In & Out of the Kitchen: Cracking the code on crinkle cookies

From left, Easy Sugar Cookies (not many crinkles), Sally’s chocolate crinkle cookies (lots of crinkles) and molasses sugar cookies (medium crinkles).
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From left, Easy Sugar Cookies (not many crinkles), Sally’s chocolate crinkle cookies (lots of crinkles) and molasses sugar cookies (medium crinkles).

I always like to serve cookies with coffee after dinner when we have guests, even if there is another dessert. Some people like to dunk.

Since I was having back-to-back dinners a few weekends ago with a fair number of guests, I’d made a batch of sugar cookies, and I thought I’d add molasses cookies as another contrasting variety with a different flavor profile.

It’s one of my favorite cookies, but I’ve been having trouble with it lately. No matter how carefully I follow the recipe, the cookies come out flat, like pancakes. And the best part of them visually, the crinkles, are minimal to nonexistent.

There are lots of recipes for crinkle cookies and I’ve made many kinds: chocolate crinkles are classic, as are plain sugar cookies and snickerdoodles.

I’ve also had good luck with lemon crinkles, and I’ve even seen a blueberry variety.

The woefully flat cookies taste the same to everyone else, but not to me. When that first failed pan comes out of the oven my heart sinks, knowing I have the balance of a batch of disappointing cookies yet to bake.

So I did a little looking online and I think I found where I went wrong.

Turns out all crinkle cookies have something in common. Let’s talk about the sugar. All of them are rolled in some kind of sugar, powdered or regular granulated. Chocolate crinkles come to mind; the contrast between the white and black on the top of the cookies is eye-catching.

You know how recipes evolve. You tweak something here and double the spices there. That’s what I’d been doing, and at one point I swapped out the granulated sugar for the fancy sparkling stuff.

Leave it to Cook’s Illustrated magazine, that laboratory of the kitchen, to come up with the reasons certain cookies crinkle. They have the patience (and resources) to bake batch after batch, applying the scientific method and changing only one variable at a time.

According to them, most cookies have smooth tops that are soft, but rolling them in sugar dries out the top surface so it finishes cooking before it fully spreads out. In the oven, the top hardens and breaks apart, creating those characteristic cracks.

The magazine gives scientific reasons involving crystalline structure and moisture absorption to explain why the cookies crinkle, but the bottom line for me is that the larger crystals don’t dissolve as easily and the top doesn’t dry out enough to crackle.

If you think about it, decorative sugars are meant to keep their structure throughout the baking; the crystals look the same when they come out of the oven as when they go in. That won’t make any crinkles.

They recommend rolling in granulated sugar and then powdered sugar for maximum crackle.

The Sally’s Baking Addiction website tips its hat to Cook’s Illustrated as well. For her chocolate crinkle cookies, Sally suggests rolling in granulated sugar first, then to “go heavy” on the confectioner’s sugar. “I learned this tip from the wonderful chefs at America’s Test Kitchen” Sally says on her website.

The other important factor for my molasses cookie recipe is to bake the cookies at 375 degrees. My own cookbook shows that temperature crossed out, with “350” written in beneath. In my handwriting. Oops.

When I switched back to 375, a hotter oven to promote melting the sugar, my cookies crackled again. So between that and using plain-old granulated sugar, I was back in business — in my own sloppy laboratory.

I’d ended up changing two variables: the kind of sugar and the temperature, which would get me kicked out of America’s Test Kitchen. Oh, and I ran out of regular molasses so I subbed in the blackstrap stuff.

I’d made a batch of Easy Sugar Cookies from the Allrecipes website just the day before and thought, “These might be good rolled in sugar.” Now I wish I had done it — the tops were wrinkly but not quite crinkly. They’re delicious anyway.

Now I was engrossed — and found Sally’s chocolate cookie crinkle recipe, the one where she recommends the double-sugaring. I had to make them, and boy did they crack.

They were also superdelicious, especially the same day they were baked, brownie-like on the inside and crispy (due to all that sugar) on the outside.

I recommend her recipe because you can mix the dough and keep it for several days. That’s what I did, and baked it on the morning of the day we first had company. Just take them off the pan carefully — they’re quite tender and need a while to set up.

So there were three kinds of crinkles that weekend: plain sugar, molasses and chocolate. Something for everybody. They made a pleasing presentation on the plate when I served them for dessert. And everyone was happy, especially me, because I’d solved the molasses cookie problem.

In & Out of the Kitchen appears occasionally in the Life & Arts section.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts

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