The Seacole team is looking forward to a festive time off at the end of the month. And if your office is like ours, holiday treats are everywhere! All these confectionery delights has our team thinking about the chemistry behind a delicious cookie.
Cookie Chemistry at Work
Baking cookies and other treats is an example of chemistry in action. Baking is one of the first chemistry experiments we do as kids. The ingredients you use, how long you beat the dough, the temperature of the oven, and baking time work together to set off chemical reactions, resulting in the perfect cookie.
Cookie Chemistry Basics: Spread, Rise, Color, and Flavor
Butter determines the spread, or diameter, of your cookie. Melted butter creates a very wet dough. In the oven, the structure of cookies made from this type of dough will quickly break down in the heat. This expands the diameter of the cookies. Using colder butter creates a drier dough, helping the cookies maintain their structure.
Cookies rise when the water in the dough is converted from liquid to gas (steam). The steam pushes the dough up as it starts to rise. Then, the baking soda and baking powder combination cause a chemical reaction, producing carbon dioxide. The cookies rise even further, creating holes in the dough. The result is light and flaky cookies.
Fun fact: Cookies won’t rise in temperatures lower than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the boiling point of water. Any lower and the water in the dough will not convert to steam. In the last few minutes of the bake, two delicious chemical reactions occur. As the sugars break down, they caramelize and create that signature fresh-baked cookie odor. Then the proteins in the egg and flour succumb to the Maillard reaction. This reaction occurs when sugars and proteins are heated together, for delicious results. The Maillard reaction is responsible for cookies’ toasty flavor.
Cookie Chemistry: Advanced Skills
Here are Seacole’s few chemistry tips for the perfect cookie. Using melted butter in your dough will create a flatter, chewier cookie. Using cold butter creates a cakey, fluffy cookie.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and baking powder (baking soda plus a dry acid, such as cream of tartar) can alter cookie chemistry, too. Using soda instead of powder will create extra rise because baking powder leavens the dough when it is mixed in and when it is heated.
Two more pro tips: Use more flour for a thicker cookie. Dark sugars such as molasses and honey will get you a toastier flavor than white sugar.
Seacole’s Favorite Cookie Recipe: Aunt Mary’s Sugar Cookies
This sugar cookie recipe is from the kitchen of Seacole owner and founder Gregg Elliott’s mother.
Aunt Mary’s Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter
1 ½ cup white sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fresh baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour (reserve 3 Tbsp. for rolling)
Sift flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together three times. Cut into butter like a pie crust. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until light. Add sugar and vanilla to eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Combine all ingredients and hand mix gently. Store in the refrigerator overnight.
Roll thin or make into balls and press with the bottom of a glass that has been dipped in sugar. Bake at 300–325 degrees for 10–12 minutes. Enjoy!
Happy Holidays from the Seacole team!