The ultimate cookies

There is much talk lately of people doing their hobbies, as many of us are spending more time at home. I believe that there are “hobby people” and “non-hobby people”; I fall into the former camp. I hear people asking about what hobbies they might take up. That never occurs to me, as I have always had a number of hobbies, some of which have been with me all of my life. Although I dabble in lots of things, I would list my main hobbies as being photography, reading/writing and food/drink. A manifestation of the last one is my enjoyment of cooking …

Even as I child, I was always keen on food. So being able to cook was an obvious necessity as I grew up. Over the years, it became a pleasure. I think that one particular attraction of cooking for me is the subtle blend of science and art [interestingly, this is true for photography too]. Cooking food is basically and set of physical and chemical processes. In general, if you subject a set of ingredients to a given process you will get the same result every time. However, there are almost always a huge number of variables, so taking a purely scientific approach can be almost impossible; that is when cooking becomes an art, when you do it using experience and intuition. A good example is roast potatoes. I find it almost impossible to get totally consistent results. This is unsurprising when you consider the variables:

  • what variety of potatoes do you use?
  • do you peel them?
  • how big are the pieces that you cut?
  • do you par-boil them first? If so, for how long and do you shake them in the pan to rough them up afterwards?
  • what kind of fat/oil do you use for roasting?
  • do you heat the pan before putting the potatoes in?
  • what temperature do you set the oven?
  • do you take them out and move them around in the pan from time to time?
  • how long do they take to roast?

It is no surprise that they are so random. Some people say that this is part of the fun of cooking. I have a scientific frame of mind, so I am not so sure.

I have always had more of a “sweet tooth” than is good for me. As a result, I used to eat far too many cookies [or biscuits as we call them – referring to the smaller, crisper items]. A few years ago, I decided that I should go for quality instead of quantity and started purchasing nice quality, triple chocolate chip [American style] cookies from a local store. I got into the habit of having one of these with my coffee each morning. [I also cut down to a single cup of coffee most mornings and bought a very good coffee machine to accommodate that.] This practice was fine – I just needed to visit the store every so often to stock up on my favorite cookies [I had previously gone through a process of selecting which store’s product was best.]. Last year I started wondering whether I could make my own cookies.

When I got around to trying it, having researched quite a few recipes, I was quite pleased. They were not at all bad. However, they were not exactly what I was after. What I want: good amount of chocolate, not too sweet, very slight crispness [not too soft]. So, when I was drafting my 12 Things for 2020 I included #8: “master making biscuits” [where I meant cookies]. Just lately I have being doing some research. I found what seemed to be an easy, but flexible recipe and made the first batch exactly as it said. They were OK, but a little too sweet. I reduced the milk/white chocolate content. Still a little sweet and a little on the “cakey” side. I tried again, with double amount of cocoa and increased the baking time by 2 minutes. Still not crisp enough. Next time, 4 minutes extra baking time, but this time I made fewer, but bigger cookies. Maybe an error, changing 2 variables – still cakey. Next time, I will try smaller cookies again with some extra time. Fingers crossed.

I am doing my best with this research to pursue it scientifically, only tweaking one variable at a time, but there are still many of them:

  • brown/white sugar ratio
  • cocoa powder to flour ratio
  • quantity and ratio of white/milk/dark chocolate
  • cooking time
  • cooking temperature
  • size of cookies

I’m impatient to get to the optimal result. Partly this is just so that I can say that I have succeeded, but also as I want to start creating some new variations, but need to get the basics right first.

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