Ahh the most misunderstood taste... FAT. It is so vital not only in recipes but also to our bodies for survival. But I'm not here today to discuss the types of fat, how it affects our bodies, or how much fat we should have in our diet. There are many different types and forms of fat, that have different chemical structure & react differently in our bodies, different tastes, different smoke points (my smoke alarm can attest to this...), different rates of rancidity, and therefore different uses in cooking and baking.
Over high school and college, I tried reducing the amount of fat I intake as much as possible but substituting or omitting it from recipes. In contrast, I just spent 30 days on the strict GAPS Intro diet, which is relatively high fat and zero starches, grains & most sugar. I think most people have this sort of love-hate yo-yo relationship with fat. My go-to resource now for fat is Sallon Fallon Morell's book Nourishing Traditions Diets, because it draws on the wisdom of the way humans have eaten and thrived for generations across the globe. Whatever your opinion & current relationship with fat, I think we all know deep down that fat = flavor 🙂
In the book How to Taste, Becky Selengut references research that says that fat is the newest proposed taste. What does fat add to our food? Fat dissolves fat-soluble molecules like herbs & spices to carry flavors in the dish, fat contributes to mouthfeel, fat contributes to emulsion (aka mixing things that normally wouldn't mix together), fat transmits heat well so food cooks more evenly, fat prevents your food from sticking to the pan, fat can help cover the taste of something you overcooked, and fat adds air (via creaming with sugar or beating) when baking. WOW! Fat does all that for my food? Thanks, fatty! :p
LET THE EXPERIMENTATION COMMENCE!!!
This experiment is close to my heart. I created this experiment by drawing on inspiration of years and years of trying to substitute out the fat in recipes, so I wouldn't feel so guilt eating them. I have endured so many culinary fails because I was trying to be "healthy", but I sacrificed flavor and edibility...
For this experiment, I wanted to see the purpose of fat when cooking & baking, so I made two types of chocolate chip cookies. These cookies are identical, except for the primary "fat" that was used. One cookie is made with unsalted butter and the other cookie is made with prune butter. Yes, prune butter, aka dried prunes blended with a bit of water. Gross? Maybe, some might say. But prunes keep you regular, if you know what I mean... See the full recipe and nutritional information below!
There is an obvious difference noticed just by looking at the dough and how they baked in comparison to each other. Let's dive deeper into our analysis.
Regular Cookies - BUTTER
The raw dough tastes saltier and it's a bit grainy and oily but not very sticky. The cookie is so soft and gooey. I can taste the nuts and chocolate chips better, as well as the butter (obvi) and the sugar. In the oven, it went from a round dough ball to a flattened and spread out form. It's soft on the inside and has a golden crunch around the edge. It literally melts in your mouth... *wipes drool and melted chocolate off face.* The surface of the cookie is smooth and shiny. The smell, omg, the smell. It's like caramelized sugar, chocolate and a buttery hug of yummy-ness. The chocolate melted better in these cookies (because fat evenly distributes heat) and the flavors blend deliciously (because fat carries the flavor of fat-soluble molecules). YUM. After the cookies cooled, they stayed really soft.
Low-Fat Cookies - PRUNE
The raw dough is sticky, chewy and gummy; it tastes like prunes and is sweeter. The cookie is suuuuuper chewy and gummy. The prune flavor bursts through even more after it was baked. It is super sweet and sticks to my teeth on the roof of my mouth so it's almost hard to swallow. The cookie isn't hard, but it's not soft like the other cookie - this one really put the ol' chewing muscles to work! The appearance of these cookies in their baked form looks pretty much like their dough form - a round ball of darker dough. The smell is like a 75% version of the regular cookie but with an earthy prune-y (?) scent. It's pretty good when it's warm, but when it cooled, the prune flavor turned up a TON and they got even chewier. Like a prune-cookie-flavored-gumball that eventually you can eat. It's not bad, it's just... different... lol
When should I add more fat to my food?
- If your dish tastes too acidic and you don't want to add something sweet, add fat to cut the acidity.
- If your herbs & spices are not shining through, add a little more fat.
- If you want a creamier more luscious mouthfeel, add some fat.
What should I do if I added too much fat to my food?
- Try skimming off the fat from the top of the food if it's a liquid. It's easier to do this if you refrigerate it so the fat forms a solid at the top.
- Add acidity to reduce the perception of fat in the food.
- Serve your dish with a starch like bread or rice to soak up excess fat. (My favorite option of all three.)
Nutritional Info Per Cookie for the Regular Cookies (with butter)
Calories - 200
Fat - 10.6 grams
Carbs - 26.2 grams
Sugars - 15.7 grams
Protein - 2.5 grams
Nutritional Info Per Cookie for the Low-Fat Cookies (with prune butter)
Calories - 158
Fat - 4.9 grams
Carbs - 28.5 grams
Sugars - 17 grams
Protein - 2.5 grams
RECIPE FOR SOME (a) BOMB or (b) HEALTHY COOKIES (from the bag of the Private Selection Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips bag at Fred Meyer) for ~ 32 cookies
1 (12 oz) bag of Private Selection Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 ¼ cups flour (I used Bob's Redmill one-for-one gluten free flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
OPTION (a) 1 cup softened butter // OPTION (b) 1 cup (~4 oz) prunes pureed with 3 tbps water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Set bowl aside.
- Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, softened butter [OR prune butter if you really want to do that to yourself] and vanilla extract. Beat until creamy.
- Add eggs to sugar/butter. Beat until creamy.
- Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix well.
- Stir in chocolate chips and chopped nuts.
- Put cookie dough balls on an ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake about 10 minutes.