What makes a cookie a cookie?
April 17, 2008
After experimenting in my kitchen last night and coming up with something that was sort of on the border of candy and cookie, I decided to look up the definition of cookie.
Oh you think I’m a bit dim, do you? Of course I know what a cookie is, but I wanted to know the technical definition. What differentiates a cookie from other baked goods? The shape? Certain ingredients? This is the definition from dictionary.com:
cook•ie (noun): a small cake made from stiff, sweet dough rolled and sliced or dropped by spoonfuls on a large, flat pan (cookie sheet) and baked.
A small cake, hm? interesting. But cookies are so different than cakes, so…? Wikipedia offers an explanation as to what makes the texture of cookies different than that of cakes:
Despite its descent from cakes and other sweetened breads, the cookie in almost all its forms has abandoned water as a medium for cohesion. Water in cakes serves to make the base (the batter) as thin as possible, which allows the bubbles – responsible for a cake's fluffiness – to form better. In the cookie, the agent of cohesion has become some form of oil. Oils, whether they be in the form of butter, egg yolks, vegetable oils or lard are much more viscous than water and evaporate freely at a much higher temperature than water. Thus a cake made with butter or eggs instead of water is far denser after removal from the oven. Oils in baked cakes do not behave as soda in the finished result. Rather than evaporating and thickening the mixture, they remain, saturating the bubbles of escaped gases from what little water there might have been in the eggs, if added, and the carbon dioxide released by heating the baking powder. This saturation produces the most texturally attractive feature of the cookie, and indeed all fried foods: crispness saturated with a moisture (namely oil) that does not sink into it.
While I’m not sure I agree with “crispness” as being an attractive feature in a cookie (I generally prefer soft cookies) I find this description interesting. Types of cookies include dropped, molded, refrigerator, rolled, pressed, bar, sandwich and fried. So according to Wikipedia, bars are considered cookies. This is one thing I’ve always been a little unsure about as some cookbooks tend to categorize them seperately, while others call bars “bar cookies.”
This is a little bit of a tangent, but something I’ve always wondered about peanut butter cookies, also from Wikipedia:
The Peanut Butter Balls recipe in the 1931 edition of Pillsbury's Balanced Recipes contains the first known written instance of instructing the cook to press the cookies using fork tines. The recipe does not explain why this advice is given, though peanut butter cookie dough is dense, and without being pressed, it will not cook evenly. Using fork tines to press the dough is a convenience; bakers can also use a cookie shovel.
The Verdict: So if you plan on coming up with a cookie recipe for The Great Peanut Butter Exhibition, keep in mind that in order for your recipe to technically be considered a cookie, it shouldn’t contain water, it should contain some form of oil as the glue that keeps it together, and it can be square shaped (aka bar cookie). Guess that means my creation from yesterday doesn’t quite fit the bill. Oh well, back to the drawing board!