Perfecting the Christmas Cookie (with Science!)

Cookies are great, it’s (probably) been proven by scientists. But, what if you could make your cookies even better? It turns out that culinary scientists have discovered multiple ways to improve the flavors of your baked goods! These delicious tips and tricks will be sure to impress… thanks, Science!

Cookie dough ready to be put in the oven. awyu322 – CC BY-SA 2.0

First off, let’s be clear that food scientists are an absolutely vital component of modern society. Food science explores what people eat and why, but also how to transform produce and meats into something more edible, nutritious, stable, or sustainable than in its original form. The field is truly interdisciplinary, requiring skills in chemistry, biology, engineering, nutrition, and many other fields. Food science has also been responsible for many health-focused breakthroughs, including vitamin-enhanced foods, improved shelf-life (think about canning and pasteurization), and the development of gluten or allergy-free versions. Taken together, it should be obvious that food scientists have a firm grasp on what makes an edible product extravagant.

So, what do we need to make the best possible cookies this holiday season? Well, there’s not exactly a firm consensus from food scientists. The problem is that every type of cookie has a slightly different flavor profile, and everyone will have a preference for the type of flavor that they enjoy the most. Instead, we’ve made a list of various tips and tricks that you can use as you experiment with your own favorite recipe – after all, one of the best parts of baking is experimenting with different flavors and trying new techniques until you settle on the one that will become a family legacy!

Top food scientist cookie tricks:

  1. Gently caramelize your white sugar before using it by baking it low and slow. It turns out that you can caramelize the minute amounts of liquid found in sugar without melting the remaining sugar crystals. The toasted sugar will give your cookies a nutty, toffee flavor without altering the texture of the final cookie. For more information and instructions click here.
  2. Enhance the taste of chocolate by adding a pinch of coffee. Don’t worry, we are talking about adding just a single tablespoon of instant coffee (or espresso) to the batch of cookies. This is small enough that you won’t even taste the coffee. However, adding additional aromatics and volatile compounds – chemicals that evaporate into the surrounding air – can enhance the flavor of chocolate. The coffee will make the final cookie slightly more bitter, but it will also boost the chocolate flavor. This trick works exceptionally well with milk chocolate, which tends to have softer flavors.
  3. Use baking soda AND baking powder in your cookies to give them volume and texture. Both of these are chemical leaveners, which means that they create gas bubbles in baked goods. Although they each need acid to activate, they have different reactions when mixed into a dough. Baking soda reacts fast, as soon as it comes into contact with an acid, while baking powder tends to act a bit later. Together, the two leavening agents result in lighter, thicker cookies. Oh, and the acid can come from multiple different sources – buttermilk, brown sugar, or cream of tartar are all common. Baking powder contains a powered acid already, it just needs a liquid to activate.

Do you have a favorite food science trick that you use in your holiday baking? Let us know! If not, give some of the tricks above a try – it just might make your best recipe even better!

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