Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cookie Theory: Cakey vs Chewy

Keiko, who sent me the wonderful homemade soap, sent me an e-mail asking about cookies. She has tried to make cookies using American recipes and Japanese ingredients, and those that should have been chewy were cakey. Keiko-san, I have had the same problem, as I know other bakers here in Japan have had (Illahee!!!)

So, here are some questions for Keiko and other bakers. PLEASE leave a comment with your answers. Maybe we can figure out the problem together.

  1. Keiko asked if it was the difference in flour. I originally thought this too. However, Illahee's mom brought her a bag of flour from the States, and chewy was still cakey! So, let's leave the flour out of it for now.
  2. Sugar - American recipes call for granulated sugar. Do you use it when you make cookies? I don't! If you use the "wet" white sugar (like I do), when you measure, do you pack it into the cup, or just kind of shake it in lightly? I shake it in lightly. you reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for - adapting to Japanese friends and family members' taste buds? I do.
  3. Eggs - An egg in an American recipe should be 2oz. volume - 1/4 cup. Eggs come in all sizes here. I made a cake recently that called for 3 eggs. Ryu had bought XXL. I should have used 2 instead of 3. What size of eggs do you use? I think Medium would be 1/4 cup.
  4. Leavening - Baking powder, baking soda. Do you use Japanese products, or American brands? I use US Soda, and Japanese baking powder. I'm not sure if there are differences in their 'power' or not.
  5. Fat - butter, margarine, shortening, oil. All are different, according to the websites I looked at, and produce a different shape of cookie. Bottom line, butter seemed to be the ingredient of choice on the web. What do you use? I used to use butter, but have switched to margarine recently. Shortening is tough to find, and recipes using oil are few and far between.
  6. Salt - this won't affect the cakey/chewy-ness of your cookie, but I thought I'd ask. I find Japanese table salt - the non-wet kind - to be nearly twice as salty as expected. I often reduce the salt by 1/2 for a normal taste, ie - NOT FOR HEALTH! How about you?
  7. Mixing - do you use a mixer (hand or stand), or mix by hand? I mix by hand. Besides the fact that I don't own a mixer (I make cake with a fork or whisk!), a friend used to use her stand mixer to make chocolate chip cookies, and I thought they were too cakey! Too much air got mixed into the dough before baking. So, I mix by hand. What do you do?
  8. Oven - well, size is really not an issue, in that most of us have the tiny, microwave sized ovens. But, have you ever used an oven thermometer to check the temperature in your oven? I haven't. I always guess at the right temperature. I guess 170C. for 350F. I am NOT precise in checking this. Also, my oven does temperatures in 10 degree increments, so I am a bit limited in terms of exactness, were I to become more careful. How about you?
  9. Time - Chewy cookies need to be nearly underbaked. The web says that if they are browning, they are over done. Once you take them out of the oven and off the pan, they continue to cook till their internal temperature lowers to the temperature of the room. So, how do you tell when to take your cookies out?
  10. One "trick" I read on the net was to drop the pan of cookies (top side up) on the floor when you get them right out of the oven. This knocks the excess air out of them, and they are chewy. I'm not sure the older woman who lives in the apartment under us would appreciate this, however.

The cookie I have not been able to make chewy vs. cakey, is an oatmeal raisin cookie. Have you ever eaten the ones at Freshness Burger? They import them from the States. I WANT to make and EAT lots of those kinds of chewy oatmeal raisin cookies.


illahee said...

1. i think there is a difference in flour. actually, i KNOW there's a difference in flour. not because of cookies, though, but dumplings. whenever i used straight-up japanese flour, either 'weak' or 'strong', the dumplings got all gooey and ruined my chicken soup. when i mixed the flours (1 part cake with 3 parts bread) it made perfect dumplings EVERY time.

making 'all-purpose' flour this way didn't work for my cookies, though. and yes, the flour my mom brought/sent me from the US didn't make much of a difference, either. i'm thinking maybe the eggs? but the recipe i'm talking about (a chocolate chip cookie one) is just not working out for me!!

one thing that did work was the cookie mix (by krusteez?) that i bought at costco. all you add is egg and (oil) plus whatever kind of cookie you want to make. i made perfect oatmeal and peanut butter cookies with that mix. and that was before i got a nice oven...

gina uses plain old japanese flour and has perfect (looking) cookies so in the end, maybe the difference is the oven! she has an imported from american one....*sigh* one can only dream....

2. i use granulated sugar, to rule out the extra wetness from the sugar. i can tell from the batter--even before baking--that something is 'wrong' with my cookies and they're not going to bake well. i usually just eat raw cookie dough, because at that point it still tastes the same. i also import brown sugar, because the brown sugar i've found here isn't the same as what i use in the US. i don't reduce sugar amounts. but i'm not sure how that would affect baking anyway. :) and i'm usually making cookies for me, not japanese friends and family.

3. eggs are the last thing i cannot control for. i mean, i can't get eggs from the US. so are the japanese eggs extra watery? i have no idea. but i sometimes wonder if it's the eggs. fat content maybe??

4. you may be on to something, but the recipe in question (those choco chips) only uses soda, and i get the american arm & hammer from costco. my cakes which call for powder and soda come out just fine.

5. butter (and margarine, to an lesser extent) has water in it; shortening and oils do not. flatter, crisper cookies are achieved with butter because the water cooks off. even if you barely bake them, i think they're harder than cookies made with shortening. i get my shortening from expat express, because (and i'm sorry to say this) japanese shortening sucks.

6. i get imported sea salt, so not really an issue in my cooking. also, DH had a heart issue when he was young (whether he did or not is debatable, but i'm not going to get into it with my MIL) so we don't use a lot of salt anyway. i have never noticed japanese salt being 'saltier'.

7. i use a mixer, because i did in the US. it may be adding air, but i'm not sure. i want to make sure the oil and sugars are well blended. maybe i should try mixing by hand after blending the shortening and sugars. hm.

8. i haven't tested the oven temp. i don't think i even have a thermometer to put in there and check. i pretty much trust it, though.

i have a helsio steam oven and i'm thinking i should try the steam bake option. just to see what happens... LOL

9. i tend to pick a time that's a minute or so below the recipe time. as you bake, and the pans get hot, you should reduce cooking time, anyway. otherwise the cookies with over-cook. 8 minutes is a good starting point, i think.

10. yeah, i don't know if i want to go around dropping hot pans. LOL


one thing i learned from japanese TV was reducing the temp and increasing the cooking time. i think because the cookies are directly under the heat, the top cooks too quickly. my big oven has two levels, so last time i tried using the lower level, but that was with dough that i already knew wasn't quite right. *sigh* if i could bake more than four cookies at a time, and therefore taking a whole day to bake some simple cookies, i would really try to figure out how to make perfect cookies!!

Anonymous said...

Kim, Thank you for sharing my longtime question with everyone!! I would love to hear other bakers' thinking!!

1&4. I think you should slightly reduce the amount of baking soda when you use Japanese flour(I mean, cake flour.)... but I'm not know, it sometimes works out well but sometimes doesn't.

2. I usually use both brown sugar and granulated sugar. I've heard that brown sugar gives cookies moisture & a flavor, white sugar gives them crispy edges.
Yes, I often reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for... maybe I should follow the recipe accurately to make 'chewy' cookies..?

5. I use butter.
7. I have a mixer. Mixing by hand is ok when you mix sugar and butter , but I need a mixer especially when adding eggs in the batter. It often gets separated..
I agree that too much air makes cookies cakey.

9. yeah, they are overbaked when they are brown.
We should pull the cookies from the oven while they are still slightly underbaked.

One of my favorite cook books is the America's test kitchen's cook book. They have tested so many ingredients in so many ways. It's interesting just to read...(as you may already know:) )
I want to taste cookies you two baked !!


illahee said...

actually, can you clarify 'chewy' and 'cakey'? because that seems to be the same to me. i'd say 'crunchy' and 'chewy' or 'soft'. thanks :)

Kim said...

Illahee and Keiko - thanks for your comments.

Illahee- I think of cakey as puffed up, airy, and soft, but not with that "nearly rawish" but not gooey texture - I call this chewy. However, I thought it was interesting that you brought up that point, as on the net, they differentuated between crispy and chewy/cakey - not really between chewy and cakey. For example, my oatmeal cookies raise up and STAY up (cakey). Not making a flat but not crisp cookie. Hmm. Am I clouding the issue?

illahee said...

ok, i understand. yeah, i can see a difference, there. i think that most cookies are either crisp (ginger snaps) or soft (choco chip, oatmeal) and maybe differences in soft are attributed to differences in cooks, not in ingredients. perhaps we have learned differently just by trying our well-loved recipes in japan!

my russian tea cakes turn out perfectly, but i can't use cake flour, or they get too puffy and soft (and fall apart). i'm not sure where they fall in the cookie spectrum, i think they're soft and not crisp, and almost cake-like (why some people call them 'tea cakes' i guess). i am really pleased about that actually because they're my favorite cookie AND i can cook them all at once, even in my 'small' japanese oven!

Coffeegrl said...

Wow! I'm loving this discussion! I wish I could offer some thoughts, but haven't been brave enough to attempt cookies yet (for many of these reasons!).

Coffeegrl said...

I did learn this from Cook's Illustrated (specifically with regard to oatmeal cookies!):
"doubling the amount of leavener (in this case both baking powder and baking soda) in oatmeal cookies creates big bubbles that cause the dough to rise, then combine and burst, resulting in a flat and crisp cookie."

Abigail (aka Mamatouille) said...

I love cookies, I just don't make many of them these days because I don't have the patience to cook 17.95 million batches because of my wee oven. You guys are so into it! I'm amazed at all your insights!

Sue said...

Hmmmm. Not to brag, but my cookies are always chewy, and I do all kinds of things to the recipe, like exchanging whole wheat flour for half the white, reducing the butter, or adding extras like dried fruit or chips when they aren't called for. I think the key might be the baking time. I always, always cook mine for less time than the recipe calls for -- sometimes even close to half the time. They need to be just barely browning on the sides.

Now, if someone would like to address cakes I would be so happy to know how I can get one that isn't a nice substitute for a door stopper (using American recipes)! I think the problem is the tiny oven, but I am still hopeful that someone has a good solution.

Kim said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! I made good Oatmeal Cookies today! Thanks to this discussion!!! See today's post for the details.

Coffeegrl - thanks for commenting! When I was flipping through cookie books for oatmeal recipes - and there were TONS - one called for water???? and one for vinegar. Maybe the vinegar one would power up the baking soda and make a crisp cookie? Hmmm.

Sue - thanks! Your comments really gave me the courage to try try again! Now, about cakes...I do the quick bread cakes only. Banana bread cakes and fruity cakes. Do you mean the real, Birthday Cakes, from scratch?

Gina said...

Ha ha ha, oh Illahee you are cracking me up! I just read the post and am now on the comments and the Gina's oven thing...I nearly choked on my drink. : )

Sorry you guys about the oven. Gomen ne.

And I was thinking the same thing as Illahee, I was thinking the same thing too. I always thought of cookies as either crunchy or chewy. The cakey thing sorta threw me for a loop here you guys. : )

Okay...just answering a few questions. I use regular flour. What were the other questions?

I use butter, not margerine or Crisco anymore.

I have a hand mixer but I mix by hand, which drives my husband crazy he always asks me...why not use the hand mixer??? : )

I use US soda and US baking powder. But I have used Japanese baking powder many times before.

Oh and I use the granulated sugar like we do in the US when baking.

I hope I answered all the questions. And gomen nasai for answering so late. I needed a computer break for the past week. I'm sorry, shame on me! : D

Sue said...

I am all about quick breads. Those are no problem. It's the ever elusive fluffy birthday cake that I am dying to know the secret to.

I have tried the box mixes before when I happened to be able to get one, and they do turn out a bit better, but still not like back in the US. I just don't enjoy sponge cake, and really want to get a nice, moist, yet light cake (butter, white, chocolate, anything)! I am afraid the answer is in the oven, which means it may be a hopeless case. Any ideas?

Kim said...

Gina - Thanks for stopping by. What with all your dates with hubby, I know you've been busy! (BIG SMILE!) I was wondering what your cookies look like when they come out of the oven. Kind of done? Really done? Kind of raw? And, how long do you leave them on the pan before you put them on the rack to cool? Yes, I'm pretending you don't have that wonderful oven. I think we are getting close to lent, so, don't want to covet!

Sue: Hmmmm. I depend on cake mixes the once or twice a year...ok, once or twice very couple of years, that I try to make a birthday cake. I'll have to throw the question out to the masses! Could you describe your troubles in more detail?