Open Source Cookies

(Alternate title: and now for something completely different)

A common stress-relief activity among grad students is baking, apparently. I’m not much of a baker, but I do have one or two recipes I enjoy making. I am particularly fond of Will Shetterly’s Finest-Kind Cookies, which he describes as “an open source recipe.” (Shetterly is a novelist – his stories are as good as his cookies).  Therefore, in the spirit of open source, and because I’m in need of some advice, I present my variation on the theme.

Shetterly-Brett Finest Kind Cookies 
¾  cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½  cup honey
1 egg
1/8 cup water (or apple juice)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups uncooked rolled oats
1 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
½  tsp. soda
½  tsp. cinnamon
¼  tsp. nutmeg
1 bag (12 or 16 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Beat the butter, sugar, honey, egg, juice, and vanilla together until creamy. Combine the oats, flour, salt, soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a separate bowl, then mix them with the wet ingredients. Add chocolate chips, raisins, and cranberries to the batter last. Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

Here is where I need some help: these cookies are delicious, but they don’t hold together well. They tend to spread out, get crispy on the edges well before they’re cooked in the middle, and break up coming off the tray. How do I make them more cohesive?

Edited for update: Thanks for the many good suggestions here and elsewhere! I have been informed that the way one combines sugar and butter (and eggs) is important. Apparently I can learn more by watching an episode of Good Eats in which the three kinds of cookie (chewy, crispy, and soft) are explained. You all will make a baker of me yet!

4 replies on “Open Source Cookies”

  1. Add some more flour? Yes, there are a lot of oats in there, but I don’t think they’re doing much to hold everything together. Also, honey behaves oddly when baked, and I think pairing it with brown sugar and butter is helping the spread. I think there’s just too much chunky stuff in there to really get a batter/dough forming.

    If you can find it, King Arthur has a white whole wheat flour that doesn’t taste bitter like red whole wheat can.

  2. 1) use the back of your spoon to flatten out the cookies you’ve dropped, making them into a shallow bowl shape. This will let the middles cook faster

    2) Eliminate the water. the cookies spread in part because of so much liquid. brown sugar and honey are really wet ingredients and add fluidity to the batter.

    3) Add about a 1/4 tsp of baking powder to the dry mix. This should balance a lot of the acids you have here and give you some rise.

    4) beat the butter and sugar until the butter is a very light yellow before you add any other ingredients, then combine slowly in the order you’ve listed. If you’re adding it all at once, the butter might not be properly perforated, also contributing to runny cookie dough.

  3. Try chilling the dough before baking. Chilling the pan a bit also helps. The edges will bake some while the center is still warming up, giving them some rigidity to hold in the gooeyness of the center once the rest of the cookie warms up.

    If you are using the same pan several times in one baking cool off the pan before loading the next batch onto it. (I wave it like a fan in the air till it’s handling temp, then stick it in the freezer for 30-45 seconds.)

    Yes, I do like my silicon cookie mats, they make clean-up fast and easy. Parchment paper is good too. Another option, new from Reynolds Wrap, is Non-Stick Aluminum Foil. It works very well and molds to the pan, unlike parchment paper.

    Most cookie recipes I’ve made that are (sugar/fat/egg/flour/other stuff) mixtures direct you to assemble them in an extremely standardized order:

    -Sift together dry (powdery) ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder/soda/cocoa) Set aside. (Sifting distributes the ingredients more evenly and breaks up lumps. Let me tell you the joy of eating cookies with baking soda lumps… Running a whisk through it works almost as well if you haven’t a sifter.)

    -Cream (beat at slow to medium speed) the dry sugars and fats (butter/shortening/oils, etc.) together until fluffy.

    -Add beaten eggs and liquid flavorings (vanilla, honey, molasses, milk, etc.).

    -Slowly add dry ingredients to fat/sugar/egg mixture in increments, mixing gently (Vigorous mixing will develop gluten – wheat protein – strands and mess up the texture. Good for bread, bad for cookies.)

    -If adding other grains (oats etc.) add alternately with flour mixture.

    -Gently fold lumpy flavorings (choc. chips, nuts dried fruits, coconut, etc.) into dough/batter.

    [Given that it’s so common there is probably a good reason for this order. I’m sure Alton will tell you exactly why. Heck, I probably could if I took a minute to think about it but I’m feeling lazy and this comment is getting way too long. :-)]

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