Building on the 1-2-3 Cookie Recipe

I’ve been having more fun playing with cookies and varying the basic 1-2-3 recipe from the post I Brought You Flours (in brief, 1 oz fat, 2 oz sweetener, 3 oz flour).

I started with sprucing up the 1-2-3 cookies in a white flour variation and a whole wheat flour variation. I chopped pistachios for topping the white flour cookie and sprinkled raw organic cocoa powder on the whole wheat cookies. Incidentally, these whole wheat cookies were made with the same freshly ground wheat flour that premiered in the Bechamel post — they were tasty and I am that much more committed to grinding my own grains one day!

For my next step in cookie-ness I built up on the 1-2-3 cookie in two directions: first a peanut-butter cookie and then a molasses-spice cookie.

But before I launched in I revisited some of the principles I’ve established for substituting maple syrup in baking:

  1. Don’t monkey with something if you love it. You are substituting a liquid with a distinctive flavor for a hygroscopic (water-absorbing) sweetener that mostly just tastes sweet – you will alter the taste and texture of the final product.
  2. Determine the desired texture and density of your baked good before beginning. Syrup is heavier than sugar and is a liquid so unless you make drastic changes to the other liquids in the recipe it is likely that your batter and therefore your baked good will be denser and heavier. If this is unacceptable (think something like angel food cake with a profile that relies on the lightness of the batter), figure out how to slash other liquids from the recipe. Here are some basic rules and ideas regarding the most common liquids in baking recipes:
  • Dairy products – these primarily offer fat and moisture. Moisture can be easily achieved with syrup, but taking out a portion of fat from the recipe will alter the richness and mouthfeel. If that is okay, then give it a try! Or consider increasing the amount of fat elsewhere in the recipe, through butter, oil, or something like flax or almond meal that has oil inherent in it. You could also try substituting a small amount of whole milk yogurt for the total amount of dairy – this would reduce moisture but keep in a small amount of rich-tasting fat.
  • Butter – offers fat, flavor, and moisture. Butter is 15-18% water, so it’s reasonable to consider substituting some or all of it in a recipe to reduce overall moisture. But beware…the flavor of butter is sometimes necessary! You can try European butter in something like pound cake where the flavor is indispensable. European-style butters usually have less water and more butterfat than American brand(I’ve read rave reviews of Straus Family Creamery’s “beurre sec”, it would be a great one to try). If you decide to forgo the butter and substitute with an oil, I recommend coconut oil. For flavor and texture it can’t be beat! If you’re concerned about saturated fats and heart disease, read here for a different take on that topic.
  • Eggs – an interesting ingredient to think about altering! Eggs offer fat and richness through the yolk, structure through the white, and moisture overall. You can usually reduce a recipe that calls for at least two eggs by one egg with little detriment. Any recipe that relies heavily on eggs however, such as a custard or a poundcake, might be a good candidate for weight reduction elsewhere. Another trick might be to change the amount of yolks or whites, depending on the role the egg is playing in the recipe. Of if you are a chef of subtle changes, you could try using a different kind of egg. For example, duck eggs are larger and “yolkier” so one duck egg will have more fat and a greater fat to protein ratio than one chicken egg. Try one duck egg instead of two chicken eggs. Guinea eggs are smaller than chicken eggs, you could try substituting one guinea egg for one chicken egg to reduce total moisture while still getting both fat and structure, all without affecting the general ratio between yolk and white.
  • Other liquid sweeteners such as honey and molasses – you’re in luck, straight substitutions usually work here!
  • Water or juice – these can usually be omitted with little change to the end result. They are commonly added for moisture and for flavor or sweetness. Maple syrup substitutes just fine!
  • Or, consider reducing the liquid by increasing the amount of dry ingredients in the recipe. This would almost always be flour or something that behaves like flour, e.g. oatmeal, cornmeal, or almond meal. You could also swap out a flour that is denser than white flour; whole wheat flour commonly creates a dryer mouthfeel when used in recipes so it could be a good choice for a moister batter.

To start, I wanted a peanut-butter cookie that would be soft. I followed the 1-2-3 cookie at first, using half peanut-butter and half butter for the 1 oz of fat. But after creaming well, adding 2 oz of maple syrup, and 3 oz of whole wheat flour I decided the cookie dough didn’t taste “peanut-y” enough, so I added another 0.5 or oz of peanut-butter. Of course, then the dough was too oily and was barely holding together so I added more flour. 1/4 c? So much for careful measuring! But it ended up making a simple and totally satisfying little peanut-butter cookie, I’ll definitely do this one again.

For the molasses-spice variation I started with the “Rip’s Spice Cookies” from Ruhlman’s Ratio in his own variations section (p.42). This variation changes the basic 1-2-3 ratio into more of a 3-2-3 ratio (5-4-6 to be exact) and adds one egg and baking powder. But I knew that between sweetening with maple syrup and adding enough molasses for good flavor I’d have a lot of liquid in the dough so I cut back on the liquid by keeping out the egg. Ruhlman had noted that the addition of the egg makes a “cakier” textured cookie and I thought I’d go for crisp instead (really, if I want “cakey” I’ll just eat cake). I did keep the baking powder in so that the cookie would have a bit of levity, and substituted fresh minced ginger for powdered ginger. I also tried coconut oil instead of butter to cut back on the liquid even more. Results? A cookie that spread out and was quite oily but then crisped up as it cooled, and a cookie that lacked a ginger punch – the fresh ginger actually didn’t have much kick to it once cooked. Despite this, it was a delicious cookie! But in the future I’ll cut back on the oil and switch to dried ginger.

And now I have four more easy variations for quick cookies (“quickies”? um, no, that really won’t work). Just in time for the the chaos of the holidays, hurray!



  1. Mary McGrath

    My favorite peanut butter cookie (soft) cuts the fat in half, and adds unsweetened applesauce for the other half of the fat. Then I add unsalted raw peanuts to the finished dough; about a cup of peanuts per recipe. I use white whole wheat flour instead of white. I think it’s a healthier, lower in fat cookie, tastes great.

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