I am the kind of person who is fascinated with the science of baking. Each time I try a new recipe, I try to learn about each element in the ingredient list and how they are affecting the final product. Some ingredients are important to the structure, some add sweetness, some cause the baked good to rise, some add moisture, and some are mostly just for flavoring. My fascination with this has helped me learn how to create my own recipes from scratch. They don’t always work exactly they way I want, but with a little knowledge of the science of baking you can get pretty close and then tweak things from there.
The Cookie Wars Recipe Contest is currently up and running and accepting entries, I thought this would be a good time to share with you my process when creating an original cookie recipe so that this task might not seem so daunting. This process isn’t fool proof and you may not get your exact desired results on the first try, but mistakes are how we learn! I hope this helps you have more confidence in creating your own original recipe and I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with!
(This is by no means and all inclusive guide to creating a cookie recipe. There are endless ways to approach this. This is just what works well for me and the way I most frequently approach this process.)
Step 1: Choose Your Flavor Profile
Before I even start delving into creating the recipe, I always decide on a flavor profile. I feel this sets the tone for what kind of cookie I want to create. So get that nailed down before doing anything else! This would be the perfect place to decide on your two challenge ingredients if you are entering Cookie Wars!
- Extracts: vanilla, almond, anise, coffee, maple…
- Fruit Juices or Zest: lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit…
- Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, cardamom, cayenne powder, Ginger, Paprika …
- Herbs: mint, basil, thyme, Rosemary…
- Alcohol: whiskey/bourbon, gin, beer, tequila, spiced rum…
- Other Mix-ins: cocoa powder, chocolate chips, dried fruits (cranberry, raisin, mango) oatmeal, nuts, vanilla bean…
- And endless more…
Step 2: Choose Your Cookie Style
After choosing the flavor profile choose your cookie style and texture.
The most common kind of cookie is what I refer to as “drop cookies.” This is most commonly a chocolate chip cookie but can be easily modified with other flavors and mix-ins. It is also important to have an idea of the texture you are looking for during the next few steps as certain ingredients will produce various textures.
Some Cookie Styles:
- Drop Cookies
- Sandwich Cookies
- Cut Out Cookies
- Iced Cookies
- Cookie Bars
- Slice and Bake Cookies
- Spritz Cookies
- Cookie Cake or Skillet Cookie
Step 3: Choose your Fat
Almost all cookie recipes start with a fat or a fat substitute. A fat (or fat substitute) is important for the structure of the cookie, the moisture in the cookie, and sometimes the flavor.
Typically when creating a cookie recipe I start with about 1/2 cup of my fat. This is generally the amount of fat needed for a batch of cookies that will make about 1 dozen large cookies or 2 dozen small cookies. When choosing a fat you can also mix and match. I often use some butter and some yogurt. Or banana and a nut butter. But good old standard butter is my most frequent choice. Try different things and see what you can come up with.
Typical Fats Used:
- Butter (Can produce a crunchy, chewy, or soft cookie based on the other ingredients chosen. Will give the cookie a buttery flavor)
- Shortening (Is more neutral in flavor than butter. Will generally produce a very soft and tender cookie)
- Butter Flavored Shortening (Will also generally produce a very soft and tender cookie but adds the buttery flavor)
- Vegan Butter Substitute such as Earth Balance (Will produce a similar result as shortening)
Other Fats and Fat Substitutes:
- Yogurt (will add moisture and flavor depending on the flavor used. Plain yogurt will add a tanginess)
- Apple Sauce (Adds moisture, and a slight apple flavor)
- Mashed Banana (Will add a distinct banana flavor, holds moisture in the cookie well, and creates a soft cookie)
- Nut Butters (Can produce a crunchy or soft cookie and a distinct flavor depending on the flavor used.)
- Oil (canola, olive, vegetable) (Can create a very moist cookie. Cookie is usually more flat and crisp. Olive oil will add a slight flavor)
- Sour Cream (will add moisture and a tanginess)
- Pumpkin (Will add a distinct pumpkin flavor, holds moisture in the cookie well, and creates a soft cookie)
Step 4: Choose a Sweetener
If you’ve made cookies enough times, I’m sure you notice that they almost all start with creaming a fat and sweetener together. Most frequently this involves butter and sugar. The sweetener chosen is important for the texture of the cookie, the flavor, the structure, and obviously the sweetness.
When deciding on how much sweetener to use, it really depends on which kind you choose. If I’m using traditional sugar, I usually keep it to 1/2 cup – 1 cup when using a 1/2 cup fat. It really depends on what other things I am adding to the recipe and how sweet they are as well as how sweet I am wanting the cookie to be. I also often use a combination of white and brown sugar or sometimes sugar and maple syrup if I am wanting to add a maple flavor.
- Granulated Sugar (a high ratio of granulated sugar to brown sugar, or using all granulated sugar, will produce a more crisp cookie)
- Brown Sugar (brown sugar adds moisture and chew to the cookie and will also give it a more rich flavor)
- Dark Brown Sugar (dark brown sugar adds even more moisture and chew to the cookie and will also give it a more rich flavor)
- Honey (Will add more moisture and therefore more flour may be needed. Has a distinct flavor)
- Maple Syrup (Will add more moisture and therefore more flour may be needed. Has a distinct flavor)
- Agave Nectar (Will add more moisture and therefore more flour may be needed. Has a mild flavor)
- Coconut Sugar (Similar in flavor as brown sugar but will not add as much moisture and chew as brown sugar. Has a lower glycemic index and tastes a little less sweet)
- Dates (Less sweet than most other sweeteners, brings an earthy flavor)
- Imitation Sugar such as Splenda and Stevia (usually more sweet than traditional sugar, can add a bitter aftertaste)
Step 5: Choose Binders/Leavening Agents
Not all cookies need a binder or leavening agent, though most cookies do. Eggs are the most common binder but also do some leavening in the cookie as well as adding tenderness and moisture. Baking soda and baking powder are also leavening agents. I usually start with 1 egg for this size of recipe and about 1 tsp of baking soda. Read this post for a more in depth look at baking powder and baking soda…If you want a flat crumbly cookie, such as shortbread, you don’t need eggs or any leavening agents.
- Eggs (Raises the baked good, binds well, adds moisture and chew. Egg white makes a more crisp cookie)
- Ener-G Egg Replacer (Vegan egg replacer, Binds well but does not add as much chew as a regular egg)
- Applesauce (Adds moisture and helps with binding, does not raise the baked good)
- Banana (Adds moisture and softness, does not raise the baked good. Adds a distinct banana flavor)
- Chia or Flax Egg (Binds well, adds moisture, and chew. Does not raise the baked good)
- Baking Soda (Add to cookie recipes with an acidic component already present)
- Baking Powder (Add to cookie recipes with no acidic component or along with baking soda to produce more rise to a baked good)
Step 6: Add Salt and Liquid Flavorings
Notice how I didn’t give you the choice about salt? In my mind it isn’t a question if there will be salt in my cookie recipes. There always is. I guess that is your call, I’m not a person to demand you to do anything. But if you are asking me, add salt! I suggest about 1/4 – 1/2 tsp for this size of recipe. Salt is an ingredient that only affects the flavor and enhances the other flavors. It does not affect the texture of the cookie. Same goes for extracts. If you are going to use vanilla or other extracts know that it is only affecting the flavor. I get that question a lot. People will ask if they can omit an extract and the answer is always “yes.” It will change the flavor, but the cookie will still turn out. Use 1/4 tsp- 1/2 TBSP for this size of a recipe. If I want a strong vanilla flavor I go with 1/2 TBSP, but other extracts that are stronger such as almond I would go with much less such as 1/4-1/2 tsp.
Step 7: Choose a Flour
Flour is a no-brainer. All cookie recipes, minus a very few flourless recipes, have some kind of flour! All-purpose if the most common flour used, but there are other great options depending on the texture you are looking for! For this size of recipe about 3/4 cup-1 1/2 cup total flour is needed. Start with less and add more flour to get the desired dough consistency. I often use a combination of all-purpose flour and wheat flour or oatmeal flour depending on my desired texture.
Typical Flour Choices
- All-Purpose Flour (A very versatile flour that works well in most cookie recipes)
- Bread Flour (Will add more chew to the recipe due to a higher protein content)
- Cake Flour (Will create a more fluffy and soft cookie due to a lower protein content. Weighs less than other flours and therefore requires more to create the same structure as all-purpose flour)
- Whole Wheat Flour (Adds a great texture and flavor when used in part combination with white flour. Can create a dryer cookie and less flour is needed compared to all-purpose flour. Also creates a taller cookie.)
- Oatmeal Flour (Adds great texture and lots of chew. Is often used in combination with other flours)
- Gluten-Free Flour Blends (Endless different blends and varieties with varying results.)
- Cocoa Powder (Though not technically a flour, it sort of acts as such. If you are using cocoa powder in your recipe to create a chocolate cookie, reduce the amount of flour used accordingly.)
Step 8: Add Mix-ins
After the dough is the desired consistency, add any mix-ins (chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, etc…) For this size of recipe about 3/4 cup – 1 1/2 cups total mix-ins typically works well.
Step 9: Baking Time and Temp
Cookies are usually baked in at a temp somewhere between 325-375 degrees F. A lower cooking temp will allow the fat to melt slowly before the cookie sets usually resulting in a flatter cookie. A high cooking temp will set the cookie before the fat melts, usually resulting in a taller cookie. Baking time will vary on temperature and ingredients chosen Set a timer for 5 minutes and check on them. You can then estimate how much longer they will need. Typically a sheet of cookies will cook somewhere between 8-14 minutes.
Step 10: Make Fillings or Frostings if Desired
Always fill or frost cookies when completely cooled.
Step 11: Taste and Adjust
This process has been pretty successful for me and often the first round of my recipe creation comes out about the way I had hoped (with only a few minor adjustments needed), though sometimes it doesn’t. When the cookies are cooled, taste them and make notes. Notice the flavor profile. Is everything balanced or do you need more or less of specific flavors? How is the texture? Do you need more moisture or less? Make notes and changes. Try not to change too many different things in each round of experimenting or it can be difficult to determine what is working and what isn’t. But trial and error is the best way to become great at creating your own original recipes!
A few of my favorite cookie creations are…