Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Inspired by Pumpkin Pie

Finally, after weeks and weeks of trying. I have created a pumpkin cookie that is actually a cookie. Pumkpin is a difficult medium to work with. There is so much moisture, no matter how much you drain off the cookies always turn into little cakes. I have attempted this cookie nearly 15 times.

I was beginning to feel the pumpkin cookie had beaten me. Here's the results from today's baking - this is version 12, 13 and 14.

Version 12 came out a little greasy, with a very buttery flavor and was very chewy. It spread out a lot and was very very flat. The flavor was good, but it wasn't quite the right texture.

I am thinking perhaps I need to add a little baking soda. Leavening is a tricky thing. Baking soda can reduce spread in an acidic cookie (pumpkin is acidic, as well as most other cookie ingredients), it can also add better color/more browning. Baking soda makes its own bubbles by reacting with moisture. Baking powder does not make new bubbles. After seeing the flat deflated cookies, it seems like some bubbles are just what the doctor called for - the cookie doctor that is...

Well, baking soda was not the answer. As you can see from the picture above, this batch is going straight to the garbage. There wasn't a lot of flour in the recipe, so even though I only added a little baking soda it was over-leavened. The cookies puffed up so large that they ran together and then deflated like a balloon, producing one huge cookie. The texture still isn't right, so I am going to retry.

Version number 14. I have lessened the sugar to reduce the spread and also increased the amount of flour. Unfortunately, it may be too much flour as they have barely spread at all. The texture is very close to what I want - a chewy cookie. On the second pan of dough, I decided to flatten them a little by hand. This time, they produced what looks like a real cookie. I still think too much flour was used as the cookies are a little tough and they are really sweet, so I may also cut the sugar some more.

These are good enough to eat, so off to the taste testers they go.

First to test - Keith. He is surprised I have actually managed to make a pumpkin "cookie". He has been subjected to all of the previous batches, some of which were just disgusting. One batch was so wet that they mildewed in the container overnight. Gross. After trying tonight's version, he confided that he actually was beginning to think I would never master the pumpkin cookie. He thinks these are really good. They taste just like little pumpkin pies. He is very pleased. Must eat more to be sure...He is very proud that I am the first known to make a pumpkin cookie that is not cake like. We have tried others being sold in bakeries around town, as I was trying to figure out what needed to be adjusted. I am officially the only one with a chewy pumpkin cookie!

Now, to take some to the crew at work. I brought in about 2 dozen pumpkin pie cookies for my coworkers and left them in the breakroom with a note reading "New recipe inspired by pumpkin pie. Please let me know what you think."

First reviews come in email form in less than 10 minutes. Paige says "Yeah baby! You nailed it, yum." Joanne calls to tell me, she agrees, I nailed it this time and when she opened the container it smelled just like pumpkin pie.

At 11, (less than two hours after leaving the cookies in the breakroom) I walk by and see there are only three remaining cookies. I look at the note, someone has written below my comment "I think I'll have another" - anonymous. Pat tells me he thinks that he will need a larger sample to do a full taste test. If I could provide him with 8 or 9 cookies of his very own, he could give me a true opinion.
Seems like this one is a crowd pleaser. I made another batch without the white chips, to try and cut the sweetness, but decided it didn't taste as much like pie without them. Here is a picture of the final product.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Six months ago I began working at a book distributing company. This is a dream job and a curse all in one. I love books! More than books, I love baking! The bad part is my company distributes cookbooks, which is now where all my kitchen space and money is going.

For the past year, I have become more and more serious with my baking. I've created several recipes, sold quite a few cookies, and entered the Pillsbury Bake Off contest. There are a few dedicated individuals who sacrifice their time and their waistlines in order to be a taste tester for all my recipes. These people work tirelessly tasting cookies, both good and bad, in the hopes of getting more of the goodies as a reward.

In the past several months I have acquired several new cookbooks, mostly referencing baking. Most recently, I purchased All Cakes Considered. For those of you unfamiliar with this book, it's written by Melissa Gray, a producer at the radio show All Things Considered. She has spent a year baking cakes and bringing them in to her co-workers and followed this experience with a cookbook/humor book. After reading the book, I was inspired. Essentially, I do the same thing, but with cookies. She mostly focuses on recipes found in books and collected from friends, while I have a few trusty cookbooks and really enjoy making up my own recipes.

As a person who planned on becoming a Chemical Engineer, the chemistry of baking is fascinating to me. There are so few ingredients in a cookie, usually in a small quantity, so that each ingredient and portion plays a large roll in the outcome.

So, that's the story. For the past year I have been making and testing cookies on friends, family, and coworkers. Now, after being inspired by All Cakes Considered, I have decided to get serious - For the next year, I will bake a new cookie each week. Some that I've concocted and some from cookbooks. I will share them, collect feedback, and share the results with you through my blog.

Together we will learn what goes right and what goes wrong in a recipe. And perhaps, if you love baking, you'll be inspired to do something similar.