Cookies · Experiments · Recipes

How to make thicker, puffier cookies

Dear baking world,

This is a post that I posted on my blog at the old domain site. I wanted to share it here because I took so much time to put it together and I thought it had a lot of valuable information.

I love Snickerdoodle cookies. There’s something extra special about them. Perhaps it’s the cream of tartar that gives them a bit of tang or the hint of cinnamon (but when I bake them, it’s more like an avalanche of cinnamon.) Whatever it is, they’re one of my favorites. I prefer fluffy, puffy, round, tall Snickerdoodles but my most recent batch didn’t stand up to the test of puffiness. So what to do? Shirley Corriher to the rescue!

There are a couple of ways to increase the puffiness of a cookie and reduce spread.

Option 1: Replace some of the butter with shortening. 

The Science: Butter melts at a much lower temperature than shortening, which means butter promotes cookie spread. If some of the butter is replaced with shortening, the cookies simply won’t spread nearly as much. However, shortening lacks flavor, which is why I kept a little bit of the butter in the recipe. (I do love the rich flavor of butter.)

 Option 2: Replace some of the granulated sugar with brown sugar.

The Science: I know, I know! Snickerdoodles are supposed to be white on the inside, but brown sugar gives them a darker hue but in the name of experimentation, I had to try it. Brown sugar is more moist than granulated sugar, which means that brown sugar will make for a softer cookie.

Option 3: Replace some of the all-purpose flour with cake flour.

The Science: Cake flour has much lower protein content than all-purpose flour. (Cake flour is at about 7.5 percent protein, while all-purpose flour is between 9.5 to 12.) All-purpose flour is much better at absorbing water, which leads to a drier, crispier cookie. Cake flour, on the other hand, has less of these water loving proteins and the water then turns to steam in the oven. Oh the joys of science

Additional ways to reduce spread:

One way to reduce spread is to make sure that the dough is chilled before baking. If the dough is chilled, the butter takes longer to reach its melting point, thus reducing spread. I put two pieces of the control group in the freezer so I could test what frozen cookie dough bakes like. For the experiment, all 4 groups were chilled for about 15 hours. This was to reduce spreading but also to ensure that temperature/chilling did not affect the outcome.

 

The Experiment:

I started with a control, which was my mom’s classic Snickerdoodle cookie recipe.

My independent variables were the modified control recipes, stated above. I also added a fifth group, which was the control group frozen overnight, instead of simply putting them in the refrigerator. I was curious about how the initial temperature of the dough itself affected spread.

My dependent variable was how little the cookies spread. The success of the recipe, or which one I preferred, depended on a few factors, including puffiness, amount of spread and taste. (Taste is important because shortening lacks in the flavor department, so even if the shortening cookie proved extra puffy and perfect, if it sucked flavor wise, then it was a no can do.)

My hypothesis was that in general, chilled dough will spread less, but I hypothesize in terms of taste, tenderness and minimal spread, the cake flour Snickerdoodles will be the best in each category.
Other notes: I baked my cookies on convection at 325 degrees. If you’re baking in a non-convection oven, bake them at the regular 350 degrees. However, Shirley Corriher recommends convection because it promotes a more even bake. The butter was at just above room temperature. I creamed the butter and sugar for about 2 minutes for each batch.

 

The Recipes

 

Snickerdoodle Cookies

The original & the control

 

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups + 2 tbsp. flour

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Sugar + cinnamon to roll the cookies in

Preheat oven to 350 (325 if baking with convection.) Cream the shortening, butter and sugar. Add the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and cinnamon. Chill for at least 2 hours. Form into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Bake for 8-12 minutes.

 

Snickerdoodle Cookies: Shortening

I chose to keep a little butter because I love the butter flavor. 

2 Tbsp. butter, 6 Tbsp. shortening

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups + 2 tbsp. flour

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Sugar + cinnamon to roll the cookies in

Preheat oven to 350 (325 if baking with convection.) Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and cinnamon. Chill for at least 2 hours. Form into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Bake for 8-12 minutes.

Snickerdoodle Cookies: Brown Sugar
1/2 cup butter

6 Tbsp. brown sugar, 6 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups + 2 tbsp. flour

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Sugar + cinnamon to roll the cookies in

Preheat oven to 350 (325 if baking with convection). Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and cinnamon. Chill for at least 2 hours. Form into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Bake for 8-12 minutes.

 

Snickerdoodle Cookies: Cake flour

Because cake flour doesn’t replace all-purpose in a 1:1 ratio, I had to add extra cake flour.

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Sugar + cinnamon to roll the cookies in

Preheat oven to 350 (325 if baking with convection.) Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and cinnamon. Chill for at least 2 hours. Form into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Bake for 8-12 minutes.

 

how to make puffier, thicker cookies
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
Two minutes left of baking
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
The cookies that I froze stayed much more puffy and thicker than the chilled only.

THE RESULTS

 

how to make puffier, thicker cookies

So, what happened? Well, typical me, I stood with my nose pressed to the oven the entire time they baked. (I baked the four controls separate from the frozen ones because the frozen ones would need an extra couple minutes of bake time.) It was fascinating to watch how they spread. The shortening cookies didn’t start spreading until the final two minutes, whereas the other cookies started spreading almost immediately. The brown sugar did not spread as much and remained puffier than the others, but surprisingly the cake flour ones spread more than the controls.
Also, the controls never finished cooking. They were in as long as the others, but could’ve used an extra few minutes, but the others risked burning if I kept them in. I’m not sure if it was the oven and the side they were on was cooking differently, or if it was the cookie itself.
Then I put the frozen control snickerdoodles into the oven for 12 minutes. Once again, I pressed my nose against the glass as I watched the cookies bake. Like the shortening cookies, these cookies did not fully spread until the last two minutes. In fact, they more resembled the shortening cookies while baking than the control at fridge temperature. Also, they remained really puffed throughout cooking with nice, puffy rounded edges.
I let the cookies cool, after admiring their beauty, and my little sister (who is more of a “Nickerdoodle” fiend than I am), my mom and I taste tested them. Each cookie had a distinct flavor.
Control Snickerdoodle: The controls were classic Snickerdoodles. Cinnamony and sugary but for some reason they were a few minutes under baked. However, I couldn’t leave them in because the other cookies would’ve been too crispy. A game is afoot!

 

how to make puffier, thicker cookies
Shortening Snickerdoodle: The shortening had that shortening flavor. There’s really no other way to describe it, except it simply isn’t butter. But it wasn’t bad. But just less flavorful.
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
The inside of the shortening cookie. MMM delicious.
Brown Sugar Snickerdoodle: The brown sugar snickerdoodles simply weren’t Snickerdoodles. The brown sugar overpowered the cinnamon flavor. But it was none the less delicious.
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
how to make puffier, thicker cookies Inside of the brown sugar Snickerdoodle

Cake Flour Snickerdoodle: 
These had a distinct cake taste about them. It was weird, but delicious. And they were very tender, almost melty.
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
Inside of the cake flour Snickerdoodle.
Frozen Control Snickerdoodle: These were hands down the winner. They had the best flavor and they stayed much, much thicker than the regular controls. They were as thick, if not thicker, than the shortening cookies. And they had that classic, unmistakable Snickerdoodle taste.
how to make puffier, thicker cookies
The inside of the frozen Snickerdoodle
again
Same cookie dough, but totally different thickness.
Disclaimer: After a little bit of thinking, yesterday I rolled these out without a cookie dough scoop. The frozen dough may have been slightly bigger, but freezing still reduce spread significantly. Although there may have been more dough, the frozen cookie spread as much as the smaller, chilled cookie. Interesting!
Best Looking: Shortening
Least Spread: Shortening/Frozen Control
Most puffiness/thickness: Frozen Control
Best taste: Frozen control (unanimous)
My concluding remarks: The Frozen control Snickerdoodles were by far closest to my most desirable Snickerdoodle. They were thick and gooey, but crispy on the edges. They also had that classic taste. It’s funny how my favorite Snickerdoodle didn’t even involve altering ingredients, but rather playing with phase changes. What fun.
Further experimentation? Well, yes. One way to reduce spread is to reduce the amount of fat and sugars in the cookie. It would be simple to reduce the sugar amount from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup without affecting too much about the cookie. Also, one of my Achille’s heels is flour. I tend to under-do the flour because I am concerned about dry cookies. However, a lack of flour can increase spread. Don’t be afraid of adding more flour to sticky cookie dough!
And my family enjoyed the two containers of frozen cookie dough. The frozen brown sugar Snickerdoodles proved a hit with my dad, but alas, I had to explain that they weren’t even true Snickerdoodles.
Citations:
CookWise by Shirley Corriher (Thanks Shirley! If you’re reading this, which I really hope you are, this book is a god-send)!
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One thought on “How to make thicker, puffier cookies

  1. Wow, I love science and in my heart, I knew that blending flavors and chemical reactions would create certain tastes. It’s about the chemistry. Then I came across your blog. I loved it. As I read the snickerdoodle recipe, I was looking for that perfect fluffy cookie. Agreed that shortening is flavorless. I only use real butter. I haven’t tried experiments like yours but loved the whole concept. You are a scientist! 🙂 And, I learned a new trick! Freezing my dough and cooking my cookies at a frozen state. 🙂 Thank you so much. Again, loved the whole website but was captivated by the experiment. 🙂

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