopping them and adding them to the batter.  Water would work fine, but so would apple juice or rum.  In fact, rum might be really, really good.  Again, something to think about.

Wish me luck on this interview.  I really need something better to do than cook and write to myself ;). 


  1. I hope the interview went well!

  2. For serious, though, anyone who can't figure out how to measure/that they have to measure those basic things properly shouldn't be allowed to bake. There ought to be a law.

  3. Volume measure is wildly inaccurate--moisture, settling, how you fill the measuring cup. If accuracy is critical, it's best to weigh flour. But even better if you know by feel when you've added enough!

  4. @Anonymous
    I agree, but I don't own a working scale. And fluffing the flour before measuring is usually enough to get my measurements close.