Cookie Science!

Who loves Alton Brown’s show Good Eats? I know I do!

But what I really like is when the whole subject of the show is my all-time favorite baked good: Chocolate Chip Cookies! mmm, yum. I watched an episode the other day all about CCC. Perfect!

Did you know that the CCC is America’s #2 favorite cookie? Any guesses on #1?

I’ll reveal the answer later this week!


So, the show encouraged me to study the science of the cookie – something I really have always been curious about, but haven’t taken much time to familiarize myself with. So, I did some research!


  • FATS: fats are melted during the baking process and cover egg protein, starches, and gluten in order to form a composition which dictates the tenderness of the cookie. As the fats melt, they produce air and moisture (steam) and contribute to the rise of the cookie.
    • Butter: melts quickly, therefore creating a thinner and crispier cookie. Interestingly, butter melts at 98.6 degrees – the average human body temperature. Not sure why that is interesting, I just think it is!
    • Shortening: will take less time to cream with sugar and take longer to melt, so the resulting cookie will be thicker and chewier.
    • Liquid oils: These do not hold air and so in the creaming process of the fat and sugar, will not create the fluffiness you would see with butter or margerine. The cookie will likely be very flat because of the quickness of melting during the baking process.
    • Substitutes: I like to substitute applesauce a lot in baking. I can’t really seem to find what happens chemically when you use a fat substitute like this when baking. I’m assuming applesauce doesn’t melt like butter but would still allow for air and moisture to rise and create depth to the cookie. I’ll keep sticking with the ‘sauce.
  • SUGARS: the ratio of brown to white sugar directly results in the crispiness or chewiness of the cookie. As the sugar cools it crystallizes, the different types of sugars have different crystallizing properties, and therefore result in different hardness-of-cookie.
    • Brown: using more brown sugar than white will allow for a chewier cookie. Being made with more molasses, the sugar has more moisture, and thus, so will your cookie.
      • Light vs. dark: light has half the molasses as dark and is a good balance between white and brown sugars. The darker your sugar, the chewier your cookie will be.
    • White:  having more white than brown sugar results in a crispier cookie.
  • EGGS: provide the protein for the flour to interact with.
    • Whole Eggs: the yolk and the white.
    • Egg Whites: for a crispier cookie use more whites.
    • Egg Yolks: if you love that chewy cookie, use more egg yolks (you will often see something like 1 whole egg + 1 yolk).
    • Baking Soda: is alkaline and creates bubbles in the dough. It raises the temperature at which the batter sets, and should be baked as soon as possible following its addition to the batter. The soda will allow the cookie to spread more and rise less, creating a crispier cookie.
    • Baking Powder: essentially acts like baking soda but with a acid incorporated (like cream of tartar) so is generally pH neutral. Replace b. soda with b. powder will not allow the cookie to spread as much, resulting in a chewier cookie.
  • FLOURS: the protein in flour is what determines the texture of the cookie. The amount of protein present determines how much moisture is absorbed and how much is released in steam. Remember, the amount of steam released determines the chewiness and rise of the cookie!
    • Cake: low-protein = more steam = more cake-like cookie (well you are using cake flour, so…)
    • Bread: high-protein content creates more gluten content which results in chewier cookie.
    • All-purpose: medium-protein and most often used in baking. It’s going to give you a cookie somewhere inbetween cakey, chewy, moistue and crispy.
    • Vanilla Extract: simply adds flavor, does not do much for the cookie chemically.
    • Milk: some recipes call for eggs and milk. Some call for no milk (most). If you want a crispier cookie, replace the eggs with milk – it will allow for more spreading during the baking process.

Thinner, crispier cookie: butter, bread flour, baking soda, milk instead of eggs or egg whites, more white sugar than brown.

Thicker, chewier cookie: shortening, cake flour, baking powder, whole eggs and/or egg yolks, more brown sugar (especially dark brown) than white.

Why is it important to cream butter and sugar? Alton (and other sources) say that creaming the butter and sugar together creates little pockets of air in the dough. When the sugar and butter are ground together, the sharpness of the sugar cuts through the butter, creating those pockets of air and making the mixture light and fluffy.

What’s your favorite type of cookie – thin and crispy or thick and chewy?

Home Baking Association

I Really Like Food


2 thoughts on “Cookie Science!

  1. I love that you did this post. My all-time favorite, go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe is Alton Brown’s “chewy.” Lots of fun facts here about baking chemistry!

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