Tag Archives: chocolate chip cookies

Craving Change? Your Sciencey Guide to Food Cravings

 

We all get food cravings every now and then right? That undeniable need for some overly salty, sugary or fatty food that you know isn’t good for you, but you just have to have. Even if you do manage to resist the initial urge, it’ll come back to you a few days later and you know that there’s just no hope. You have to have that triple chocolate chip cookie, warm, with ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top.  Mmm. Cravings.

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The problem is that you never crave something that is good for you. In fact cravings are usually for foods that you probably shouldn’t eat at all right? So why would our brain tell us that we need something that our body clearly doesn’t, it makes no sense!

Luckily scientists have been looking into the mysteries of cravings for a while now and can shed some light on the situation.

Cravings -- Do you want science with that

Why do we have cravings?

It’s a tricky question, and there isn’t a simple answer.

Sometimes if you’re craving something unusual it might be your body telling you that you need more of a particular nutrient found in that food. This is thought to be particularly true during pregnancy when women are craving all kinds of weird and wonderful things. But usually this isn’t the case and cravings are actually all in your head.

When you eat a delicious food like say, french fries or Russian fudge, your brain releases some wonderful chemicals called dopamine and seratonin. These chemicals make you feel good and are your body’s way of rewarding you for eating a high energy food like sugar or fat. This response dates back to cave man days when these foods were hard to come by and essential for survival. However these days it is much easier to load up on these energy dense foods, so much so that they are a health risk. But your body hasn’t caught up with the times yet and is still busy rewarding you every time you indulge.

Cravings are a product of this reward system. Your body feels sooo good when it gets a dose of dopamine or seratonin that it remembers that good feeling and gives you cravings to convince you to eat the foods that will make it happen again. Scumbag brain.

Can we resist them?

Probably, but it won’t be easy.

A French study in 2007 found that super sweet things like sugar and artificial sweeteners, are more appealing to lab rats than cocaine, even if the rats are already addicted! Then a study at the University of Florida found that commonly craved foods had the same effect on the brain as alcohol and other addictive substances. Eek.

So the happy juice that our brain feeds us when we eat delicious fatty and sugary foods is pretty strong and while the cravings might be all in our heads, there’s no doubt that they are there.

Is there any way to avoid cravings?

Not really, no, but there are ways to manage them.

The first tactic is simple; plan to give in every now and then. If you try to resist every craving you have you could end up pretty miserable and the more miserable you are the more cravings you will have.

The next tactic is sensible; make it healthier. If you’re craving french fries, don’t head straight to Burger King, bake your own hand cut oven fries for dinner instead.

The last tactic is super important; limit yourself. By all means give in every now and then, but don’t go overboard. Take three cookies out of the pack and put it back in the pantry, don’t sit on the couch with the entire packet while you watch Gossip Girl or you’ll have finished it before the first ad break.

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So science hasn’t succeeded yet in finding a way to trick your brain into craving carrots not caramel, but it has taught us one thing; it’s okay to give in. In fact, it’s pretty hard not to, but if you have some tactics up your sleeve you should be able to curb your food enthusiasm, but still have a fair amount of fun.

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How Do You Like Your Cookies – Crunchy or Chewy?

Cookies

I have a serious weakness when it comes to cookies. Cookies are my Kryptonite. I choose cookies over human contact at least twice a week.

Because of this I have baked far more than my fair share of the crumbly morsels of magic and have lots of cookie recipes under my belt.

The way I see it, in the wonderful world of cookies there are two families – the soft, chewy cookies and their crunchy rounder cousins. In my eyes, both kinds of cookie have their merits and I don’t want to go around picking favourites. With that said, it is true that sometimes you want a chewy cookie and sometimes you crave the crunch. Luckily, this is where science comes in to play.

Any cookie recipe, whether it be for  afghans, peanut butter cookies or good old choc chippies, can be used to make both a chewy or a crunchy cookie. All it takes to switch between the two is a little science.

There are three ingredients which can be altered to change the type of cookie you create: butter, egg and sugar.

Butter

Butter

How many times have you popped your lump of butter into the microwave, punched in a random combination of numbers and pressed start, then opened your microwave door later to find that the fluffy soft butter you expected had transformed into bubbling butter juice? Figured it won’t make any difference? It does!

Melted butter = Chewy cookies

Softened butter = Crunchy cookies

Butter - Soft vs Melted

Why? I hear you ask.

When you beat sugar into softened butter it creates air bubbles in the batter. This is because the sugar crystals create little holes and the fat molecules trap air in them. When you bake the cookies these bubbles fill with carbon dioxide from the baking soda resulting in an airy, crunchier cookie.

Melted butter, on the other hand, doesn’t add to the structure of your cookie. This is because both the crystalline and the soft fats are liquid and so won’t trap any air. Butter in this form will just add delicious rich flavour and moistness to your cookie.

Egg

Lets talk about eggs ba-by, lets talk about you and me.

Eggs

Eggs play a vital role in holding together your scrumptious cookie, and can be easily divided into two parts; the crunch maker and the orange balls of chew.

White = Crunchy cookies

Yolk = Chewy cookies

Eggs - Yolk vs White

As any good gym buff knows, eggs are full of protein. When it comes to you cookies though, it is the water and fat in the eggs that are most important.

Egg whites contain a lot of water, which is great for the crunchy cookie lover. When water is combined with flour it makes gluten. This is a strong, stretchy bunch of connected proteins which hold up your cookie, making it taller and crunchier.

On the other hand, egg yolks are full of a bundle of fat. Gluten can’t form in fat, which means less will be formed, resulting in a softer, chewier cookie.

Sugar

Mmmm, sugar.

This is the ingredient that has us giggling like a tickled penguin when we bite into our freshly baked cookie. White, brown, caster, coarse, raw or powdered, as long as it isn’t an artificial sweetener it’s good right? Right. But the type of sugar you use also affects the chewiness of your cookie.

sugars

Brown sugar = Chewy cookies

White sugar = Crunchy cookies

I love brown sugar. I could eat it by the tablespoon. I do eat it by the tablespoon.

Brown sugar is mostly sucrose, along with some glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are hygroscopic, meaning they hold onto water. This means that when you use brown sugar it doesn’t release much water, resulting in less gluten formation. And what does less gluten mean? More chewy!

White sugar on the other hand is pure sucrose. Sucrose isn’t very hygroscopic at all, which means it gives up lots of water as it bakes. This means (you guessed it) more gluten formation and a crunchier cookie.

So there you have it, everything you need to make batches of cookies Nigella would be proud of.

So get baking!

Cookie stack

Here is one of my personal favourite cookie recipes

Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 200g softened butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars, then add eggs and vanilla essence.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Pour dry ingredients into butter mixture and fold a few times. Add chocolate chips and fold again until just combined. Don’t over mix!

Refrigerate for 12-36 hours. I understand that this isn’t always easy (or possible) to do. When you need cookie, you need cookie. But it really does make a huge difference to how delicious your cookie is. It will be worth it i swear!

Form into evenly sized balls and bake at 180°C for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

cookies with milk

Now pour yourself a tall glass of milk and enjoy, after all, cookies are best served warm!

 

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