Have you ever wanted to create a cookie that is all your own? There is something very satisfying about moving from following a recipe to inventing a recipe, but it can be a scary leap to take. Unlike some kinds of cooking, baking is a science: you need to understand how one ingredient interacts with all of the others before you can know how a creamy cookie dough can turn into a crisp cookie, or a gooey cookie, or a soft cookie, or a total disaster!
What makes a cookie?
Choosing Your Ingredients
First, you need the three basic parts: fat, sugar, and flour. You want roughly equal amounts of fat and sugar, and around twice as much flour as fat.
The fat, such as butter, shortening, or oil, is used to keep the cookie moist and tender. The rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture comes from the fat. More fat makes a more tender, chewy cookie. Less fat makes a crisper cookie.
The sugar, which adds sweetness, also plays an important role in the formation of the cookie as it bakes, allowing it to spread. You can use granulated sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, or even honey or maple syrup. The more quickly the sugar melts, the more the cookie will spread.
The flour is the glue of the cookie, holding everything together, adding mass, and making it solid.
In addition to fat, sugar, and flour, you will need something to make the cookies rise, called a leavening agent. You can use baking powder or baking soda for this, although baking soda will only work if you have another acidic ingredient in your cookies. You don't need very much: a tsp per cup of fat is usually fine.
You need something moist to hold the cookies together, called a binding agent. Eggs usually fill this role, but anything moist will do. You need a few tablespoons.
For the rest, use your imagination! Try adding various spices, nuts, dried fruit, candy bits, or flavor extracts.
Turning the Ingredients Into a Cookie
In order to make a cookie recipe, first choose a fat and a sugar (or mixes of fats and sugars), and combine them thoroughly. Then mix in the binding agent and any other liquid ingredients, such as vanilla or almond extract. Add all of your dry ingredients (flour, leavening agent, spices, salt) at the same time, to be sure they're thoroughly mixed. Stir in any last add-ins as a last step.
Bake them at somewhere between 325 and 375 degrees until they are set (usually around 8-14 minutes, depending on your ingredients). The temperature you choose, like the ingredients you choose, will affect the look and texture of your cookie.
Most importantly, have fun! Decide what you like and don't like, and play around with the results. Maybe you will invent a cookie recipe that will make you a favorite at every pot luck.