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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cookie Hacks - Part III: Sugar

This series of "Cookie Hacks" gives an overview of some of the ways in which you can customize a recipe to make a cookie that is exactly to your liking. Crispy, chewy, dry, moist, soft or dense... it's all about knowing which levers to pull.  Time to play mad scientist in the kitchen.


Cookie Hacks - Part III

#5 - Sugar:

"To be sweet in so many ways"

Flour, eggs and fat... in baking, they lay the foundation for a good cookie. But it's not until you add sugar that you really get going. I mean, what's a freshly baked cookie without sugar? ...toast?

I won't insult anyone trying to describe sugar. It's sweet! Are we all on the same page? Excellent...

Sugars: White Granulated Sugar, Sugar in the Raw, Confectioner's Sugar and Brown Sugar

    But how does sugar affect a dough?

    It's a fair question, but it's too simple. The fact is, depending on the amount and type of sugar you use, different sugars can have nearly opposite effects on a dough.

    In small amounts, white granulated sugar can make a cookie softer and more tender. But in large amounts, it can make the same cookie hard and crispy. Add some brown sugar or corn syrup, and the cookie becomes moist and chewy. What the heck?!

    Okay, then how do different sugars affect a dough?

    That's more like it...

    White Granulated Sugar:
    This is the John Doe of sugars: refined, nearly pure sucrose that is processed into crystals measuring between 0.3mm-0.5mm. This simple sugar has some extremely unique characteristics when it comes to baking. In smaller amounts, white granulated sugar makes a cookie more tender because it interferes with the formation of protein bonds in flour and eggs. But these sugar crystals have a natural tendency to form bonds with one another when placed in higher concentrations. Because of this tendency, doughs with high concentrations of white sugar will produce harder and more crispy cookies.

    Cookie Hack: Add white granulated sugar in small amounts to make a cookie more tender. Use an 'excessive' amount of sugar  to make a cookie crispy. 

    Brown Sugar: 
    Brown sugar is highly concentrated sucrose (although not pure, like white granulated sugar). In addition to sucrose, it is composed of a small amount of glucose, fructose and other organic materials  including a coating of molasses from the refining processThe molasses coating adds a rich depth of flavor not found in white sugar. The higher the concentration of molasses, the darker the brown sugar. Compared to white granulated sugar, brown sugar is hydroscopic: it pulls and retains moisture from its surroundings. As a result, it keeps cookies moist and chewy.

    Cookie Hack: Use brown sugar to produce cookies that retain moisture and have the rich depth of flavor of molasses. 

    Confectioner's Sugar:
    Also known as powdered sugar, this is the most finely processed form of white sugar (0.01mm-0.1mm). The extremely small crystals of confectioner's sugar can dissolve in most any liquid - great for low liquid doughsIn the United States, confectioner's sugar is combined with anti-caking agents such as corn starch. While this is not a problem for most recipes, purists bristle at the 'impurity'. Pure forms can be found in Europe.

    Cookie Hack: Use confectioner's sugar in dry doughs where there is less moisture. 

    Glucose / Corn Syrup:
    Most often found in liquid form, glucose and corn syrup are considerably less sweet than sucrose. However, unlike sucrose, they do not make a cookie hard or crispy when used in large quantities. In fact, glucose and corn syrup have the unique property of preventing the formation of hard sugar crystals. As a result, they can be used in higher quantities to create very sweet cookies that are not hard or crispy. 

    Cookie Hack: To keep cookies soft and chewy in high sugar recipes, replace some of the white sugar with glucose or corn syrup to prevent crystallization.

    Artificial Sweeteners:
    I'm reluctant to list this as a category. The only reason I am is to warn the world against using artificial sweeteners in baking. Don't! Just don't! Artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds arranged to mimic the sweetness of real sugar and fool the taste buds. Several of the more popular sweeteners were discovered by accident when a lab scientist "got some of his experiment in his mouth" (um... okay). They may be able to fool the tongue, but they cannot fool the science of baking. Since these chemical structures are very different from actual sugar, they cannot be used as a sugar substitute. They will not affect the structure or tenderness in the same way as real sugar. Another problem is that many of the chemical compounds in artificial sweeteners deteriorate when heated - not good for baking. If you have any self respect, you'll just pretend they don't exist.

    Cookie Hack: Use Splenda in place of real sugar to make crappy cookies for your enemies.

    Various Sugars including Honey, Maple Syrup, Glucose and Molasses

    Questions? Comments? Send me an email or leave a comment.
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    1. It's there a proportion you recommend for replacing sugar with corn syrup or gluose? (ie., If you take out a third a cup of white sugar, replace with xx Tbsp corn syrup)

    2. This is a fun question, which is probably best illustrated with an example (because the answer really is ‘it depends’).

      When replacing white granulated sugar (sucrose) with glucose or corn syrup (which is glucose and maltose), you need to think about three things.

      1.) THE SWEETNESS: Glucose and corn syrup taste less sweet compared to white granulated sugar (which I’ll just call ’sugar’). If you think of sugar as 100% sweet, then glucose gets a 70%. Corn syrup is less sweet still, at between 30%-50%, depending on the concentration. And high-fructose corn syrup comes in at 80%-90%. As a result, if you want your cookie to remain unchanged as regards sweetness, you will need to use more of one of these substitutes (that’s more by weight).

      For every 100g of sugar, use 145g of glucose, 200g-330g of corn syrup, or 110g-125g of high-fructose corn syrup.

      2.) THE MOISTURE: Glucose and corn syrup are commonly found in liquid form (if you’re hunting for glucose, check out amazon). If you replace dry sugar with one of these wet alternatives, the moisture content of your dough will change too. To balance things out, you need to adjust the recipe by either reducing the amount of the other wet ingredients (likely water or milk) or increasing the amount of the other dry ingredients (likely flour).

      This is as much art as it is science, so you will need to test your specific recipe.

      Glucose and corn syrup have less water by volume relative to water (obviously) and milk. So if you add 100g of glucose, you should reduce the water and milk by NO MORE THAN 100g. If you make a one-for-one replacement, I promise you will have a dry dough. Start by reducing the liquid by 50g for every 100g glucose or corn syrup added… you can continue to add liquid from there if things seem too dry.

      If your recipe doesn’t include any water or milk, you’ll have to resort to more flour. This is even trickier, because adding too much flour can throw the relationship of all your other ingredients totally out of whack. The best solution is to become familiar with your dough’s consistency using 100% sugar. Then, when you next prepare it with the glucose or corn syrup replacement, mix all of the ingredients as you would normal — then SLOWLY add more flour until the dough reaches the same consistency/moistness as it would otherwise. Try to add as little additional flour as possible.

      3.) THE STRUCTURE: I’d recommend against replacing all of the sugar with glucose or corn syrup. You may want to get a chewier cookie… but you don’t want to lose all of the structural benefits of white sugar (which forms hard networks of crystals). Start by replacing 50% of the sugar and see how you like the end product. You can always replace more or less the next time.

      Good luck! Let me know how it works for you!