Delicious things happen when research engineer Brooke Beckert enters the kitchen. Beckert has been baking for fun since she was a child – when her mom would give her boxed brownie mixes to assemble on the kitchen floor – but it wasn’t until she began her education in material science and engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology that baking became a serious hobby.
Brooke is a two-time Georgia Tech alumna and according to her husband, Michael, it was during graduate school that she began incorporating her science education into her baking: “It all started with the chocolate chip cookie,” he said.
She began with the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate morsels bag, but found that the outcome wasn’t up to par. For one thing, the cookie wasn’t chewy enough for Beckert’s tastes. And, she noticed that the batter spread out too much in the pan, resulting in a thin cookie where the edges cooked more than the center. Beckert was looking for a cookie that could hold its shape and deliver the right consistency.
So, using her knowledge of chemistry and material properties, she tested and re-tested a number of variations to re-create America’s favorite cookie. “I enjoy discovering the nuanced techniques that optimize a recipe,” she said, demonstrating the first steps in her cookie recipe while using laboratory equipment like this lab stirrer to heat and mix ingredients to near perfection.
Temperature plays a vital role in the texture and consistency of the cookie, starting with allowing the butter and eggs to sit out until they are just right. “Just right” in this case means that the butter has had time to reach room temperature. When slightly softened, butter melts at a faster, more desirable rate when baking, resulting in a chocolate chip cookie that stands up rather than slides across the baking sheet.
The structural integrity of the cookie is important to her husband Michael, who often serves as official taste-tester for Brooke’s culinary experiments. Brooke replaces all of the white sugar in the recipe with brown sugar and adds a packet of Jell-O pudding mix for extra chewiness. To prevent batter from spreading across the sheet, she uses wax paper in lieu of cooking spray. This, she explains, reduces the wetting angle, or the surface area of the batter. A larger wetting angle usually results in unwanted sloped, burnt cookie edges.
To adjust the viscosity – or “meltiness” – of the cookie even further, Brooke replaces half of the butter called for in the Nestle Toll House recipe with shortening, chills the dough in the fridge before baking, reduces the oven temperature and increases the cook time. All of these measures slow down the transition of liquids to solids and result in a sturdier, well-shaped, chocolate chip cookie.
As for the chocolate chips, Brooke is less precise. She adds them based on her mood that day, which is usually pretty “chippy.”
Brooke’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
1.5 Cups Brown Sugar (packed)
1/2 Cup Butter, softened
1/2 Cup Shortening, room temperature
1 Package Jell-O Pudding Mix (chocolate or vanilla)
2 1/4 Cups Self Rising Flour
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 1/2 Cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (Nestle Tollhouse is recommended)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening
- Add the sugar
- Cream butter, shortening and sugar until there are air bubbles (CO2 gives cookies structure)
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well
- Add vanilla and pudding mix
- Add flour gradually
- Add chocolate-chips as desired
- Refrigerate dough for 10 minutes
- Place uniform heaping tablespoons of dough on light colored baking sheet
- Bake for 12 minutes
- Allow cookies to cool on pan for 2-3 minutes
- Place on cooling rack until cookies become to room temperature
Brooke Beckert is a research engineer at The Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory. She particularly enjoys developing new glass-based materials and devices.