In Pictures: Christmas Cookies

Cooking Class: The Science of Baking Cookies

Every cookie shares the same core ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, and eggs.

You might add chocolate or nuts, but it’s the varying ratios of these four main ingredients—and how we mix them together—that define our cookies. An understanding of how these ingredients interact is the key to cookie success.

The Fat

The fat in your cookie will come from one of three main sources: oil, shortening, or butter. Butter is by far the most flavorful of the fats, and the most utilized in cookie making. Don’t make the mistake of substituting it with a butter-flavored margarine or tub-o-spread. These concoctions are often much higher in water, which makes them perfect for spreading on toast, but terrible for baking cookies. For the sake of consistency, all the fat called for here is butter, and unless a recipe seems to hinge on the use of shortening or oil, I suggest you too adopt an all-butter-all-the-time philosophy in your own cookie making.

To understand how butter works in your cookies, imagine heating two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. One is a cold square cut straight from a stick of butter; the other, a blob of soft butter spooned from a stick at room temperature. The cold pat of butter will melt only at the edges, keeping its shape as the heat from the stove warms it up. The soft blob, however, will melt quickly, and shift shape, drooping and spreading as it liquefies.

This is exactly how the fat in your cookies will behave when baked in the oven. Soft fat will spread, and hard fat will hold its shape. Eventually all fat melts into flat puddles if not for the other ingredients getting in the way, but the underlying structure of the fat will help define how a cookie spreads—or doesn’t—in the oven.


Most recipes call for white sugar, the sparking granules of white sucrose we’re all familiar with. Perhaps because of this familiarity, many cooks fiddle with the amount of sugar in recipes, decreasing it for health reasons, or because they want a less sweet treat.

But before you do this, we need to we need to talk about what sugar really does. First and foremost, sugar adds flavor. Beyond the obvious sweetness, it also plays a key role in how other flavors are perceived, heightening some and diminishing the perception of others. But flavor isn’t where sugar’s true power lies.

The most important thing sugar does in your cookie is bind to water. Sugar is hygroscopic, which means it attracts and retains water. And once the water submits to its fate and binds to the sugar, it is no longer available to any of the other ingredients in the cookie—in particular, the protein in the flour. With the correct ratio of sugar, only a portion of the water in the cookie is left to mix with the protein and form strong gluten chains. If you add too much sugar, there will be very little water left to help build the protein structure in your cookie, and it might crackle and fall apart. Remove sugar from your cookie and the excess water will activate the gluten, creating stronger protein chains and tough cookie.

What does sugar look like when it binds to a water molecule? It takes on liquid properties and becomes a clear syrup. You won’t see this when it’s mixed into cookie dough. However when the cookie bakes, the water evaporates and leaves behind sugar crystals on the surface of the cookie. This is what gives a cookie a crispy edge, or, if baked long enough, crispness all the way through.

The Flour

There are countless kind of flours you can make cookies with, but for this piece we’ll discuss the properties of wheat flour. Grocery stores usually carry three types: bread flour, which is high in protein and creates the chew in bread; cake flour, which is low in protein and high in starch, which creates the tender crumb of a soft cake; and all-purpose flour, which is likely what you already have in your cupboards, and has a mid-range protein content appropriate for most baked goods. For most cookies, the protein content in all-purpose flour is correct, and unless specified differently, the recipe was likely tested with all-purpose flour.

The flour is the last ingredient added to a cookie, where it performs its first task: bringing the sludge of sugar, fat, and egg together into a dough. The starches absorb water and glue the fats and sugars together. As the flour sits with the dough, the two proteins in wheat flour, glutenin and gliadin will absorb water and combine forces to form gluten chains, adding a subtle web of proteins for strength.

When baked in the oven, the protein web created by the gluten stretches and traps the expanding air in the cookie. Without it, the air would simply bubble up and out of the cookie like the gasses in your soda, passing through the sugars, fats, and starches leaving us with a flat puck of a cookie. While we don’t expect our cookies to inflate like a loaf of bread, we do need some of that air to stay inside.

But to fully understand wheat flour, we can’t just think of it as webs of gluten. All purpose flour contains 10 to 12 percent protein, which means about 90 percent of flour is starch. These small granules also absorb water. When they do, they double in size, and when heated to about 160 F, they turn soft and supple. These starches are tender and give a cookie most of its body. Just like the sugar, the water occupied by the starch granules is not available to participate in gluten formation. The flours we buy from commercial sources, rather than local mills, are formulated to have a specific ratio of starch and gluten that favor the muffins, cookies, and other baked goods typically produced at home.

Some cookies, particularly those that are designed to hold a clean edge when baked, require more flour to help hold all the ingredients in place—both when rolled, and when baked. This puts the cookie at risk of being too tough. Adding a small amount of cornstarch or potato starch helps add bulk to the cookie and keep it in place, while preventing too many gluten chains from making the cookie tough. Use additional starches with caution, as they are quite effective. Too much starch and there will be no water left for gluten formation, causing your cookie to fall apart.


While eggs are most often added to cookie recipes whole, the whites and yolks can be separated, and added individually to accentuate their unique properties. Egg yolks are mostly made of lipids with a small amount of protein and water. Lipids, are fat and act like it, adding flavor and color to a cookie. The small amount of protein in the yolks will coagulate in the presence of heat, helping hold the cookie together.

The protein in an egg yolk can’t compare to the protein in a egg white. An egg white is primarily made of water and albumen, a long-strand protein that unravels and interlocks in the presence of heat. In a cookie, this protein helps create the structure along with the gluten. But it comes bundled with a lot of water, which can make the dough it sticky and wet if too much is added. Once baked, the additional water turns into steam and becomes trapped by the extra protein, giving the cookie a cake-like texture.

Air – the Secret Ingredient

Air. It’s not on the ingredient list, and it’s rarely talked about. But air, or lack thereof, in a cookie is the key difference in many cookies. There are three ways to create air in a cookie: mechanically, chemically, and physically.

Mechanically. If you’ve ever had to “cream” the butter and sugar together in a recipe, this is what’s happenng. Each time the beater moves through the mixture, it drags the sharp sugar crystals through the butter, scraping air pockets into the fat. If you watch sugar and butter creaming, you will notice it getting paler in color, and fluffier in texture. In order to allow the sugar crystals to scrape these pockets into the fat, your butter needs to be soft—just below room temperature is best. (If you’re getting super scientific, it should be between 60 and 65 degrees.) If your butter is any softer, the air pockets will collapse under the pressure of the beater as soon as you create them. An added bonus: dough with a high ratio of mechanically added air will also be soft, ready to scoop when cold, and eager to change shape in the oven.

Chemically. We can add air to a cookie by using a leavening agent, specifically baking soda or baking powder. We have all experimented with combining baking soda and vinegar in elementary school, watching it foam up and expand. That’s what is happening inside our cookie. The baking soda releases carbon dioxide when it comes in contact with water and acid. You might not think a sugar cookie is acidic, and you’re not mistaken. But the flour and sugar are acidic enough to activate the baking soda. Baking powder is made of baking soda mixed with an additional acid that doesn’t become soluble until it reaches temperatures above 140 F. This means that as the cookie bakes and increases in temperature, it gets an additional boost of air right about the time the starches and protiens in the cookie are firming up.

Physically. As the oven temperature increases it turns the water in the butter (18% water by weight) and the eggs into steam. This steam is the powerful engine that inflates both puff pastry and pâte à choux, and in a cookie will help inflate the air pockets already created by mechanical leavening.

Source: Lucky Peach

Carbohydrates and Type 2 Diabetes

Carbohydrate metabolism in relation to glycemic control is one of the most important topics for people with diabetes. Glucose from both dietary and endogenous sources supports essential functions of major organs in the body.

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Individuals with multiple modifiable and/or non-modifiable risk factors may be at greater risk of developing insulin resistance, resulting in altered glucose utilization and eventually leading to clinically prominent metabolic disturbances (i.e. hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, hyperlipidemia).

Do sugars cause Type 2 Diabetes?

No, scientific evidence has not identified sugars as a direct cause of diabetes.

A systematic review of predominantly prospective cohort studies examined the association between total sugars, sucrose or fructose intake and Type 2 Diabetes incidence and showed inconclusive results.

Of the six studies reporting either sucrose intake or total sugars intake, none found a positive association with Type 2 Diabetes incidence.

Similar conclusions were made in a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies focusing on fructose containing sugars (fructose, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) where no significant difference in diabetes incidence was found between the highest and lowest quantiles for consumption.

Among the risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes, overweight/obesity is the most significant. Excess weight gain can be caused by chronically exceeding daily caloric needs through the overconsumption of energy from all macronutrients.

Sugars contribute to overall carbohydrate and caloric intake, but scientific evidence has not found that sugars contribute to weight gain any differently than other energy sources. Meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials have consistently shown that when sugars were consumed in isocaloric exchange for other carbohydrates, no weight gain was observed in subjects with Type 2 Diabetes.

Can people with Type 2 Diabetes consume added sugars as part of a healthy diet?

Yes, added sugars in moderation can be included as part of healthy meal plans for people with Type 2 Diabetes.

In the 2013 CDA Clinical Practice Guidelines and the 2015 CDA Public Policy Position Statement on Sugars, it is stated that added sugar can be substituted for other carbohydrates in amounts up to 10% of total calories1. This level of sucrose intake has been shown to have no deleterious effects on glycemic control or lipid profile.

The 2013 CDA Clinical Practice Guidelines and recent meta-analyses also state that fructose, when substituted for other sources of carbohydrate (e.g., starch or sucrose) has no harmful effects on lipid profile, uric acid or body weight. In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, small doses of fructose (22.5-36 grams/day) also showed beneficial effects on glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and fasting glucose. However, amounts of fructose greater than 50 g (on a 2000 Calories/day diet) or 10% of total Calories may increase triglycerides in people with diabetes. For optimal health, it is therefore recommended that this level not be exceeded.

Whenever foods containing added sugars (including sucrose and fructose) are consumed, they should be accounted for as carbohydrate food choices since total non-fibre carbohydrate intake has the greatest effect on blood glucose concentrations, not simply the total sugars or added sugars intake.

Are “Reduced in sugar” or “No sugar added” foods a better choice for people with Type 2 Diabetes?

Not always. Foods and beverages making the claim “Reduced in sugar” or “No sugar added” are often sweetened using non-caloric sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and stevia. While these products may provide flexibility in food choices when managing carbohydrate and caloric intake throughout the day, these claims do not indicate that these products are sugar free nor are they necessarily lower in total carbohydrate or Calories. This is because naturally occurring sugars along with starch may still be present (and sometimes in higher quantities to replace the functional role that sugars provided).

Market research conducted in Ontario found that of 402 products making a reduced/no added sugars claim, 15% actually had higher Calories, 18% were higher in carbohydrate and 6% were higher in sugars compared to reference products.

In addition to this potential confusion, sugars claims highlight one single nutrient while people with diabetes have complex nutrition needs to maintain optimal levels of blood glucose, blood pressure and blood lipids. Although products with a sugars claim may assist people with diabetes in identifying products lower in sugars, the Nutrition Facts Panel should always be consulted to review the full list of nutritional information, including Calories, carbohydrate (including sugars, starch and fibre), fat and sodium.

The CDA Clinical Practice Guidelines present specific dietary and lifestyle recommendations for people with diabetes, which are summarized in Table 2.

Should people with Type 2 Diabetes consume a low carbohydrate diet?

No. The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) recommends consuming carbohydrates throughout the day in consistent amounts at consistent times, with a minimum intake of 130 g to provide sufficient glucose to the brain.

Carbohydrate counting is a tool available to measure carbohydrate intake at each meal. As a percentage of total daily energy, carbohydrate should not be less than 45% to prevent high intakes of fat and may contribute up to 60% if derived from low glycemic index (GI) and high-fibre foods. As each individual will have unique carbohydrate requirements, initial carbohydrate goals should be set based upon individual needs.

Despite their popularity, there is much confusion about low carbohydrate diets for Type 2 Diabetes. The CDA 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines state that low carbohydrate diets (4 – 45% total calories) can lower HbA1c and triglycerides, but have no effect on total cholesterol, high density lipoproteins, low density lipoproteins or bodyweight in short term studies. A more recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials identified that low carbohydrate diets have no additional benefits on weight loss as compared to an isocaloric and balanced diet (CHO: 45-65% energy, fat: 25-35% energy, protein: 10-20% energy) in terms of weight loss, glycemic control and lipid profile in both the short term (3-6 months) and long term (1-2 years). Very low carbohydrate diets may not ensure micronutrient and fibre
adequacy and long term studies have not yet evaluated the sustainability and nutrient adequacy of these diets.

Choosing lower GI carbohydrates in mixed meals may help some individuals with glycemic control. Meta-analyses of controlled feeding trials have shown clinically significant improvements in glycemic control and some cardiovascular risk factors when low GI carbohydrates replace high GI carbohydrates in mixed meals. Individuals with diabetes are encouraged to follow Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide while selecting a diet best suited to their individual preferences and treatment goals.

Source: Canadian Sugar Institute

Low Levels of Vitamin D May Increase Risk of Stress Fractures in Active Individuals

Experts recommend active individuals who participate in higher impact activities may need to maintain higher vitamin D levels, reports The Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in ensuring appropriate bone density. Active individuals who enjoy participating in higher impact activities may need to maintain higher vitamin D levels to reduce their risk of stress fractures, report investigators in The Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery.

The role of vitamin D in the body has recently become a subject of increasing interest owing to its many physiologic effects throughout multiple organ systems. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that can behave as a hormone. It is obtained through diet and through the skin when exposed to the sun’s rays. It is essential for bone development and remodeling to ensure appropriate bone mass density. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, osteomalacia, decreased bone mineral density, and risk of acute fracture.

Investigators tested the serum concentration of 25(OH)D, which is used to determine vitamin D status, in patients with confirmed stress fractures. “By assessing the average serum vitamin D concentrations of people with stress fractures and comparing these with the current guidelines, we wanted to encourage a discussion regarding whether a higher concentration of serum vitamin D should be recommended for active individuals,” explained lead investigator Jason R. Miller, DPM, FACFAS, Fellowship Director of the Pennsylvania Intensive Lower Extremity Fellowship, foot and ankle surgeon from Premier Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and Fellow Member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

The investigators reviewed the medical records of patients who experienced lower extremity pain, with a suspected stress fracture, over a three-year period from August 2011 to July 2014. All patients had x-rays of the affected extremity and were then sent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if no acute fracture had been seen, yet concern for the presence of a stress fracture remained based on the physical examination findings. Musculoskeletal radiologists independently reviewed all the MRI scans, and the investigators then confirmed the diagnosis of a stress fracture after a review of the images.

The serum vitamin D level was recorded within three months of diagnosis for 53 (42.74%) of these patients. Using the standards recommended by the Vitamin D Council (sufficient range 40 to 80 ng/mL), more than 80% of these patients would have been classified as having insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels. According to the standards set by the Endocrine Society (sufficient range 30 to 100 ng/mL), over 50% had insufficient levels.

“Based on these findings, we recommend a serum vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/mL to protect against stress fractures, especially for active individuals who enjoy participating in higher impact activities,” explained Dr. Miller. “This correlates with an earlier study of 600 female Navy recruits who were found to have a twofold greater risk of stress fractures of the tibia and fibula with a vitamin D level of less than 20 ng/mL compared with females with concentrations above 40 ng/mL

“However, vitamin D is not the sole predictor of a stress fracture and we recommend that individuals who regularly exercise or enjoy participating in higher impact activities should be advised on proper and gradual training regimens to reduce the risk of developing a stress fracture,” he concluded.

Source: EurekAlert!

Sunflower Seed Scones


2-1/4 cups cake-and-pastry flour
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup roasted, shelled unsalted sunflower seeds
1 egg, beaten


  1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Using pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.
  2. Make a well in the mixture. Add buttermilk and sunflower seeds. Stir with fork until sticky.
  3. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Pat into 1/2-inch thick disc. Using 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out scones.
  4. Pat scrapes together. Cut out more scones.
  5. Place scones on ungreased baking sheet and brush with egg. Bake in 400°F oven for 11 to 12 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.

Makes 15 scones.

Source: Style at Home

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