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A Follow Up To "Oatmeal Cookies, Unabaker Style"

Previously, I posted an article titled Oatmeal Cookies, Unabaker Style along with a link to a handy tool that's worth spending some time to understand. In an upcoming post, I'll explain that tool, and perhaps someone will be inspired to give it a whirl. It's actually very useful; more and more so as this site focuses in on bread craft.

This article will discuss the oatmeal cookie formula of course, and how to make it, but it's more than about making cookie. I'll discuss some of its ins and outs, and how to alter the formula to your liking, but I also want to explain the formula layout, and some basics of the baking process; stuff that's applicable to all other Unabaker formulae to come. Intended to serve as an introduction to Unabaker methodology, this article lends practical advice from a seasoned professional about how to work in kitchens, the essential elements for kitchen & bakeshop order, explains some baker's lexicon, and the format I developed for writing and recording bake shop formulae, plus how and why to use the formula spreadsheet properly. 
If you're in a hurry to eat cookies however, just skip to the image posted below, and then to the methodology near the far end of this post. 

The spreadsheet calculating tool (see the link embedded in the previous post Oatmeal Cookies, Unabaker Style) is the motivating force for starting this site because of it's usefulness for both the home baker and commercial operator. Particularly for the beginning baker, it's a very organized method for staying focused on formula, avoid calculation errors, and to begin a formula book (recipe collection). It's a foundational element in the forthcoming beginner's guide.

Unabaker wants to share the calculating device with anyone who thinks it might help their own efforts. It's been under development since 2005, undergoing numerous iterations, updates and refinements that reflect his own developing broader need and personal arc of learning. The version presented in the previous article, and the image of it below was trimmed down from the Master Formula Calculator solely for the purpose of this article with the intent not to freak out the beginner too much. It's actually very easy to use once you've tried it a couple times, but if the full scope of the tool was displayed it might seem rather daunting. 

The master version has much wider applications especially useful when we start to get into complex bread crafting which often features multiple development stages using different hydration rates per each stage with various pre-dough or pre-ferment preparations employing yeasted or natural leavens or combinations of both. As a result, the layout of the master version includes numerous columns for recording the sub-formulae required to produce the total formula, but mercifully also, the capacity to show or hide columns and rows depending upon the particular formula requirements; as any spreadsheet can do. The image below shows what it's most basic form looks like; useful for a simple bake shop formula. The oatmeal cookie is merely the framework for the discussion, but a tasty by product of it as well.

Take a few moments to study the formula below. It's a static version of the spreadsheet tool from yesterday's post. I think it will be easier to talk about the formula itself without being distracted by the additional layers of information in the spreadsheet link previously posted. By static, I mean, it isn't interactive, it's just an image of the worksheet, displaying the basic elements of a good bake shop formula design. Since it's not the typical magazine, cookbook or cooking website style presentation, some aspects of the formula below will require explanation, but it's all very simple stuff to grasp, and fundamental to baking as well. It will help you to follow the discussion if you printed out the formula for reference to avoid scrolling back and forth.  

The Formula And Its Terminology

Oatmeal Cookies, Unabaker Style
Formula Weight
Portion SIze
Total Flour
Total Formula
baker’s %gramsoz
all purpose flour100.0160.05.64
rolled oats
rolled rye 15.625.00.88
baking soda
ground cinnamon1.32.00.07
ground nutmeg0.20.30.01
light brown sugar68.8110.03.88
whole eggs34.455.01.94
vanilla extract3.86.00.21
macadamia nuts15.625.00.88
dried cherries93.8150.05.29
Total Formula Weight619.1990.634.9
Formula Hydration 

With Eggs 41.7%

Scanning over the formula, one immediately notices some terminology that forms part of the baker's lexicon; Formula, Formula Weight, Total Flour, Baker's Percentage, Formula Hydration. This isn't typical information provided by recipes from popular resources, but all are fundamental concepts in the craft of baking. An upcoming separate page in this blog site will begin what no doubt becomes an on-going glossary compilation, and it's likely that separate posts will be made focusing in detail on various baker's concepts, methodology and techniques, but for now a brief description for each will suffice.

Formula - recipes are executed in kitchens, formulas in bake shops. The difference in terminology emphasizes the greater measure of exactitude required in baking. Baking is like lab work in a way, but the aromas are much kinder.

Formula Weight - the total weight of any given formula; it's yield. Formula yield is always a weight measure, not a volume measure. When the product is a bread item, Formula Weight will be expressed differently. Bread formula will refer to Total Dough Weight, but these two things are the same.

Formula Weight is the starting point, not the ending point in a formula. A baker decides how much of the product is required as the starting point. The problem is that formulae in bake shops, just like at home, are usually written to yield a specific amount, but frequently, that amount has to be adjusted up or down depending on daily requirements. Of course, many commercial operators use a software program to log their formulae which can perform these sorts of reformulations, but many do not, and resort to using calculators. It's time consuming and error prone. 

Home bakers face the same issue. Performing calculations to scale up or down by fractions or multiples is a common feature. A feature even more likely to lead to reformulation errors because most home bakers rely on formulae written in volume measures; not typical, but also not unknown in professional bake shops. What's 1/8 teaspoon x 1.5? What's 1.25 cups x 1/3? This is one reason why volume measures ought to be abandoned, but that's a separate article as well. I'll certainly get to it because it's such a fundamental issue. 

In the cookie formula, Formula Weight, seen at top left of the formula, and Total Formula Weight, at the bottom of the ingredients column, are the same thing, but there's a reason I refer to them differently. When using the live spreadsheet, the Formula Weight field (at top left) is a data input field, and together with the Baker's Percentages, which are also data input, comprises the information required to drive the calculations for each ingredient's weight. That's the basic function I designed the spreadsheet to perform. Specify the desired Formula Weight (data input), then specify the ingredient list (data input) along with their assigned baker's percentage values (data input) in order to calculate the weights of each ingredient; the result is formula creation. Change the value for the desired Formula Weight, and all the individual ingredient weights will auto-update. As a result, scaling up a formula's yield or scaling it down is a simple matter. The Total Formula Weight is merely a report of the sum of all the ingredient weights, and is displayed in grams (and ounces) at the bottom of that column. It should match the Formula Weight value that was input at the top. Formula Weight drives the calculations; Total Formula Weight reports back. If the two do not match, there's an error in data entry, usually relating to how the baker's percentages for flour were input.

Total Flour - this is expressed two ways, as a percentage and as a weight. It is the sum of the weights of all flours used in a formula, but expressed as a percentage it's understood as follows: in any formula, Total Flour is always 100%. This is because in baker's math, flour is the basis of a formula. Total Flour is a concept more relevant to bread crafting, but to some extent it's a useful reference in the pastry shop. Although it's the case that many pastry and bake shop formulations don't use flour, or very little, nevertheless, I left this reference in the formula above so I can discuss it in an introductory fashion, and also because it's integral to understanding the concept of Baker's Percentage

Baker's Percentage - this term is used in baking to define an ingredient as a proportion of the weight of the Total Flour in a formula. In other words, flour is always the basis upon which the other ingredients' baker's percentages are calculated. Baker's Percentage is a concept that's also more fundamental to bread crafting, nevertheless, any formula that contains flour can be analyzed accordingly. The math to determine baker's percentage of an ingredient is: weight of the ingredient / total flour weight = baker's percentage of the ingredient. 

What the formula calculating spreadsheet is designed to do is to determine the weight of all ingredients in a formula based upon a value that's input for their baker's percentage. In other words, the user is designing a formula. User knows (or is testing an assumption about) the baker's percentages, but desires to know the ingredient weights. To do so, user specifies the baker's percentages for all ingredients; the calculator then computes ingredient weights. This is the formula the calculator uses to do that: total flour weight x the baker's percentage of an ingredient = the weight of an ingredient. 

Using sugar in the cookie formula above as an example, it has a baker's percentage of 68.8, and the Total Flour weight is 160g, so: total flour weight (160g) x baker's percentage of sugar (.688) = weight of sugar (110g). Suppose after baking the cookie, the baker decides it requires more. The baker revises the value of the baker's percentage of sugar to 70%. The calculator updates the weight of sugar to 112g (160 x .70 = 112). This is another basic function that the calculator has been designed to perform. [1] 

We know that the baker's percentage for Total Flour is always 100%. What happens if a formula specifies 2 or 3 or more flour types? In this case, the total of the baker's percentages of each of the flours must always add up to 100%. This is a feature of the concept of Baker's Percentages, not the spreadsheet. Each flour has it's own baker's percentage based upon it's weight in proportion to the Total Flour weight in the formula. The formula for calculating the baker's percentage of a flour is: weight of the flour ingredient / total flour weight = baker's percentage of the flour ingredient.

For example, suppose a formula specifies 800g of bread flour, 100 grams of rye, and 100 grams of whole wheat flour. In this example, the Total Flour weight = 1000g. Thus, the baker's percentage for bread flour is 80% (800 / 1000), and for the rye and whole wheat flours it's 10% each (100 / 1000). Taken together, the flours total 100%. If the formula further specifies 650g of water, 20g salt and 10g yeast, then those items are 65%, 2%, and 1%; a fairly typical French bread formula.

An oddity of baker's percentages is that the sum of all the ingredient's baker's percentages doesn't add up to 100; it's always more than 100%. Obviously so, since the baker's percentage of flour alone = 100%. In the cookie formula above, notice that it's 619.1%. It's an oddity that's not irrelevant to the calculations, but unless you're doing your own spreadsheet, or using a calculator to work out a formula this way, you don't have to worry it. It's a fundamental part of baker's math that Unabaker worried about for you, and then accounted for in the spreadsheet calculations. [2] You're welcome.  

Formula Hydration - hydration refers to the amount of liquid in the formula. Traditionally, "liquid" means water, or water-like fluids (i.e. has a roughly similar specific gravity) such as milk, buttermilk, liquid whey, juice, soda, liquid flavorings, alcoholic beverages, and stuff like yogurt, hmm, maybe. Formula Hydration is also more relevant to bread making. Water content of a dough is a defining feature of breads, and fundamental to determining resulting characteristics. For example, a basic French bread formula is typically 65% hydrated (for every 100g of flour, 65g of water), but if you lower the hydration to 50%, your baguette is now a bagel. If you increase the hydration from 65% to 80%, it's ciabatta. 

The formula hydration field is a feature of the calculating spreadsheet I devised, and even if not wholly relevant to cookie making, I left it in the example above so it can be discussed briefly. It has applications in the bake shop other than for breads, but you will almost never hear pastry chefs talk about hydration. Calculating formula hydration is simple: total liquid weight / total flour weight = formula hydration [3]

How to Make Sense Of The Formula Design

First, note the Formula Weight field in the upper left corner. When working with the live spreadsheet, one can input a different value for the weight (in the white cell that reads 990.6), and the formula below will immediately update all ingredient weights based upon whatever new value was entered. This was the original design motive when I first devised this tool in 2005, and also its most basic function. I wanted a way to record formulae, and to be able to tweak them by changing the formula weight or by altering any of the ingredient baker's percentages. Changing the formula weight doesn't change the ingredient proportions in the formula, it only alters the weights of the ingredients, and thus, the amount of product yielded. It's an easy way to scale the final yield up or down.

Second, note that some of the cells have color or grey fill. This denotes that the cell contains an embedded formula that performs a calculation. In the live sheet, these cells are never altered. Only white cells are designed to have data input. Note also, that the sheet gives values for grams and for ounces. It has built in conversion capability; very handy. There's also a field at the top for entering portion sizes. Enter the portion sizes you desire, the numbers of portions are then calculated. 

This is a crucial calculation in professional settings because, not only do Chef's need to know how to write great recipes, but you are required by folks like controllers, accountants and owners to accurately tabulate a formula cost and a per portion cost. Ultimately, food cost considerations always play a moderating role in recipe formulation, throttling Chefs from going full speed ahead on every detail of every plate. There's Chef's world of "look at what I just made!", and then there's the real world. These two places are always in a state of tension. Food Cost is of interest to the home baker as well, but luckily we don't always stress about cost, at least not to the point of doing recipe costings. In any case, you can alter the portion sizes in the white cells as you wish; the color filled cells will display the results.

Scan down a bit, and see the outlined field titled Total Flour. This field totals the weights of all flours used in the formula, which in this case is just one flour, thus the value for Total Flour matches that for the ingredient weight of all purpose flour in the ingredient list. It also calculates the total baker's percentage of all flours used, which as we know, must add up to 100%. The Total Flour field very helpfully reports if it does so, and if not, it will stick out. You'll have to re-check your data entries for the baker's percentages that were input for each of the flours used, and make sure those percentages add up to 100%. 

Next comes the listing of ingredients. In the live spreadsheet, one would simply type in whatever ingredients are required for the formula to be used. In what order to list them is optional, but there are various ways to do it. Often, bake shop formulae will list ingredients in the order of their use in the methodology, the first listed is used in step one, the second listed, step 2, and so on. In the example above, the dry ingredients are listed first, then the liquids, and then the remaining ingredients. There's a very good reason it's done like this, but I'll get to that when I detail the spreadsheet functions in its user guide; a future post.

Another option is to list ingredients in descending order of their weight, heaviest to least heavy. It really doesn't matter how you list the ingredients as it's a choice each baker makes, but after adopting one style, it's usually a good idea to make it consistent practice. There's a simple reason why: it's easier to train a production crew if the staff don't have to fathom different layouts from one formula to the next. Since a home baker is the production crew, do it one way, and train yourself well. 

The live spreadsheet allows the user to rearrange the listing however they choose. The bottom line is this: when building what professional operations refer to as the kitchen guide (otherwise known at home as a recipe book), it's important to have a clear and consistent format. This is a major benefit of the Unabaker's spreadsheet. It provides that. Since, his basic procedure always advises the baker to scale out all ingredients first, it really makes zero difference which way you order the ingredients list.

What's next? Well, it's those Baker's Percentages. Whereas, changing the Formula Weight updates all the ingredient weights, but doesn't change the basic formula, changes to Baker's Percentages essentially amount to writing a new formula. The spreadsheet is greatly useful in this regard; creating a new product. Of course, if you change an ingredient's baker's percentage it also changes it's weight. That's the creative capacity the spreadsheet fosters. It's very easy to do "what if" test bakes of new creations. It's true, you can start from scratch by writing an entirely new rendition of Bavarian Splendido, or the world premier of Goodness On A Stick. The Unabaker's spreadsheet puts you in design central. More typically, what most Chefs and Bakers do is less like creating a bespoke gown, and more like adding a sash to an already lovely skirt. They'll simply adjust an existing formula by changing some of the Baker's Percentages a little bit: a higher percentage of flour or water, more sugar, or less, maybe some extra cherries, a bit more leavening, perhaps up the vanilla. Baker's are reluctant to stray from formulae that are known to produce successful results, but they do like to tinker. 

Take a close look at the formula again please. Notice that each ingredient has an assigned value in the Baker's Percentage column. That value determines it's weight. This is actually how formula writing is most logically done. In fact, what happens most often is a different story. A baker, just like you at home, decides he's going to make Bavarian Splendido or whatever, and so, jots down a formula with weights, then goes off to test it. It may be great or it might not be, in which case, using experience, makes some tweaks, then off goes Baker to try it again. This goes on until we have a product we're confident to offer, but it's an inefficient process.

One important design element of the spreadsheet was to devise a tool that allows the baker to use what all understand to be the backbone of a formula, namely, the Baker's Percentages, and from these percentages to derive the ingredient weights. Baking is different from cooking in one crucial respect. While both methods share the reliance upon managing the underlying ratios between ingredients, getting the ratios right is a different process for each. The "art" in cooking is really just a matter of having a good sense of how much cumin the beans need, and stopping at that point, or having added a tad too much, perhaps a dash of vinegar, a touch of sugar, or more liquid will help even things out. This requires experience of course, but the cooking process allows such tweaking during the act itself. It probably demands it because it's not like making lightbulbs. The raw materials are perishable and variable. Some of the sub preparations a cook has to use will vary from day to day, as will the staff that execute both the prep and the finish cooking. In the bake shop however, proper formulation and strict adherence to methodology is mandated because we can't do much topping up or making formulation detours once the thing is mixed. There can be no mid-baking process correctional flourishes. Formula development is done with great precision because baking is more like lab work with minimal artful leeway after the mixing stage, and zero once in the oven. 

By starting from a set of proposed ratios, i.e. the Baker's Percentages, and using Unabaker's calculation tool, the resulting formula weights are derived. What's so great about that? Well, as indicated in the scenario described above, any new formula is really going to be just a "test bake", an experiment. The result will be evaluated, then the next test will be done, and on and on until a product is "developed". That's how recipes and formulae get created by professionals, however proceeding from baker's percents to determine ingredient weights is the more useful, and controlled, and documentable methodology. Suppose we want to analyze four different formulae for oatmeal cookies prior to deciding which one to make. We can try to parse the weight variations between the four: differences in butter, sugar, flour or eggs, but it's much easier to analyze a formula by having its baker's percentages to compare. Unfortunately, most of the world of popular cooking/baking publications and websites fail to provide this. Unabaker's spreadsheet does not. He will teach you how to use them to your advantage.

Doing "what if" tweaks is something every home baker is familiar with, but in a very informal way. "I like that pie, but I think next time I'll add more of this, less of that, and maybe some of this as well". For commercial operations as for your own recipe developments, which I hope to teach you how to do more efficiently, using the Unabaker's spreadsheet is really a boon because it's documentation; a record keeping tool. By saving it, then changing any of the ratios of the ingredients (the baker's percentages), a new formula is produced; a new test. The spreadsheet allows you to make incremental adjustments or wholesale changes in a very organized manner, and of course it gives you a record of the process. The calculations and recalculations and re-recalculations get done instantaneously, without error. Thus one can track the development of a formula from genesis to unleashing it on the paying public. It pays to not serve poorly designed stuff as part of your process. Of course, at your home, imperfect items or outright mistakes are likely still edible, but then again, home is not the same as business.

Before leaving Baker's Percentages, do a little math and see for yourself how it works. Each ingredient has a baker's percentage, which value is how it's weight is derived. Note that the flour in our cookie formula weighs 160g, and that oats has a baker's percentage of 50%. Thus, oats weigh 50% of the flour; 80g. The formula for deriving ingredient weight is a simple one: baker's percent of the ingredient x total flour weight = the ingredient weight

Simple math it is, but when we get to doing more complex formulae (particularly multi stage bread formulae) it's easy to make mistakes if doing calculations in your head, or even if using a calculator. It will become increasingly apparent how nice it is to have the Unabaker's calculating tool at hand. A further blessing is that keeping records of your own "tests" by using the tool is a step by step, one formula at a time cookbook in the making, your own kitchen guide. As I develop a new recipe or incorporate one from another source, I keep it as a separate tab in my worksheet, print it out, and put it in a binder for ready reference...just like those big head chefs in their professional kitchens.

The final element in the formula layout design is the report of the Total Formula Weight at the bottom of the columns of weights. It will match the value of the Formula Weight that is input in the very top left cell of the formula. It proves the calculations are done correctly, and if these two fields do not match, then you know that something's amiss. Perhaps your flours don't add up to 100%. 

Analyzing The Formula Ingredient List

What immediately stands out is that the formula isn't simple. It requires more ingredients, specifies multiple types of grains, spices, sugars, flavorings, nuts and fruits. It's more complex than most, but it's also more interesting, and has a higher World Well-Being Coefficient too (this is why McDoo calls it The World Peace And Happiness Oatmeal Cookie). While world well-being is not to be sniffed at, this is certainly not the normal oatmeal cookie recipe. For those who are now checking their wallets, be assured that it's entirely possible to trim it down; akin to what mom made. 

Maybe you like a straightforward oatmeal cookie with a few raisins and maybe some nuts. There's no arguing personal preference. Fine and dandy because the cookie will taste pretty good (if not splendido) without adding so much nuts and fruit, or without the rum, or if switching from butter to a less expensive fat. On the other hand, Unabaker didn't get to be notorious doing what other chef's did, or by writing common place recipes. Furthermore, being obliged to make more deluxe renditions of things was a function of working the sorts of places he did. His guest's were accustomed to the deluxe and delightful. His job and the jobs of a hundred others, and the reputations of the establishments involved hinged on his ability to create cuisine that guests cannot shop. If you wanted Unabaker cuisine, you had to go to one place to get it.

I'll advise how to make a tasty facsimile of the formula above, and do it more mindfully of your pocketbook, or your preferences or restrictions, but I can guarantee that the formula above, using the methodology that follows, will make a damn delicious cookie with a very high World Well-Being Coefficient. There's something to be said for fostering a little joy.

Setting aside its coefficient of deliciousness for now, if you want to make a simpler, but still very good cookie with fewer ingredients, just condense the nuts to one or the other, the fruit as well, and if you like it more, cut back the volume of each of those. It won't affect the cookie dough, or it's baking characteristics except to reduce the total formula weight, which only means fewer cookies. This is also the easiest way to reduce cost since these are the most expensive of the ingredients, and as I've deliberately added more to the formula than you'll typical see from other sources, it's entirely optional. Save some cash, and perhaps you'll bake cookies more often if you don't splurge on occasion. A lower frequency hum of joy perhaps, but a more persistent one.

I don't recommend altering too much the proportions of butter, sugar, flour and grains as these are the backbone of the product, and proportions of these matter. However, one can easily substitute a butter blend or margarine if desired to save on total formula cost, or just to suit your own fancy. Each will have some effect upon the finished texture of the product, more so on the taste, but again, these are options for you to incorporate in your own formula. 

Also, adding more oats, but no rye works too. Keep the total weight of the grain part of the formula the same, and all's ok. On the other hand, reducing the sugar will have a marked effect on the baking process, and of course the impact on your palate. The same applies to the salt level. It's surprising how many different aspects of the process phenomena that occur during baking that salt affects. Salt is an interesting chemical. It tends to, in appropriate amounts, make sweetness more pronounced. Cutting it back a little, ok, eliminating it, less ok. But, you do what you have to do, and if that means zero salt, give it a try and let me know how it worked. More than a small adjustment for sugar will affect finished texture, otherwise there's some wiggle room, but don't go overboard. Cookies are rich in fat and sugar, that's the nature of the beast, and if that's a problem you're obliged to consider, then you ought to be eating more really good artisan breads instead; something I will soon start talking about in earnest.

I will, as a rule, try to avoid telling you what you "ought" to do, but in the case of bread, if you aren't gluten sensitive, you ought to be eating only really good bread. Unabaker's mission is to teach bread craft using a very straightforward and successful method. Learn how to make so-called "artisan" style breads, as well as breads from around the world. You can do it. 

There's one final analytical point worth making. Using the baker's percentages of each ingredient as ready reference, it's apparent just how rich and indulgent much of the world of pastry and baking is. When you look at those percentages it kind of whacks you upside the head straight away. The total of sugar, butter and eggs combined is nearly twice that of the flour and grains. The total of nuts and dried fruit, almost one and a quarter times that of flour and grains. The least expensive ingredients, least used. The most expensive ingredients, most used. I truly love making pastry and will never give it up. The world needs delightful things, but is there a wonder why really really good bread is a blessing? Bread, water, salt, yeast. It can be as simple as that. Even using the best flour you can get your hands on, a 1kg loaf (2.2#) costs about $1.50 usd to produce, but probably closer to $4.50 for the baker to sell. Still, that's a bargain for good food, but also an argument for you to learn how to make the good stuff yourself. I can help. It's not hard, it's very interesting, and it produces really nice aromas. Joy, joy and more joy. 

After all the analysis and the explication of stuff other than how to actually make Oatmeal Cookies, Unabaker Style, it is now time to talk about the "how to's" for making stuff like a pro in your own kitchen. It involves a few tips to get yourself set up for success, after which getting the stuff made and baked is usually a much more enjoyable process.

The Work Station Set-Up     [10 minutes] 

There's no point diving headlong into doing even basic bake shop production without having a clear idea of what you are about to do, and to have all the required ingredients and tools on hand. Baking is an exact cooking method, so there is no fixing things once a product has been mixed, let alone in the oven. Here then, a few simple things to consider.

- make sure you have all the ingredients required before starting.
- clear the production area of unnecessary objects. The goal is to have the fewest things on the countertop. This includes, clearing out the sink. It's a good idea to set it up with a water filled tub, or just plug the drain, and fill half way. You'll be removing small containers and utensils as they are employed during the makeup of the formula, always keeping your work area free of clutter, and presoaking things to be washed later. [4]
- a handy countertop part of one's station set up would be a small waste basket. This can be a medium sized bowl or storage canister, or a small dedicated bin like I always use on the counter. The idea is to avoid having to make back and forth movements to the main kitchen rubbish bin.
- have ready at hand all required tools, machinery, small implements and mixing bowls needed. [5]
- print a copy of the formula and it's methodology. I usually tape the copy to the wall behind my production zone, or to the underside of an overhanging cabinet to keep it handy for reference, and to keep it clean. Also, if you don't pay attention, the unmindful baker (distractions are a plenty) can find themselves midway through scaling stuff before realizing "hmmm, I've been scaling out amounts of baker's percentages instead of ingredient weights". The columns are side by side; it's easy to do. Avoid doing so by marking a line thru the baker's percentages on your reference copy, or better yet, circle the entire column of weights being used, either grams or ounces.
- It's a useful practice to take notes about what you're doing, or about things observed while doing during the scaling, mixing and baking segments of the process. Also note any small changes made to the ingredients as you go. For example, it's ok to substitute another nut, a bit of an added flavoring, or a different liquor. This is part of your own tinkering process, but as you may be doing this the first time, perhaps it's best to keep these to a minimum. Then, after you get the hang of it, feeling less reserved perhaps, tinker away. Some suggested ingredient substitutions or alterations in weights will follow in the post-production report in an upcoming blog entry. 
- read through the formula and the methodology from start to finish, then reread it again if necessary to understand the process; the techniques and the method.
- one of the best things you can do with your kids, or a friend, or better yet, someone you haven't been seeing eye to eye with is to bake together. Cooking together, and in particular baking together fosters harmony and calm, and in this small way, increasing the World Well-Being Coefficient [6]. Successfully saving the world, and fostering peace, love and understanding requires some orchestration of the work space, and understanding the methodological sequences involved. World peace starts in your kitchen. 

The Unabaker has lots more to say about these points, but will do so separately. The main point is to create an organized and safe work zone as a first step before starting any type of food preparation.

Scaling & Mixing      [10 minutes] 

- scale all ingredients separately, and array them in appropriately sized containers in the sequence that they'll be used. [7]
- after scaling the flour, sift it into a mixing bowl, add the baking soda, stir it in, then sift both together again. This insures that the leavening (baking soda) will be evenly distributed throughout.
- add the oats, rye and salt to the sifted flour mix, but do not stir it in yet.
- using whatever mixer you have (your hand, a wooden paddle, grandma's egg beater, a stand mixer, someone else's hand), combine the sugars, spices and butter in a mixing bowl large enough to not shower the stuff about when you start the mixing.
- blend these until lightened in color and fluffy. Fluffy is a technical term for when you incorporate enough air into a mixture that it becomes lighter in texture. It is to butter and sugar blending what "foamy" is to eggs and sugar blending. This stage of the mixing is the most important. It will take a couple minutes depending upon what sort of mixer you're using, and the speed selected, which I recommend be medium. At this point it's a good idea to stop the machine after a minute, and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to insure that the ingredients combine thoroughly, and you get the correct "fluff" happening. A flexible silicon spatula is ideal for this. 
- the mixing part of the process is focused upon proper dispersion of all the ingredients in the mixture. In the "creaming" stage of sugar and butter mixing, the main goal is to get air into the mix, to thoroughly combine the two, and to make it smooth, but remember that butter is heat sensitive, mixing causes friction, friction causes heat. Stop mixing when it appears to have achieved "fluff", or if you are using your hand, when you start to think "enough's enough". Ideally you create a smooth textured mix, but even if it's not so perfect, don't worry, the cookies will be ok. [8]
- add the egg, and mix it in briefly, just until it incorporates. It will slop around the bowl at first, but it blends in readily soon enough. Scrape the bowl down once again.
-add the rum and the vanilla extract, as well as the flour and dry ingredients previously set aside. Mix it into the fluffy stuff just until an even paste is formed. This won't take long, and in any case don't worry about it because there's more mixing to do in the next step.
- add the nuts and the dried fruit, then mix just until they incorporate. Again, this won't take long.
- you are now finished the mixing phase.

You can do several things with the dough now. You can proceed immediately to scaling the portions and baking, or you can do what is done in most shops where the production levels are greater. Form it into sausage shaped logs by wrapping it in parchment, or wax paper or film. Label and date the outside of it and freeze or refrigerate it until the need to bake cookies manifests. This technique encourages the baker to make more of the formula, to scale it up, and stow more away so he can get on with baking all the other good stuff. Since getting the work station set up and scaling is a large part of the process, making a bigger batch makes sense. It takes no more time to make a double batch then to make a single. When you want to bake, remove a log, slice some portions from it into 1.25cm (1/2") portions, and proceed as described below. You can also just pack it into a storage container, and stick it in the fridge. It will last a long time in there, then do as I do at home; scoop out a few portions at a time, and bake them. This way you're always eating freshly baked cookies.

Baking Method      [10-15 minutes]

- sometimes the sensitive baker can feel distortions in the world peace and happiness field. Other times, there's a clamor outside his window. The locals demand cookie. At times like these, I advise you preheat your oven to 185º-190ºC (365º-375ºF), remove the cookie dough from safe keeping, and reset the work zone if needed.
- refer to the portion size chart at the top of the cookie formula; scale as desired.
- arrange portions on a silicon baking mat, a parchment lined or lightly oiled and floured baking sheet, a piece of aluminum foil, or whatever other flat thing you own that's oven proof, leaving space between adjacent cookie portions. Bear in mind that the cookie is a butter rich thing. It spreads when it heats up. Figure on about a 50% increase in size. A 5cm (2") diameter portion becomes 7.5cm (3"), thus a 2.5cm (1") margin between adjacent cookies, and a 1.25cm (1/2") margin between a cookie and the edge of the pan will likely be ok. [9]
- bake for 10-12 minutes, depending upon portion size and your oven. None work the same, so it's a good habit to keep an eye on things, and to rotate the pan half way through the baking period to insure an even bake and browning.
- you can remove them earlier than 10 minutes or a bit after 12 based on your observations of progress. Baking, as with most things, gets easier with experience. Keep an eye on it, and remove the cookies when they look uniformly brown, and are a little firm to the touch in the centers. The basic rule is, you can put the product back in and bake it a bit more, but you cannot take "overbaked" out of it.

Clean-Up      [10-15 minutes]

If Station Set-Up & Scaling be the work of a lab assistant, Mixing, that of the craftsman, and Baking, the happy marriage of the empiricist and the hedonist, then Clean-Up is all about the Zen master. For it is true that one cannot follow the path if one cannot see it. One has to respect the tools. The sink as holy as the mixer or the oven. Understanding Clean-Up is as fundamental to increasing world happiness as the cookie itself. If points made above in the Station Set-Up section rung a gong, then you did not rush into the various following phases. You set up your sink well, you cleared empty mise en place containers, small tools and miscellaneous other implements no longer required into the sink to pre-soak before you proceeded to the next step. You cleaned your countertop regularly as you proceeded. You deposited small waste into the little countertop bin that was advised. In other words, you "cleaned as you went".

This is a happy habit, and the mark of someone that understands a workshop, and has developed essential discipline. Kitchens are workshops, workshops can be hazardous when cluttered. Keep it clean as you go, and you'll have a quick and easy final clean-up phase. Clean-up is a meditational opportunity. Reflect upon what you have done, and enjoy the anticipation of your efforts. Clean your mess, put the space back in order, ready to go, and make it nice again; all the thoughtful design touches restored.

In my previous glory, I always had a team of specialists that helped me clean as I go, these were known as Stewards, and now that I'm just a lonely hermit baker, I so dearly miss them all! Remember that cleaning is as important as creating. It's all part of the interconnectedness of kitchen being. World peace and happiness shall abound with just a little bit of mindful attention paid.

Want To Learn More?   

Check out Unabaker's detailed notes in upcoming posts about understanding what you just did, why you did what you did, and what the heck is all that spreadsheet nonsense about? How to make it work for you, and how you can be a better baker by making it part of your knowledge base. Also, look for my photos of the Oatmeal Cookie, Unabaker Style baking process and the finished product.

Read some tricks of the trade, become more efficient, learn how to control the fundamental "time and temperature" aspects of the baking process, and how that allows you to create different textures of the finished product using the same recipe. Want it more crispy, more chewy?  Read some other, possibly humorous, observations and commentary that you don't get with run of the mill oatmeal cookie recipes.

Finally, I will repeat a simple rule that will save you time and trouble: in the kitchen or the bake shop, it's really important to review a recipe or formula before plunging in. Make sure you've got the goods on hand, and the tools and equipment specific to the task at hand. Get it all sorted before starting so you aren't off hunting stuff when you ought to be baking. Read through the formula methodology completely, and re read it if necessary. I hope you did that.


[1] But, the formula above is a very simple bakeshop formula. What's really cool about the master calculator is that it handles much more complex computations. For instance, a formula for a complex rye bread might have a column for the Total Formula, five more columns that represent preparations (a sub-formula) that proceed in stages, and a final mix formula column that adds all ingredients together. The five sub-formula columns often specify varying levels of hydration, and different flours or grains used. Often, one column builds upon a previous one, so it's more complex in that way as well. No matter the complexity of the formula, make any change to the Formula Weight, or to any of the baker's percentages in the Total Formula Column, and the whole thing instantaneously updates to represent those changes across all columns. The master calculator also provides other information that experienced bread crafters want to know: how much of the total flour in a formula is used to make a pre-fermented dough, or if the sub formula is considered as an ingredient in the Total Formula, then what's the baker's percentage of that pre-ferment dough, and what's the hydration of the pre-ferment dough. It also calculates the Dough Yield for each pre-ferment which is a data point often used in Bread Science and in journal papers.

[2] the sum of all the ingredient baker's percentages (619.1%) is an integral part of doing the rest of the formula calculations. It's a necessary reference in the formula that calculates the Total Flour weight displayed in the outlined box at the top of the formula, and Total Flour weight is the basis for computing all the ingredient weights as described in the notes about Total Flour and Baker's Percentages. The actual formula I used to determine the total flour weight of a formula is: formula weight / total of baker's percentages  x 100 = total flour weight. Thus, 990.6 / 619.1 x 100 = 160.

[3] the adjacent field shows a non-traditional notion of hydration; a calculation that includes the eggs. Since eggs are only partly water, only a fraction of the weight of the whole eggs (which are approximately 65% water) is used in the calculation. Comparing the two hydration calculations, it's easy to see that the egg portion, beyond it's several primary functions during the baking process, will have a marked effect on the dough texture, it's "feel". Many ingredients not included in the traditional hydration calculation (weight of water or other similar liquids / total flour weight = hydration %), nevertheless have high liquid portions, or they are in liquid or plastic form which can also markedly affect the "feel" of a dough as well. Eggs, egg whites, egg yolks, oil, butter, lard and shortening for example; all of which are used at high proportions in many pastry and bake shop preparations. The discrepancy between Formula Hydration and Hydration With Eggs, indicates that one cannot rely wholly upon formula hydration as traditionally interpreted. It's misleading. Therefore, baker's rely on experience to know about dough "feel" and the results to be expected much the same way that many a home cook in the American south knows when a biscuit dough "feels" right without doing precise measurements. 

A bread formula might have low hydration, but very high quantities of oil, butter or eggs, thus making it extremely soft. Brioche, puff pastry dough, croissant dough and danish dough are some examples. Many types of rye breads have very low hydrations by traditional calculation, but have a very wet "feel" because much of the total water in the formula is used to make "pre doughs" such as soakers, scalds or porridges. Ordinarily, if you talk to bread gurus about using "pre-dough" preparations they will say that these items are "hydration neutral" i.e. add no water to a dough, nor draw water from the dough. The water used in such preparations isn't calculated as part of a traditional Formula Hydration. "Hydration neutral" is a nebulous concept though, hard to execute precisely, and getting the dough "feel" just right is mostly trial and error. For this reason, Unabaker has an idiosyncratic view about hydration. It's useful, if not traditional, to have some measure of hydration beyond the basic one; to be able to quantify the "feel" of a dough; have some metric as one's gauge, perhaps resulting in fewer trials, fewer errors. By counting the water in pre-dough preparations, eggs, fats, and also the plethora of cooked ingredients used in bread making, potatoes, carrots, cabbage to name a few, such an index is worth considering. All cooked ingredients add moisture, affecting dough "feel". But, any proposed specialized hydration index that includes water content of such additions, obliges one also reckon the dry parts of those preparations. As this strays off into theoretical stuff, it indicates that a separate article about hydration is required, which, being so fundamental to bread craft, the looming focus of Unabaker's narrative, is to be expected anyway.

[4] this may involve suppressing your sense of kitchen decor in favor of a more utilitarian work shop motif. Clutter is inefficient. When using knives, hot implements, boiling water, hot oil or any of the various machines required, it can be dangerous. In professional kitchens there are such things as "Stewards", and "Stewarding stations". Gentlemen and women who regularly tend to the cook's needs, shuttling pots, pans, plates and utensils, and removing the ones requiring scrub love, sweeping up, mopping, emptying the rubbish. These stations are usually handily located though not immediately adjacent. Designed to keep the distinct activities and the noise restricted, safer, and more efficient. Bumping into extra bodies when moving to and fro in a cook zone is dangerous. Cooks movements often start to resemble choreography, A full staff that has learned how to move in a danger zone. Cooking at home is not much different, but few home cooks fully think through the various aspects of production; receiving the goods, storage, basic prep, finish prep, cooking, and clean up. If you're cooking with friends or children, it pays to spend some time thinking about positions, and movements, and planning ahead. Many home kitchens lend themselves to more than one body working in the space, others do not. Kitchen space planning is a specialized field of commercial architecture. At home we also desire it to be "nice", but decor can sometimes be an impediment. Temporarily relocating delightful motifs and knickknackery is probably a good idea.  

[5] it's very handy to own a couple dozen small sized ingredient bowls to help organize and assemble the ingredients when scaling. 

[6] the World Well-Being Coefficient (WWBC) is the standard metric used by Unabaker to determine the meaning of "Goodness". To that essential end, Unabaker endorses the wisdom of Lu Yu, 8th century author of The Classic Of Tea, who noted that "goodness is a decision for the mouth to make". This implies the palate is a better arbiter of happiness than bank account balance, access to a Walmart or other such frames of reference. He is actually surprised that it took so long for someone to say what he said. (see also Deliciousness Coefficient and Coefficient of Desire)

[7] this is what fancy pants Chef's such as Unabaker call the "mise en place", a French term that means "everything in its place". Mise en place is the array of all required ingredients, usually organized in the sequence they will be used, plus having all required implements at hand. In professional kitchens, this method of setting up a work station is often called "station mapping", a way for the station chef to simplify the chaos of managing a handful or more menu items during busy rushes of service. It's never assumed that station cooks will do this properly (i.e. to Chef's specifications), thus, one important function of Chef or his Sous Chef is to inspect stations prior to s
ervice, to insure they're fully and efficiently set up, brimming with pristine ingredient mise en place, and  in amounts appropriate for the numbers of guest covers expected. As different Chef's respond differently to deficient mise en place, the experienced cook, assumes the worst and prepares the best. Since you are your own chef, you must set up your mise en place, and review it alone. Doing so is a good habit.

[8] ordinarily the Unabaker is all about precision in the bake shop, making things as splendidly as possible, and rigorous adherence to process parameters and methodology. He would never advise one of his cooks to do this by hand. In fact, he would be dismayed if it occured, and concerned for the young cook's future. He's been known to actually read the future of some young aspirants. Still, there are times that professional standards are irrelevant, preferred methodology flies out the window, and immediate gratification of cookie lust prevails. In such cases, Unabaker, alone in his hermitage, has been known, when proper tools were absent, to just squish it all up together until it looks like cookie dough. He has found that this technique produces the desired effect; satisfying the urge for warm cookies. The point of divulging this is to deflate the anxiety of the tremulous beginner who might be otherwise intimidated to forge ahead. Essentially, cookies are a scale, mix, bake and eat proposition. In the privacy of your own kitchen, whatever gets cookies on the table is ok. Don't allow inhibition to stand in the way of world happiness. Do your best, and the next time profit from your experience.

[9] cookie formulations differ greatly from one source to the other. Some contain eggs, others not, some use butter, others shortening, brown sugar here, white sugar there, some are more hydrated (contain more liquid) than others. Different ingredients, or a different baker's percentage of an ingredient can yield entirely different textures, and effect the baking process phenomena. Small changes to mixing method or mixing time can do likewise. The amount of "lift", the amount of spreading, bake times, finished textures, the Maillard reaction and other caramelization effects during baking, as well as various other stuff that transpires; it's all quite variable. Grasping the nuance, and understanding a bit of baker's science is basic to the learning curve in the bakeshop. It's fascinating if you dive deeper. Unabaker urges you to read on.


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