Way the cookie crumbles depends on the science

I want to enter some chocolate chip cookies in the open class division at the Douglas County Fair next week, but my cookies always spread out too much so they’re flat. What’s the problem?

Cookies that end up flat have a lot to do with the amount of moisture in the dough.

The type and amount of ingredients in cookies is critical in a low-moisture environment like cookie dough. Changing the amount of liquid (if any in the recipe) or changing other ingredients will affect how much liquid is available. This will affect cookie spread.

Butter will cause more spread because of a lower melting point. To restrict spread, switch to all or part shortening. Butter-flavored shortening will give a buttery flavor. The kind of fat used has more effect on the spread than the amount of fat.

The type of flour used influences spread because it absorbs liquid. The order ingredients are combined is the trick. If the flour and liquid are combined first, this limits how fat coats the flour particles. To reduce crumbliness, add a tablespoon of water to the flour first to start gluten formation and help hold the cookie together.

Liquid typically comes from butter or eggs. But remember, eggs contain protein, which reduces spread. Use more egg yolks for more spread.

Baking powder and baking soda also influence spread. With acidic ingredients like chocolate and brown sugar, the cookies will not spread much. If baking soda is added, the acid is neutralized, and more spread will occur.

Brown sugar will hold cookies together more than granulated sugar. The amount of sugar will also affect spread. More sugar leads to more spread.

Cocoa acts like flour in cookies. It does not contain sugar. Unsweetened baking chocolate has a slight amount of sugar. So both of these chocolates will not cause a lot of cookie spread.

Have fun baking, and see you at the fair! Remember to enter all open class foods from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday in Building 21 North on the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Encourage your family and friends to enter some baked products, too. Just go to the website at www.dgcountyfair.com and review the fairbook to see all of the different types of food that can be entered.

Q: Should I let my bananas turn black to use them for making banana bread?

A: There’s really no need to let the bananas turn black. However, for the best banana flavor, let bananas ripen until the peel is heavily speckled with brown or black spots.

Heavily speckled bananas have almost three times as much fructose than less ripe bananas. Fructose is the sweetest sugar in fruit. There is very little difference in sweetness between black bananas and heavily speckled ones.

Q: How can I prevent the bottom crust of my pies from getting soggy?

A: One of the biggest pie-baking problems is preventing the bottom crust from getting soggy. This can be caused by runny fillings, cracks in the crust, underbaking or other problems.

When making a prebaked crust, fix cracks in the crust by brushing the freshly baked crust with a lightly beaten egg white. Doing this when the crust comes out of the oven will help seal any cracks. The heat from the crust will cook the egg white and form a seal.

Fruit pies with double crusts are extra-challenging. Custard pies, such as pumpkin pie, can also be problematic. The trick to help get the bottom crust baked is getting more heat to the bottom of the pie pan.

When preheating the oven, place a baking sheet or stone in the oven. Preheat to 400 degrees for at least 15 minutes. Place the pie directly on the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees for the remaining baking time or until the crust is golden brown.

This tip helps to quickly liquefy the fat in the crust so it can fill and coat the spaces and particles of flour. This creates a watertight barrier and prevents fruit juices from soaking into the crust.

Here’s a prize-winning pie crust recipe that many 4-H’ers have used over the years with great results!

Fool-proof pie crust

4 cups flour

1 3/4 cup shortening

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 egg

1/2 cup water

With a fork, mix together first four ingredients. In separate bowl, beat remaining ingredients. Combine the two mixtures, stirring with a fork. With hands, mold into a ball and then roll into pie shape.

Q: I always have a tough time knowing when baked products are done. Any suggestions?

A: In baking, there are many visual clues to test whether a product is done. This includes lightly touching a cake surface, a golden brown color on breads or inserting a toothpick in a quick bread to see whether it is still sticky. However, another way to test for doneness is by checking the internal temperature using a calibrated food thermometer. By practicing a recipe, you can determine with temperature how long it takes to bake a product. Then, make note of that time in the recipe for future reference.

Here are some suggested temperatures for some baked goods. Remember, these are suggestions. It is still important to use visual clues to determine if a product is done.

  • Layer cakes: 205-210 degrees
  • Pound cake: 210 degrees
  • Jelly roll cakes: 190-195 degrees
  • Muffins: 210 degrees
  • Quick bread: 210 degrees
  • Yeast bread: 195-210 degrees
  • Bundt cake: 212 degrees
  • Yeast rolls: 190-195 degrees