Bakers Journal

Tricks of the Trade: March 2012

February 29, 2012

Controlling a cookie’s size and shape assures an appealing appearance and facilitates packaging.

Controlling a cookie’s size and shape assures an appealing appearance and facilitates packaging.

Baking powders allow us to control the cookie’s thickness. Cookies rise because of the carbon dioxide (CO2) vapour released by adding sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or mono calcium phosphate (MCP) to the batter. In dry cookies, we can also use ammonium bicarbonate.

Ingredients like sugar and shortening are important in controlling how much a cookie does or doesn’t spread. We can also influence the expansion of a cookie by using bleached flour in our batter or by adding an emulsifier.


Here’s a breakdown of some common ingredients and the effects they may be having on your dough:

Sugars affect expansion

All ingredients with the power to sweeten affect the expansion of a cookie. There are two factors to consider when dealing with sugar: the quantity of sugar and the size of the sugar particles. Generally, the more sugar you have in the formula, the smaller the diameter of your cookie. A sugar with big particles will not completely dissolve in the dough. Instead, it will melt during baking, spreading the dough and giving a larger-diameter cookie.

The function of fat

 Fats such as shortening, butter, margarine, oil and lard help to smooth the dough. They facilitate mixing, aeration and expansion, and improve the cookie’s mouth feel. Fats have less influence on expansion than sugar. The type of fat used will change the mixing time in the first stage, depending on the hardness (solidity) and temperature of the fat.

Flour type

Several types of flours can be used to make cookies, but some will be more suited to a particular shape, texture and expansion than others. For certain formulas, we use all-purpose flour made from hard wheat. For others, we may prefer soft wheat flours, such as pastry or biscuit flour. The range of protein in the flour will affect the expansion of the cookie as it bakes. Avoid the use of special flours with cakes, which are bleached.

Whole-wheat or whole-grain flour such as ground flax seeds will change the spread of your baking cookie, so you will have to adjust formulations made with these flours to meet your requirements.


A well-balanced formula made with good-quality ingredients will help you obtain the desired results for your product. The following are some common causes of problems related to cookies that either expand too much or too little:

Possible causes of too much expansion

  • Flour with insufficient amount of protein
  • Flour with poor-quality protein
  • Liquid shortening with a melting point that is too  low
  • Fat level too low for quantity of sugar in formulation
  • Sugar that is too coarse
  • Too much liquid sugar
  • Too much baking powder
  • Wrong type of leavening agent
  • Too much liquid in the formula
  • Using single stage mixing where multi-stage mixing is needed
  • Oven temperature too low at start of baking time

Possible causes of insufficient expansion

  • Strong flour too high in protein
  • Too many gums or eggs in formulation
  • Using bleached or cake flour
  • Shortening is too plastic(i.e., croissant margarine)
  • Sugar is too fine
  • Too much fat for the quantity of sugar
  • Too many mixing stages
  • Oven temperature too warm at start of baking time
  • Missing liquid in the formula or liquid that is absorbed by gums, starches and fibre in the formulation

Remember that cookies do not bake by the internal oven temperature, but by the heat of the surface they are baked on (i.e., sheet pan, oven band or belt). Cookies baked directly on a metal surface will not bake the same way as cookies baked on silicone or parchment paper. Changing your baking surface may also change the way your cookies spread.

Mario Fortin is an international bakery consultant and owner of FORMA-LAB, a consulting service for bakers and suppliers. If you need technical information, send questions to

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