She took a bite and her face crumbled. “I know my cookies and these are not my cookies.” I took a deep breath, searching for a solution. “Throw them all away.” I braced myself in disbelief. One hundred pounds of cookie dough, a day’s work: trash. I stared at the mounds of chocolate studded dough, baffled. Although the taste was still fine, the little cookies were fluffier than they should have been and for the owner of this cookie company, that was unacceptable.
I arrived at Hope’s kitchen early in the morning, eager to work. My job was to make cookie dough in preparation for her busy holiday season. She handed me a recipe and showed me where things were. I started by weighing out the sugars, flour and other ingredients to the ounce, carefully taking out a teaspoon of flour if needed. I leveled the cup measurements to ensure everything would be exact. Each egg I cracked, I made sure to catch any stray shell fragments.
The one little word I failed to read correctly was “soda.” Instead, I thought, “powder.” You see, in my experience, when baking most cookie recipes, one always needs baking powder because of the lack of acidic ingredients. The chemical in baking soda will not activate fully unless there is an acid introduced. Come to find out, (through writing this post!), the molasses in brown sugar is acidic and activates the baking soda.
Here is a breakdown of how it works:
- It is used in recipes that contain an acidic ingredient (e.g. vinegar, citrus juice, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate, cocoa (not Dutch-processed), honey, molasses (also brown sugar), fruits and maple syrup).
- Is four times as strong as baking powder.
- Baking soda starts to react and releases carbon dioxide gas as soon as it is added to the batter and moistened.
- Has baking soda and one or more powder acid (cream of tartar and/or sodium aluminum sulfate)
- Most baking powder is double-acting which means it reacts to liquid and heat, in two stages. The first reaction takes place when you add the baking powder to the batter and it is moistened. The other acid reacts with the baking soda and produces carbon dioxide gas. The second reaction takes place when the batter is placed in the oven.
- You should replace your baking powder every 6-12 months as it loses its effectiveness.
Both are chemical leavening agents that give rise to baked goods.
When the mistake was realized, instead of losing my shit, I thought back to my culinary training: baking powder has baking soda in it. I could just add three times more baking soda to equal the chemical amount that was in the recipe. I was panicking inside, but still thought it could be pulled off.
Hope suggested I test bake a tray to see if they would still rise. Great idea! I popped a few rows on a cookie sheet and patiently waited the 10 minutes it took to bake. Through the hot glass window of the tall industrial oven, I saw the little cookies rise up and when I took them out of the oven, I thought, “Thank god, they look good!” Then I showed them to Hope, she took one bite and said they had to go in the trash. I tried and it tasted like a dang good cookie to me. Apparently, they had risen too much for Hope’s taste (because of the additional acid that was in the baking powder.)
It felt like a rash decision to throw them all away, but I understood it too. She is a business owner, with a product brand to protect. On top of that, she had the stress of a ton of holiday orders and some serious lack of sleep. It was simply a nuance of fluffiness that sealed the fate of these cookies. Through her frustration, Hope was reasonable saying that she should have stepped through the first batch with me and she even offered to pay me—which I quickly refused.
As I walked back to the predestined cookie dough before me, I fought off tears. A boisterous New Yorker named Gloria, who also baked in the shared kitchen space, came over, grabbed a pinch of the dough and said, “Ooh, I’ll use some of this! My customers aren’t that picky!” Then a fellow cookie maker named Gael came over and gave me a hug, saying not to worry, that it happens to the best of us. You could tell that she had royally f*ed up a batch or two in her day too. These two women were the type of good graces that you can only hope for in a time like this.
It pained me to actually throw away perfectly delicious chocolate chip cookie dough—and in the middle of December—so with the remaining 50 pounds strapped in my bike basket, I took it home. I have now become Jonny Cookieseed, spreading holiday cheer in the form of cookies galore. I’ve baked dozens, the first batch going to my local bar. They love me there. It promises to be a chocolate-studded Christmas this year!