The Incomplete Under Analysis of Chocolate Chip Cookies

I picked up some good and bad habits spending 6 years as a professional baker. I mentored with an excellent pastry chef in Calgary who taught me a lot and I taught myself a lot during that time as well. I went through highs and lows and ended up eventually quitting my kitchen career but my need for food knowledge is never ending. I'm going to share some tips on cookie making I learned throughout my professional baking and home baking experiences.

I'm going to take a simple and classic recipe, Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies, break it down, and shell out some ideas. Some history, interesting food facts, and tips for bakers of all kinds. I want myself and everyone to be the best cookie makers ever!

There are many variations on the invention of the chocolate chip cookie but there's one that's my favourite blend of lore. A woman named Ruth Graves Wakefield is said to have invented this famous dessert. She owned the popular Tollhouse Inn in Massachusetts during the 1930's and specialized in home cooking. She served a variety of cookies and desserts and while inventing something new, came across a Nestle chocolate bar in the kitchen. She cut up the bar, expecting the pieces to melt while baking. When the chocolate stayed in it's form, the very popular chocolate chip cookie was born. When Nestlé caught wind they offered Ruth, in exchange for her recipe, a lifetime supply of nestle chocolate. She agreed and shared the name of her popular inn, thus the Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie. This is my favourite of lore so I'm going with it.

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (or butter replacer. see below)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs (or egg replacer)

2 cups (12-oz. pkg.)NESTLÉ® TOLLHOUSE® Semi-Sweet>ChocolateMorsels

1 cup chopped nuts

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan.
  • Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. 
  • Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. 

There are some really nifty equipments to have while making cookies as well as tools that are just necessary. Some of my handiest are my variety of cookie scoops and parchment paper (best when pre-cut to an appropriate size. (Why the .. doesn't it come pre measured for home baking!?!!!!!!!). As well, it's good to know what kind of pans are best for each recipe and cookie layouts for what you're making.

I started using scoops when I worked at a small cookie shop and now I use them for everything. They come in a variety of sizes and are around only $5-$10 each. They make nice uniform cookies, cupcakes and muffins (good for Instagramming because no one's perfect). Sometimes if I can't find a serving spoon, I just use my biggest cookie scoop - also good for extra ice cream.

Parchment paper is handy and quick, especially when it comes to clean up time. Never replace parchment with waxed paper; waxed paper WILL BURN in the oven (I learned the hard way). It's best to buy a roll close to the length or width of your pan to limit the amount of cutting it to the size of your pan (WHYYYY AREN'TE THEY FITTED????). It should fit the entire pan in one layer (overlap of parchment on another sheet causes trouble when removing your goods from the pan). Sometimes parchment will curl up around the corners or edges if the pan is damp or it was rolled up quite tight. An easy way to keep the paper flat is by spraying the edges of the cookie sheet with pan spray or, if you're making cake, a dab of cake batter before placing the parchment.

There's a variety of sizes of baking pans available in lots of different materials. My favourite, though a bit pricey, are half size industrial baking pans, which can be used for almost anything.

Thin, no stick pans are good for cookies if you want a crispy bottom (but usually burn breads). You can also achieve crispier bottomed cookies by letting them cool on the pan rather than on a cooling rack.

I avoid non stick pans when making bars to ensure not to ruin the coating when cutting and serving. However, another option is to line the pan with parchment, with some sticking out each side, and once the bar is set lift it onto a cutting board in one go. This makes for a clean and even cut without ruining your pan coating.

Every time I make a new cookie recipe, I do a test. 

I scoop two cookies of the same size onto a prepared baking sheet, flatten one, and bake them both at the same temperature and amount of time. This way I can choose baking time, temperature, if I want to flatten the cookies or not, and know how much room to leave for the spread when I bake a whole tray. My two favourite pan layouts are as follows and I find they work for most cookies to ensure the most on a tray without being too packed!

Cookie layouts
Cookie layouts

Sometimes while making chocolate chip cookies you might decide to leave the salt out. You don't feel like salt today, you're out (heaven forbid) or maybe you're just too lazy. Whatever your personal reasoning for leaving out the salt is, you should STOP doing that right now.

Each ingredient in a recipe has a certain number of molecules/recipe. Salt and sugar are complex compounds, but because I'm not a chemist, let's look at them very simply. Assuming salt is sodium chloride (NaCl) and sugar is sucrose (C12H22O11) we can calculate the molecules.

This recipe calls for ¾ cup of white sugar. The weight (mass) of the white sugar is 149.0 grams (g). It has a molar mass (mass divided by amount of substance) of 342.3 grams per mol (g/mol). In any chemistry equation, it's good to convert things into moles first by using dimensional analysis:

Sugar to Moles
Sugar to Moles

You can then calculate the number of molecules using Avadagro's Number**:

Sugar to Moles to Molecules
Sugar to Moles to Molecules

1 teaspoon of salt weighs 10 grams. The molar mass of salt is 58.44 g/mol. You can do the same with salt:

Salt to moles to molecules
Salt to moles to molecules

The ratio of salt to sugar seems so low, 1 teaspoon to ¾ cup of sugar, which is why one might think it's okay to leave the salt out. In doing this calculation you can see that, despite the weight difference, due to the molar mass of each salt and sugar, they end up with only a difference of about 1.5 molecules spread within the recipe. Salt has nearly as many molecules as sugar in this recipe, though cookies come out tasting sweet, which is also quite interesting.

Brown sugar is a touchy subject. Everyone has their way of keeping brown sugar moist...

 ie) Cover it with a damp cloth, keep a piece of bread in the bag or buy one of those little clay teddy bears. I don't think any of these are the best result and I do not buy brown sugar because I end up with a rock hard lump and an angry baker. My method is to just make my own, which is really simple.

Brown sugar is produced commercially by combining white sugar with molasses. The general rule is as follows: 1 cup of brown sugar = 1 cup of white sugar + 1 tbsp of molasses.

Easy, though, sometimes you need a different amount then 1 cup. There is a very simple way to adjust and convert any ingredient.

Converting to 3/4 cup is simple. 1 cup x 0.75 = 3/4 cup. 1 tbsp x  0.75 = 3/4 tablespoon. 

This is a simple calculation but you can use it for all recipes! Food is science!

Cookies work best when ingredients are at room temperature. In North America, one normally keeps eggs in the fridge. An egg contaminated with salmonella left at room temperature will have an increased growth of salmonella but the salmonella bacteria will not multiply in the fridge. It's hard to remember to take them out to warm up before baking. A trick to bring eggs quickly to room temperature is very simple. Crack the eggs into a cup or bowl and fill the sink with warm  water. I place the bowl in the water and mix the eggs around, feeling them until they're just at room temperature - voila! If you choose to leave them out to warm up before baking, make sure to use them within 2 hours of being out of the fridge.

There are many vegan alternatives to eggs in baking. In cookies and chewy baked goods, replace one egg with 1 tbsp of ground flax seed and 3 tbsp of water. In cakes and sweet breads this can be used as well or half a banana mashed or 1/2 a cup of silken tofu blended. Butter can easily be replaced with a mix of 3:1 Earth Balance Buttery spread to Earth Balance Shortening. I've aso used just shortening in a pinch and it worked fine too. 

High quality chocolate is a key ingredient in these cookies and all baking. Chocolate in North America can contain only 10% actual cocoa butter and still be labeled chocolate though in Europe, the minimum amount of cocoa butter is 20%. Often cheap chocolates have fillers such as palm oil, canola oil or paraffin wax (Yes, you read that right. FDA approved and often labeled "natural and artificial flavours"). These ingredients make the chocolate shiny, improve shelf life and help chocolate to keep it's form at room temperature. If you were to taste a chocolate bar made in North America versus one of the same brand made in Europe you'd taste a significant difference. Try to find a high quality chocolate, made with more cocoa butter and fewer fillers for a better taste and texture in your cookies.

Finally, on the note of chocolate, there are a variety of cocoa powders available. Cocoa beans produced for regular cocoa powder are roasted and then ground into cocoa powder. In the process of Dutch cocoa powder, the beans are first washed in an alkaline (potassium carbonate) solution and then ground. This results in a darker and milder powder, which is basic instead of other processed cocoa, which is acidic. Dutch processed cocoa powder can be replaced in recipes containing baking powder as the sole leavening agent but does not react with soda in the same way as undutched cocoa, so can not be used in recipes containing baking soda.

Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), a basic or alkaline solution. It reacts with an acid in baking to from carbon dioxide (CO2) which puffs up the cookie.

We can take the reaction of vinegar(CH3COOH - acetic acid also known as ethanoic acid) combined with baking soda (NaHCO3) and two steps occur. Acetic acid reacts with sodium bicarbonate to form sodium acetate and carbonic acid:


The carbonic acid then undergoes a decomposition reaction (breaks apart), to produce the carbon dioxide gas:

When using cocoa powder, the acid in the powder (which is stearic acid) is what reacts with the soda in this way. 

As dutch processed cocoa powder is not acidic, it does not react with soda. If your recipe is heavy in soda, stick to undutched cocoa and save the dutch processed for baking powder recipes.

** Avadagros Principle: 1 mole is equal to 12 grams of carbon-12. Carbon 12 has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. Electrons are not counted when weighing molecules, as the weight is so small. Protons and neutrons weigh about the same. They are measured in atomic mass unit(u) or a dalton(Da), which weigh 1.66 x 10-27 kg. Carbon has 12 atomic mass units, 6 protons and 6 neutrons. You can calculate the mass by 12 x (1.66 x 10-27 u) = 1.99 x 10-26 kg. You can calculate the number of molecules by dividing the weight of a single molecule. 12 g carbon-12 divided by 1.99 x 10-26 kg we arrive at Avagadro's number which is 6.022 x 1023