Building Cookie Flavors 101

When offering a choice of sugar cookie flavors the hands down winner will consistently be vanilla. I’ve offered people the choice of a dozen flavors but 9 out of 10 times it’s “I’d like just regular vanilla sugar cookies please.” People might jump out of planes and dangle over raging rivers from bungee cords tenuously knotted to a bridge but there aren’t a lot of risk takers out there when it comes to trying different flavors of cookies.

Their loss.

I love experimenting with cookie flavors and sharing them with you but really, anyone can come up with their own flavors. Give it a try. It’s easy.

  1. Write every flavor or ingredient you love on individual note cards and then start mixing and matching the cards in sets of no more two or three flavors until you have some interesting sound combinations. You want a taste of each flavor in every bite and too many flavors end up covering each other up.
  2. Research cookie, cake, and cupcake flavor combinations at a local bakery. Do the same at a chocolate shop or candy store, and remember, sound research includes experimentation. It’s arduous hip-expanding work.
  3. Wander around the grocery store. Look for ingredients that could be incorporated into cookies beyond the baking aisle. Freeze-dried fruit, breakfast cereals, bread and cake mixes, jello powder and instant pudding, candies, powdered beverage drinks and frozen fruit concentrates. Be open to savory flavors as well as sweet. Trail Mix Chocolate or Caramel Pretzel Sugar Cookies sound good to me!

Once you come up with a flavor profile that rings your bell consider these tips before making a trial batch:

  1. Dry ingredients tend to be the easiest to incorporate into a cookie recipe but wet ingredients work well too as long as you can achieve a lot of flavor with very little liquid.
  2. Consider the moisture content of your finished cookie dough when adding powdered or liquid flavor ingredients. If your finished dough is sticky it’s too wet and if it cracks or crumbles it’s too dry. Carefully add a little more flour or an additional egg white to bring the dough back to a non-tacky pliable consistency. You can typically add small bits of solid ingredients such as coconut, sprinkles, mini chips, etc., without needing to adjust the base recipe.
  3. When adding dry ingredients that are solid pieces rather than powder, consider grinding them in a food processor so the pieces are no larger than crystal sanding sugar. This will allow the flavor to be distributed evenly through the cookie and add extra richness to the overall taste without interfering with the clean edges and smooth surface of the cookie. Grinding will also prevent weak areas from forming in the cookie from larger bits that melt during the baking process.
  4. Play with the sugars and butter you use. There’s a wide range of grinds and flavors of sugar, particularly as you move into the brown (molasses) sugars. I recommend using half white sugar to retain the structure of the cookie and then experimenting with the other half called for in the recipe. The darker sugar colors lend themselves to a denser flavor profile complimenting ingredients like chocolate, caramel and nuts. Switching out softened butter for solidified browned butter is another way to deepen the flavor plus make for a cookie that has added moisture. Water content is lost when browning butter so if the butter is measured prior to browning the volume of butter will be noticeably less than called for in the recipe. I typically adjust for the difference by adding in a little more regular softened butter with the browned butter.
  5. I seldom change out the flavor of my icing to accompany different cookie flavors since vanilla works well to enhance all other flavors and I don’t want to end up with left over icing in a variety of flavors. The most adventurous I get with icing flavors are vanilla, almond, lemon, and cream cheese. I’ll leave the rose water and licorice flavored icing to you risktakers!