There is an overwhelming lump of cookie recipes out there, all with very distinct ingredients, measurements, baking times, oven temperatures…it’s enough to make a person dizzy. It seems like making cookies couldn’t be harder, and inventing your own recipes? Next to impossible!
I was a supporter of the “just-leave-those-things-to-the-pros” mentality until I read Michael Ruhlman’s book called “ratios.” He explains (in a very understandable way) how cooking and baking can be reduced to simple…ratios. For example, the essence of a cake is 1 part flour, 1 part butter, 1 part sugar, and 1 part eggs.
These are based on weight, of course, so if you had 5 oz of flour, you’d add 5 oz butter, 5 oz sugar, and 5 oz eggs. Measuring cups don’t work so well in kitchen ratios (just a head’s up).
But I’m getting off of topic here. Cookies! Cookies! That perfectly warm and gooey cookie can be reduced to 1-2-3. 1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, 3 parts flour. Naturally, without things like eggs, salt, baking soda/powder, this ratio results in a dry, buttery shortbread. But Ruhlman urges you not to stop there, but to start adding more ingredients.
The addition of an egg adds moisture and air to a cookie (um, YES!). Baking powder makes a cookie fluffier while baking soda makes a cookie denser. Salt and vanilla are key factors in flavor. It seems complicated at first glance, but it’s not once you have an easy foundation.
So why improvise in the kitchen, with a whole world of recipes already at your fingertips? For starters, it’s just practical. Let’s say you only have 3 oz of flour and have a cookie craving (story of my life). Don’t sweat. All you need to do is add 1 oz sugar and 2 oz fat to it, and you have a cookie! From there, add an egg or two, maybe some baking powder/soda depending on the texture you want, salt, vanilla, and you have a cookie.
But ultimately, Ruhlman explains in “Ratios” that having these ratios set to memory frees you from the “chains” of recipes. I disagree with him in the sense that recipes aren’t inherently bad or evil (if they were, well, this blog would be pointless, now, wouldn’t it?). But I understand that at times improvising is important, and no recipe can teach you that.