In Baking Hows, Whys, and WTFs, Shilpa Uskokovic will answer your burning baking questions and share her tips and tricks for perfect sweets. This month: how to make the chewiest cookies imaginable.
Crispy-chewy may be ideal for some but chewy-chewy, with the faintest whisper of mochi-like resistance, is my holy grail cookie texture. It took developing a recipe for homemade Chipwiches—vanilla ice cream sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies, bejeweled with even more chocolate chips—to figure out how to achieve the chewiest bite. Think of those “soft-baked” cookies from the grocery store, gently curving like a hug. We don’t need any fancy equipment—just one ingredient that might already be in your pantry.
What makes a cookie chewy?
Well, a few things. How you treat the butter matters. Beating cool or room-temperature butter with sugar creates lots of itty-bitty air bubbles in the dough. As the dough bakes, it sets around these bubbles, yielding open-crumbed cookies that are prone to being dry and/or crunchy. In contrast, melted butter or even oil results in denser, chewier cookies because they’re not as aerated.
But even more important than the butter: the moisture and sugar content. Just think of chewy cookies’ polar opposite: crispy cookies. It’s easy to understand that a cookie is crispy because it has very little residual moisture (much like a potato chip). Less moisture = crispy cookie. More moisture = chewy cookie.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s easy. I can add some water to the dough.” You could. But water turns to steam fairly quickly, and most of it bakes out of the cookie by the time it’s done.
Sugar, on the other hand, is a magical ingredient with mysterious qualities, one of them being hygroscopicity. That’s a complicated word for sugar’s ability to attract and hold water from its surroundings. And once sugar grabs water, it takes a lot of heat to break them apart, which is why moisture from sugar is better than moisture from water when it comes to chewy cookies.
So, just increase the sugar then?
Not quite. There are three main types of sugar molecules—sucrose, glucose, and fructose—each with different moisture-retaining abilities. Sucrose (like regular granulated sugar) is lowest on the hygroscopic scale. Glucose (like corn syrup, molasses, and to some extent brown sugar) is better at wooing water. But what we’re really looking for is a source of fructose, our ultimate water lover.
Fructose can be found in fruits like apples, cherries, and raisins. There’s invert sugar and much-maligned high fructose corn syrup, both virtually impossible to find for home baking. Honey is about 40% fructose, which is great, but honey has a strong flavor and cookies baked with it are exceedingly golden brown (not a cute look). That brings us to agave. Agave syrup is about 80% fructose, comparatively mild and inexpensive, and easily available. Ding, ding, ding!
How much agave do I need?
Replacing as little as 20% of the sugar with agave—yes, by weight—makes for a thrillingly soft, chewy cookie. Expectedly, the cookies will spread more than usual, baking up thinner and smoother because of the liquid sweetener. You can counteract this by increasing the flour by 1 tablespoon (8 grams) per ¼ cup (86 grams) of agave added.
Or, you can skip the math and make these ice cream sandwiches, where everything is figured out for you. While crispy-chewy cookies need time to thaw, chewy-chewy cookies are just that even frozen—soft enough to bite into, before the ice cream melts down your wrists.
Keep these in the freezer all summer:
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