a blog chronicling my days of unemployment and all the crafty things i'll do during it

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

baking with butter, because it's locally made...

in our quest to eat locally, chris and i recently made the decision to switch to butter from margarine. there's a great debate about which one is healthier, and i won't get into that here. just google "butter vs margarine" to see for yourself.

we both grew up eating margarine, because it's what our parents bought. in my family, we only had butter for two occasions: family gatherings (because some extended family members wouldn't eat margarine); and in november/december (aka shortbread baking season).

in the small amounts that chris and eat of it (on toast in the morning), we feel better purchasing a locally made product with minimal packaging (butter), rather than something that comes in a non-recyclable plastic tub via truck from somewhere outside the province (margarine).

at the same time, i've also been on a quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. i wondered if my use of margarine rather than butter or shortening was affecting my cookie outcomes. every time i make my chocolate chip cookies, they're delicious right out of the oven. BUT they quickly harden and aren't as soft and chewy the next day. i could really use a cooking/baking chemistry course. but instead, i resorted to the internet to tell me what i'm doing wrong.

alton brown says that there are 3 things that will make your cookies stay softer for longer:

1. using more brown sugar in place of white sugar
2. using a higher-gluten flour (ie. bread flour) instead of all purpose flour
3. extra egg yolk

a few baking websites on the internet also recommend these things for a cookie that stays softer for longer:

- melting your butter before using it
- carefully measuring flour
- refrigerating the dough prior to baking
- "undercooking" your cookies (removing them from the oven just before they're done because they continue baking on the pan for a minute or two after they're out of the oven)
- using half vegetable shortening and half butter (the shortening is supposed to keep them softer?)

all that being said. i certainly realized the major flaws in my cookie making...

i've been trying to get away with using egg-whites only, to make a lower cholesterol cookie. i've also been using margarine instead of butter and/or shortening. i am not particularly strict with my ingredient measurement - i tend to use very loose measurements. i'm impatient - so i rarely refrigerate the dough prior to baking. and, on top of it all, i'm pretty sure i'm a chronic over-baker - meaning, i always give my cookies "just one more minute" in the oven, and the bottoms always wind up a bit dark. my oven is about 50 degrees hotter than it's dial reads, and i don't always take that into account either.

however, i already use all or mostly-all brown sugar in my cookie recipes. so, i do get a few bonus points for that.

so for today's cookies, i put aside my cookie baking habits and tried to follow the suggestions of the wise old internet.

here's the recipe i used. i made some changes, to reflect the above suggestions for softer cookies. (1/3 cup of brown sugar in place of the 1/2 white; and 1/4 cup shortening in place of some of the butter) i also added 1/2 cup walnuts. i made my cookies smaller than the ones in the original recipe.

and, now to put them to the test. i baked a double batch. you should all come over and eat some :)

but really, most of the cookies will go to school with chris tomorrow to feed the hungry grad students in his office. chris has graciously volunteered to eat at least one cookie every day until they're gone, to test for cookie softness decreasing over time.


  1. im sure chris' sacrifice will be appreciated!

    i should send you the choc chip cookie recipe we baked all the time - it is my fave and make good cookies (if i do say so myself!)

  2. How very scientific of Chris! but really, he should know you need a bigger sample size for statistically significant results. therefore, I will willingly take time out of my day to sample your cookies if you want to ship some out here ;)

  3. mel, i'd love your cookie recipe!

    tara - unfortunately, at this time there is no space for out of province research participants. should you move back to nova scotia in the near future, the cookie experiment would be glad to include you. really, i don't think they'd be fresh after a week in the mail. they're not like shortbread (which lasts months via mail to mauritius).