Food Science: Chocolate Chip Cookies

And now for something completely different… Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies!

 

Note: I’m not a food scientist, I’m a scientist who loves food and baking and knows a little bit about the chemistry of baking. Please keep that in mind 🙂

First, the recipe (presented in a pseudo-journalistic scientific style, because I’m just geeky that way).

 

Background:

Chocolate chip cookies have been a favorite of millions of people since the recipe was developed in the 1930s. With a major increase in the popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, there’s been a surge in the number of vegan chocolate chip cookies. These cookies are also highly suitable for those people with dairy allergies or dairy intolerance, as they do not utilize milk or butter.

 

Hypothesis: Vegan cookies can be made; these cookies will be delicious.

 

Materials and Methods:

Reagents:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

2/3 cup canola oil

1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cups vegan chocolate chips [note: I like Ghirardelli semi-sweet]

 

Protocol:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Mix the oil, sugar, almond milk, and cornstarch together VERY well until you have a thick caramelly concoction.

3. Add vanilla to mix.

4. Mix in 1 cup flour along with the baking soda and salt, then add in the rest of the flour.

5. Fold in the chocolate.

6. Shape the dough into ping-pong sized balls and put on 2 lined baking sheets [note: I use Roul’pat liners on my cookie sheets. Parchment will work just as well. You could also lightly grease the pans, too]

7. Flatten the cookies slightly with your hand.

8. Bake for 8-9 minutes. Cool before eating.

 

Results:

Cookies were made according to protocol. While the recipe should have yielded 16 cookies of an uniform 3″ size, I instead got a yield of 17 cookies, which allowed for the cook to taste-test before feeding them to a hungry horde. Cookies were delicate in texture, and seemed to be quite buttery and chocolatey in taste. 100% of taste testers described the cookies as delicious.

 

Discussion:

The hypothesis was proven correct. Vegan cookies were easy to make and turned out very well. In a taste testing, the vegan cookies were ranked as tasty or even tastier than those cookies made with a more traditional cookies. Future experiments will include incorporating nuts or dried fruits.

 

References:

Modified recipe from Post Punk Kitchen

 

 

Now, the science! Bwahahahaha:

 

Q: Why add salt to a recipe?

A: To begin with, salt taste good and acts a flavor enhancer. For example, the salt helps bring out the taste of the vanilla extract and the chocolate chips. The salt also helps the texture of the dough, and theoretically might extend the shelf-life [not that these cookies have ever lasted around my friends for more than half a day]. If you’re baking bread, you need the salt to help control the rate of the fermentation – without salt, the bread will have big air pockets because of the way the yeast in the dough grows. Just for more general knowledge, your body needs salt – without salt, you die. It helps regulate the amount of water in your body and is needed for all the nerve impulses.

 

Q: What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

A: Baking soda = sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) and baking powder = a blend of baking soda with chemicals.

Now, why do you use one rather than the other? Baking soda is for recipes with acidic ingredients – the acid and the sodium bicarb chemically react to release carbon dioxide. The little carbon dioxide gas bubbles will cause the bread/cookies/etc. to rise.

 

On the other hand, if you have a non-acidic recipe, use baking powder instead. Baking powder can approximate the carbon dioxide-releasing reaction because baking powder is a pre-mixed starch (like cornstarch), baking soda, and some sort of acidic salt.

 

Because our recipe has an acid (brown sugar – yes, brown sugar is acidic!), then stick with the baking soda 🙂 If you’re trying to make substitutions and use all white sugar (not acidic!) instead of a mix of white and brown, you might need to seriously consider subbing in baking powder for baking soda, or include sort of acid – maybe a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar.

 

 

Q: Why combine the oil and sugar like that? What’s going on?

A: Bwahahaha, chemistry at work!!!! Sorry, I got a bit excited. Remember how I said that brown sugar is acidic? That’s something that’s important for this bit. Normally, when you bake, you use eggs and butter to help give the dough texture, except that we don’t have that in this recipe so we need to improvise. What we do have is oil, and sugar, and either a good blender or a strong arm. You could try just whipping the oil on it’s own, but that won’t work. You need to “emulsify” the oil. What’s that? Basically, it’s what happens when you whip together oil and an acid. It also helps if you have some protein in the mix. Bingo! We have oil and an acid (brown sugar) and a protein (almond milk)! We’re in business! 🙂

 

Okay, more seriously – what’s emulsification? It’s the process in which you blend 2 or more things that tend to not blend together well. Examples you might be familiar with are mayonnaise and vinaigrette, both of which are vegetable oils blended with acids.

 

Q: What’s almond milk and how is it different from regular milk?

A: Almond milk is a blend of water and ground almonds. It’s been around since at least the Middle Ages, but I’ve not really seen it in grocery stores until recently. What I’m referring to as “regular milk” is milk from a dairy cow, and is a mix of fat globules within some sort of fluid produced from the mammary glands. That’s not to say that milk is just liquid fat – it’s not. Dairy milk has a lot of protein and calcium, along with other nutrients and vitamins.

 

Dairy milk tends to taste sweet because of the lactose sugar present in it – it’s this lactose that some people have trouble breaking down, causing them to be “lactose intolerant”. Almond milk does not contain lactose.

 

Q: It says that these cookies are okay for people with dairy allergies to eat. What exactly is a dairy allergy?

A: To start, let me say that a dairy allergy is NOT the same as lactose intolerance. A dairy allergy is when your body’s immune system freaks out and has a reaction to one of the proteins in the milk. Usually, that protein is casein. That’s what an allergy is – an immune system freak out. Some sort of protein or chemical is seen as an “invader” in your body, and your immune system goes into overdrive to eradicate it.

 

Now when I say reaction, what do I mean? It can vary. The reaction can be mild (minor discomfort) to severe (death). You can have skin reactions (hives, itchiness, etc.) or stomach problems (think bad stomach flu sort of things) or problems breathing (really scary). You might have other reactions too – like headaches.

 

What makes this recipe safe for people with dairy allergies? Fairly simple – it doesn’t contain dairy milk. If you’re not exposed to those dairy proteins, then you can’t have a reaction. The almond “milk” does not contain the same allergy-inducing proteins (although if you have a nut allergy, you might want to use soy milk instead because of the almonds.)

 

 

 

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, be sure to let me know – especially if you have more food science questions! 🙂

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