How to make soft cookies with agave syrup

In How, why and WTF of cooking, Shilpa Uskokovic will answer your burning baking questions and share her tips and tricks for perfect sweets. This month: How to make the fluffiest cookies imaginable.

Crispy chewy might be ideal for some, but chewy chewy, with the faintest whisper of mochi-like resistance, is my holy grail cookie texture. It took developing a recipe for Homemade Chipwiches — vanilla ice cream sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies, adorned with even more chocolate chips — to figure out how to get the fluffiest bite. Think of those “soft” cookies from the grocery store, curving gently like a hug. We don’t need fancy equipment, just an ingredient that might already be in your pantry.

What makes a cookie chewy?

Well, a few things. How you process the butter is important. Beating cold or room temperature butter with sugar creates lots of small air bubbles in the batter. As the dough bakes, it sets around these bubbles, resulting in open-crumb cookies that tend to be dry and/or crunchy. In contrast, melted butter or even oil results in denser, chewier cookies because they aren’t as airy.

But even more important than butter: the moisture and sugar content. Just think of the polar opposite of chewy cookies: crispy cookies. It is easy to understand that a cookie is crispy because it has very little residual moisture (much like a potato chip). Less moisture = crispy cookie. More moisture = chewy cookie.

Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, that’s easy. I can add a little water to the dough. You could. But the water turns to steam pretty quickly, and most of it comes out of the cookie by the time it’s baked.

Sugar, on the other hand, is a magical ingredient with mysterious qualities, one of them being hygroscopicity. It’s a complicated word for sugar’s ability to attract and retain water from its surroundings. And once the sugar has caught the water, it takes a lot of heat to break them apart, which is why moist sugar is better than moist water when it comes to soft cookies.

So, just increase the sugar then?

Not enough. There are three main types of sugar molecules – sucrose, glucose and fructose – each with different moisture-binding abilities. Sucrose (like regular granulated sugar) is lowest on the hygroscopic scale. Glucose (like corn syrup, molasses, and to some extent brown sugar) is better at courting water. But what we’re really looking for is a source of fructose, our ultimate water lover.

Fructose can be found in fruits like apples, cherries, and raisins. There’s invert sugar and the much-maligned high-fructose corn syrup, both virtually impossible to find for home baking. Honey is about 40% fructose which is great, but honey has a strong flavor and cookies baked with it are extremely golden (not cute). Which brings us to the agave. Agave syrup is about 80% fructose, relatively sweet and inexpensive, and readily available. Ding, ding, ding!

How Much Agave Do I Need?

Replacing as little as 20% of the sugar with agave—yes, by weight—results in an incredibly soft and chewy cookie. The cookies are expected to spread more than usual, baking thinner and smoother due to the liquid sweetener. You can counter this by increasing the flour by 1 tablespoon (8 grams) per ¼ cup (86 grams) of added agave.

Or, you can skip the math and make those ice cream sandwiches, where it’s all figured out for you. While crispy, chewy cookies need time to thaw, soft cookies are just frozen, soft enough to bite into before the ice cream melts on your wrists.

Keep them in the freezer all summer:

Chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches

A clever combination of olive oil and agave syrup keep these cookies miraculously moist and tender even straight out of the freezer.

See the recipe

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