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I'm no chef, and I'm certainly no baker. However, I've made a goal of trying to make decent (yes, at least halfway decent) cookies ever since my first batch ever, which inevitably turned coal-black due to my atrocious baking skills.

I hadn't broached the subject of another attempt until right before my trip: I moved to SoCal for summer research, and before I left I wanted to thank a certain small cafe owner (Jamal) who had supported me throughout the difficult college semesters. I knew he really liked sweets, and it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to make another attempt at cookies, specifically oatmeal cookies with this tutorial (and get feedback from a pro while I'm at it).

But of course, I didn't have enough butter for Operation Cookie.

I knew I might lose my resolve if I'd taken the time to go out and buy more, so I decided to go with impromptu substitutions (which we all may know never ends quite well...). That batch turned out... interesting. But it got me thinking: what if I turned cookie making into a science experiment? I figured that I would have more fun with analyzing different conditions rather than cringing at the inevitable smell of smoke or undercooked cookies.

Long introduction aside, I tested 6 different ingredient combinations/substitutions (including first batch) in the goal of using instant oatmeal packets to make oatmeal cookies. See the second-to-last page of the tutorial to find a brief overview of taste/texture/etc. of each combo.

Step 1: Materials

Different amounts were used for different conditions, but the basic necessities include:

  • instant oatmeal (I used the classic Quakers, specifically apples+cinnamon and maple+brown sugar)
  • milk
  • butter
  • eggs
  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • honey
  • sugar

Step 2: First Batch: Bread-like Texture

The first batch that I mentioned in the intro had a bread-like crumbly texture, and the key to this one was my intended substitution of milk for butter. I also ran out of milk so I had to go with an additional milk-water substitution, unlucky as I am. Though it was based on this tutorial, I did change some ratios to accommodate how thick my mixture was.

The following ingredients made around 25x 2.5" diameter cookies:

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 2/3 of brown sugar
  • 5 packets of Quaker oatmeal (namely, 3x apple cinnamon and 2x maple + brown sugar)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup butter
  • 1 cup water (or until batter is the same consistency as pudding)
  • 1/4 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 egg

Begin by mixing the dry ingredients (oatmeal, flour, baking powder + soda, sugar) in a large bowl. Then gently mix in the milk and water before adding the egg. Microwave the butter for ~15 seconds to melt it before pouring and mixing that into the batter.

When this is all complete, your batter should be quite watery like pudding. Not a great sign, as I soon learned: if you want a cookie with substance (i.e. not bread-like) the batter should end up to be firm rather than liquidy. But I didn't know better, unfortunately... I probably should have tried making pancakes from this... (maybe I'll try that in another experiment).

In any case, scoop spoonfuls onto a buttered-up (i.e. spread butter/oil/non-stick spray so cookies come off easily) baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees (fahrenheit) for 8-12 minutes. For me it took 12 minutes, but just take them out when the cookies are light brown on the top. As a true test, poke a sharp object (chopstick, fork) into the center of one and make sure it's not wet when you pull it out.

TASTE: When I tried a cookie, I immediately groaned because it was like bread rather than even a soft cookie -- it crumbled very easily. The taste was alright, though the texture (or lack thereof) was the major let down. I did give them to Jamal as the planned thank you gift, and got feedback from him and his employees the next time I went in. Apparently, to counter the bread texture, he made sandwiches from them! He spread homemade apricot jam between two cookies, sprinkled brown sugar on top, and baked them for a few minutes to caramelize the brown sugar, which ended up like a glaze. I wish I could've tried this upgrade of my original failure, but perhaps I'll experiment next time...

Step 3: Setting Up Experiment

Inspired by the bread-like batch, I planned out 5 different batches of cookies with one parameter change to see the effects:

  1. CONTROL = original recipe, no change
  2. substituting milk for butter in a 1:1 ratio
  3. no egg, more milk
  4. different ratio of baking powder to soda: more powder instead of soda
  5. different ratio of baking powder to soda: no powder, same amount of soda
  6. honey used instead of sugar

So how did I set all of this up? I knew one batch of cookies would not have egg, but the other five would. Since it's hard to measure out "1/5 egg" for the other batches, I decided to add the egg to 5 packets of oatmeal (3x apples+cinnamon and 2x maple+brown sugar) in a bowl and use the 6th packet (maple+brown sugar) separately. Thus, I began with emptying 5 packets of oatmeal into a large bowl. Since there were some random clumps of powder from the packets (sugar, cinnamon, etc.), I broke them up for easier mixing later. Then I cracked and added the egg to the oatmeal. This should make the oatmeal look "wet". Then split the mixture into five different sections, and just scoop out one of the five sections for each batch of cookies.

Step 4: Control: Original Recipe

As mentioned before, the original tutorial that I planned to use was from this website, and it called for:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tbs baking soda
  • 6 packets oatmeal
  • 1 cup flour

Since each separate condition only used a single packet of oatmeal, I had to scale down all the ingredients. This came to:

  • one section of the oatmeal-egg mixture of the previous step
  • 1/12 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • pinch of baking powder (1/24 tbs baking powder/soda is pretty negligible for accuracy)
  • 2 pinches of baking soda
  • pinch of milk (not really a "pinch" per say, but this is my way of saying a tiny amount)

Again, simply mix dry ingredients in a bowl before mixing in wet ingredients, microwaving and mixing in butter last. Bake at 350 fahrenheit for ~10 minutes (until golden brown).

TASTE: Perfect taste! It could've been crunchier; the oats were really soft and almost mushy (but not mushy because not very moist). The oats felt packed together and crumbled quite nicely. Great for an original starting point.

Step 5: Milk-butter Substitution: 1:1 Ratio

For this substitution, I used a roughly 1:1 ratio of milk and butter, namely 1/24 cup butter and 1/24 cup milk. Specifically, my list of ingredients were:

  • one section of the oatmeal-egg mixture
  • 1/24 cup butter
  • 1/24 cup milk
  • 1/6 cup flour
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • pinch of baking powder (1/24 tbs baking powder/soda is pretty negligible for accuracy)
  • 2 pinches of baking soda

Again, simply mix dry ingredients in a bowl before mixing in wet ingredients, microwaving and mixing in butter last. Bake at 350 fahrenheit for ~10 minutes (until golden brown).

TASTE: These cookies externally looked like the control batch. The major distinctive aspect of this batch was how bread-like the cookies turned out. The taste was all right, though the texture (or lack thereof) was the major let down.

Step 6: Milk Substitution for Egg

For this substitution, no egg was used and more milk was added to make up for that. Specifically, my list of ingredients were:

  • one packet of maple+brown sugar oatmeal (that 6th packet that wasn't mixed in with the egg)
  • 1/4 cup of milk (overestimation!)
  • no butter (since the milk was overkill)
  • originally 1/6 cup of flour was supposed to be used, but since there was too much milk this became 1/2 cup
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • pinch of baking powder (1/24 tbs baking powder/soda is pretty negligible for accuracy)
  • 2 pinches of baking soda

As mentioned in the list above, I compensated for the egg with a whopping 1/4 cup of milk (I don't really know what I was thinking) which meant that I had to use 3x the originally planned amount of flour to compensate. This also meant that I didn't add butter.

TASTE: The major use of milk ended up making the cookie have a distinctive milky, buttery taste (as if I had used milk powder instead of flour, which my mom actually did once to make milk buns :) ). It was just as bread-like as the previous batch. It also looked a bit like my bread-like first batch, except it was more pale (likely due to the higher milk content).

Step 7: Different Baking Powder/soda Ratios: More Powder Than Soda

For this substitution, instead of using twice as much baking soda as baking powder, I switched the ratio so that I used twice as much baking powder as baking soda. Specifically, my list of ingredients were:

  • one section of the oatmeal-egg mixture
  • 1/12 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • pinch of baking soda (1/24 tbs baking powder/soda is pretty negligible for accuracy)
  • 2 pinches of baking powder
  • 1/6 cup flour
  • pinch of milk (my way of saying a tiny amount -- don't actually pinch the milk)

Again, simply mix dry ingredients in a bowl before mixing in wet ingredients, microwaving and mixing in butter last. Bake at 350 fahrenheit for ~10 minutes (until golden brown).

TASTE: Visually, these cookie looked like a crunchy oatmeal cookie (oh, if only crunchy oatmeal cookies existed) in that you could see the oats quite distinctly. They were darker than all other batches except the honey batch. However, these cookies crumbled almost immediately upon touch. It wouldn't stay together, and was quite chewy instead. Much disappoint..

Step 8: Different Baking Powder/soda Ratios: No Powder, Same Amount of Soda

For this substitution, I completely got rid of baking powder to see how it might change the cookies. Specifically, my list of ingredients were:

  • one section of the oatmeal-egg mixture
  • 1/12 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/6 cup of flour
  • 2 pinches of baking soda
  • pinch of milk

Again, simply mix dry ingredients in a bowl before mixing in wet ingredients, microwaving and mixing in butter last. Bake at 350 fahrenheit for ~10 minutes (until golden brown).

TASTE: The cookie looked almost exactly like the original recipe cookies (control batch). They actually turned out tasting just like the control batch, albeit slightly less soft and mushy. Surprisingly not much of a difference!

Step 9: Honey-brown Sugar Substitution

For this substitution, I substituted the brown sugar for 2 tablespoons of honey. I've heard that using honey makes cookies crispier and sweeter (since honey is sweeter than normal sugar) so I thought I'd test it out. Specifically, my list of ingredients were:

  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • one section of the oatmeal-egg mixture
  • 1/12 cup butter
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/6 cup of flour
  • pinch of baking powder (1/24 tsp. is pretty negligible for accuracy)
  • 2 pinches of baking soda
  • pinch of milk (i.e. small amount)

Again, simply mix dry ingredients in a bowl before mixing in wet ingredients, microwaving and mixing in butter last. Bake at 350 fahrenheit for ~10 minutes (until golden brown).

TASTE: This batch was a truly golden orange hue -- beautiful! I really enjoyed the honey taste as it reminded me of graham crackers. I might be biased to honey, but these were my favorite in that the texture was like the control batch except slightly crunchier and with the added taste of honey.

Step 10: Compiled Summary

In summary, I tested 6 different substitutions in a recipe to create oatmeal cookies from packets of instant oatmeal.

control (original recipe)

  1. milk and water used to substitute butter
  2. milk substitution for butter, in 1:1 ratio
  3. milk used to substitute lack of egg
  4. different ratio of baking powder/soda: more powder used than soda
  5. different ratio of baking powder/soda: no powder, same amount of soda
  6. honey substituted for brown sugar

To compare and "analyze" the different cookies, qualititative analysis was done by tasting the cookies: (numbers correspond above and below)

Control: Perfect taste! The cookies could've been crunchier; the oats were really soft and almost mushy (but not mushy because not very moist). The oats felt packed together and crumbled quite nicely. Great for an original starting point.

  1. These cookies externally looked like the control batch. The major distinctive aspect of this batch was how bread-like the cookies turned out. The taste was all right, though the texture (or lack thereof) was the major let down.
  2. This one was spongey on the inside, almost (but not quite) like bread. Even the outside looked a bit like bread... Other than that it tasted like the control batch.
  3. The major use of milk ended up making the cookie have a distinctive milk, buttery taste (as if I had used milk powder instead of flour, which my mom actually did once to make milk buns :) ). It was just as bread-like as batch number 2, described above. It looked a bit like batch number 1, except it was more pale (likely due to the higher milk content).
  4. Visually, these cookie looked like a crunchy oatmeal cookie (oh, if only crunchy oatmeal cookies existed) in that you could see the oats quite distinctly. They were darker than all other batches except the honey batch. However, these cookies crumbled almost immediately upon touch. It wouldn't stay together, and was quite chewy instead. Much disappoint..
  5. The cookie looked almost exactly like the original recipe cookies (control batch). They actually turned out tasting just like the control batch, albeit slightly less soft and mushy.
  6. The honey batch was a truly golden orange hue -- beautiful! I liked the honey taste as it reminded me of graham crackers. I might be biased to honey, but these were my favorite in that the texture was like the control batch except slightly crunchier and with the added taste of honey.

Overall, substitutions led to vastly different results -- just take a look at the analysis for batches 4 and 5 (different baking powder/soda ratios), for example. The use of milk (and water) instead of butter or egg led to more bread-like cookies. Honey lent a graham cracker-like feel to the cookies. Getting rid of baking powder seemed to have little effect, but using more baking powder than baking soda led to a cookie that couldn't keep its shape.

Step 11: Reflection

Was this perfect experiment worthy of being published in Nature magazine? Of cour-I mean NO.

This was a pseudo-science experiment at best (or a grade school submission for the science fair?).

There are plenty of out-of-place details; for example, instead of 1/6 egg as the original recipe calls for, I used 1/5 egg for each batch. Also, my "pinches" of baking powder/soda/milk were arbitrary and hardly accurate to the 1/24 tsp called for. I just made decent approximations for a quick and dirty experiment, and this should be kept in mind as you check out the "conclusions" from my results. Also, my tasting is quite subjective. Moist to me may mean something different for you, so test everything out yourself to come to your own thoughts (peer review, my friends).

Even so, I found it to be a valuable experience in trying to discover effects of different ingredients, albeit in a quick, imprecise experiment. Did I advance as a cookie-maker? Perhaps. I still can't guarantee that my next batch of cookies will taste good with a nice crumble. But I do know that I gained a great deal of experience in making cookies of different textures and tastes, and to me that is enough.

For now. ;)

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