Everyone has them!
Everyone has at least one kitchen fail story – that time when something when so incredibly wrong in the kitchen, with or without an obvious explanation.
I recently had one of those days, where everything was going right, and I was actually ahead of plan for my prep work in the kitchen, so I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies. I had made a batch the week before, and had just enough chocolate chips leftover from another recipe, so why not? Traveling between our locations and working in different kitchens each day, I try and keep the basics stocked.
Chocolate chip cookies are not that difficult. Butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda and chocolate chips. Pantry items or staples for most people. I didn’t even think about how old some of my ingredients might be, I just set to work measuring & mixing and baking. The smell was amazing and I was looking forward to pulling the pan out of the oven. So, when the timer went off, and this is what I got, I was quite surprised – my pan of otherwise yummy smelling cookie dough was boiling and still raw in the middle.
So, I did what anyone would do in this situation, and asked myself “What went wrong?”. I worked my way through the recipe again, double-checking myself to make sure I included everything. When I got to the baking soda, my first thought was “did I leave it out?”. But baking soda has a very distinctive taste on its own; and I confirmed, by tasting my ugly cookies, that I did not leave it out. Then I looked for a date on the box – no luck as the top was completely torn off. I also gave the box a sniff to see if there were any off odors, but nothing. So, I was left to conclude 2 things: That the baking soda’s effectiveness was lessened by it being completely open in a cabinet; and, it must be out of date. The freshness of your ingredients matters. I hate to waste food, but that’s exactly what happened with that batch of cookies. There was a brand-new box of baking soda in the cabinet, but I chose to use the open one and not waste it.
Baking soda is what makes your cookies puff. It is an alkaline ingredient, that when mixed with something acidic (think baking soda and vinegar volcanoes….) releases carbon dioxide. In the case of chocolate chip cookies, the acidic ingredient is brown sugar. Because it’s a dry ingredient, the reaction is slower that it would be with a wet ingredient, allowing the cookies to spread a bit as the carbon dioxide is released into the cookie. The result should be a fairly evenly thick cookie from edge to center.
But baking soda also absorbs moisture and odors. You know, like that box you might keep in your fridge. So, while most people would be surprised to learn that baking soda has an expiration date; and there are plenty of people out there who think that date really doesn’t matter, I would say this: regardless of how long you plan to keep it around, if you’re going to cook with it, then store it in an airtight container in a dry location. Don’t cook with the box you keep behind last month’s leftovers in the refrigerator. If you do have one of those boxes laying around, you don’t need to toss it. You can use it for any number of things around the house. It’s great for cleaning the gunk stuck on your cookie sheets after your cookie fail. 😊