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In search of uncommon cookies

May 16, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Yeast, banana chips and other ingredients not often associated with cookies might hold the cure for BCS - that is, Boring Cookie Syndrome.

Boring Cookie Syndrome happens when a cookie-lover bites into a cookie and can't think of anything remarkable to say on the cookie's behalf, except, "Eh."

To be clear, BCS cookies aren't bad cookies. They're just, well, boring cookies.

We might be seeing symptoms of BCS in the Tri-State area.

An audit of 170 cookie recipes submitted to The Herald-Mail in the past several years found that the sugar cookie is popular, with 40 recipes submitted - beating chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.

Also, a good majority of the recipes, regardless of genre, are virtually identical, mostly coming down to whether the recipe calls for chocolate, nuts or raisins.

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Why do bakers favor such basic cookies?

Because quite often experimentation results in "an adulteration," said food scientist and researcher Manfred Kroger. "You don't end up with a cookie."

But fear of creating gross cookies shouldn't stop people from trying something different, said Kroger and other food experts.

Kroger is a retired Penn State professor who often asked his students to make cookies using ingredients such as grass, fish or soy protein.

"The whole cookie thing is an art," Kroger said. "It's all an experiment, a bit of trial and error."

Sometimes, the difference between a boring batch and an amazing batch comes down to toying with a single ingredient, said caterer Sue Lensbower, owner of All Occasion Cakes Plus in Chambersburg, Pa.

She learned that lesson with her family's chocolate chip cookie recipe.

"We had the recipe for generations," Lensbower said.

But then one day, about six years ago, she had run out of butter, which the recipe calls for, and had to use shortening instead. The swap made all the difference.

The cookies made with shortening were firmer, bulkier and had more crunch, Lensbower said.

"They just seemed a bit better with the shortening," she said. "When you make the butter ones, they're kind of flat and bend back and forth when you try to bite into them. Customers like a cookie with bite."

In scientific terms, the cookie is a combination of fat - usually in the form of butter, margarine or shortening - flour, sugar, egg and some other sweetener, such as chocolate, raisins and/or vanilla, Kroger said.

But the fun comes in adding alternative ingredients or replacing the main ones with substitutes.

The experts offer a few other tips for experimenting:

· Think outside the chocolate chip

Sometimes, Lensbower adds Heath English toffee bar pieces for flavor and texture.

Think about other combinations, such as chocolate and banana.

"I do think banana chips would be good," said Linda Stahl, a retired home economics teacher and former food tester who now works at The Hershey's Kitchen in Hershey, Pa., the place where The Hershey Co. comes up with its recipes.

· Fat adds flavor

The reason fat adds flavor: Fat traps flavor molecules, Kroger said.

"There's a basic dogma in all cooking," Kroger said. "If you cook with a lot of fat, you will be praised."

It's why cookies made with shortening can seem more flavorful than those made with butter or margarine.

Fat also affects texture.

Lensbower, the local caterer, said shortening also affects the overall texture of the cookie, making them slightly firmer to the bite.

The best cookies are those that strike a balance between firmness and softness, Kroger said.

· On flour and other starches

Flour - which provides the starch - is what gives the cookie its bulk. Health-concious cooks have been doing things such as adding bran and oatmeal to cookie recipes.

Healthful cookies have their fans and their hecklers.

"A diet cookie is an abomination," said Kroger, who said he's a fan of supersweet cookies with bulk, despite his wife's gentle nudge toward healthier cookies. "Bran gives it more bulk, but it will taste like horse feed."

An adventurous cook might add yeast to the batch to make the cookies fluffier, Kroger said.

The Hershey Co. has developed a cookie recipe called Chocolate Clouds that doesn't require any flour, Stahl said. The center of the cookie is filled with chocolate and is surrounded by a fluffy "cloud" of egg whites, sugar and cocoa.

"It's definitely a lightweight cookie," Stahl said. "It kind of dissolves in your mouth, like a soft rice cake."




Cookie composition in scientific terms



Sweeteners - This comes from the white and brown sugars, and additives such as chocolate chips. In some recipes, sugar alone makes up roughly a third of a cookie's composition.

Flour - The starch is what gives the cookie its bulk. Creative cooks might use bran instead of flour, though bran is less sweet. Really adventurous cooks might add yeast to make the cookie fluffier.

Butter, margarine or shortening - Here's where the flavor comes from: fat. It traps flavor during the roasting process, which is why fattier cookies tend to taste better.

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