Maple Walnut Snapdoodles

Over the last few posts, we discussed the effects of sugar on cookie spread and texture. For this recipe, I played around with maple syrup, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. I also experimented with oven temperature. The result is these Maple Walnut Snapdoodles, which uses one dough to bake up crunchy or chewy cookies (I’m a fan of crunchy). In addition to the recipe, I’ll share some of the test batches. We’ll talk about the changes I made, the results of each batch, and the science behind it all.

Maple Walnut Snapdoodles: chewy on the left, crunchy on the right.

Maple Walnut Snapdoodles

Makes 28 cookies

With slight modifications in oven temperature, these maple walnut cookies can be crunchy the whole way through, like gingersnaps, or crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, like snickerdoodles. Either way, they are full of fall flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c (71 g) shelled walnuts
  • 2-1/4 c (281 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c (1 1/2 sticks, 170 g) butter, softened
  • 1 cup (220 g) brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 1/4 c (85 g) maple syrup
  • 1/4 c (50 g) granulated sugar, optional

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread walnuts in an even layer on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes or until browned and fragrant. Cool, chop roughly, and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and maple syrup and mix until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the chopped walnuts.
  4. Refrigerate the dough for 30–45 minutes or until firm enough to scoop. Preheat the oven to 325°F for crunchy cookies or to 350°F for chewy cookies, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Scoop 1-inch balls of dough and roll them in granulated sugar, if using. Place the dough about 4 inches apart on the baking sheet (you will need to separate the dough into at least two batches). For crunchy cookies, use the bottom of a glass to press the balls to 1/4-inch thick. For chewy cookies, leave the dough as balls.
  6. Bake until lightly browned, about 18 minutes for crunchy cookies and 13 minutes for chewy cookies. Remove baking sheet to a cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes, then move the cookies onto the rack to cool completely. Make sure the baking sheet is completely cool before baking the next batch. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Testing maple syrup cookies

Before we dive into the recipes I tested, here’s a quick comparison of the syrups we’ll be talking about in the rest of this post.

Water (%)Sucrose (%)Fructose (%)Glucose (%)pH
Honey17247383.9
Molasses205423235.0–5.5
Maple syrup3390555.2
Properties of syrups. Saccharides are reported as percentages of total sugar (Bridges & Mattice, 1939; Corriher, 2008; Figoni, 2011).

Maple syrup is much thinner than honey and molasses because it contains more water. Extra liquid increases the moisture in cookies and makes them spread more. The sugar compositions of the syrups also differ. While honey and molasses contain a lot of fructose and glucose, maple syrup is mostly sucrose. These differences will affect the texture and potentially the color of the cookie. And finally, honey is much more acidic than molasses and maple syrup, which could cause problems with leavening, spread, and color.

For my test batches, I quartered or halved recipes so I wouldn’t be swimming in cookies. That meant I used half an egg, which is why the ingredient lines read “23 g whisked egg.” I also omitted the walnuts in most of the tests because they wouldn’t make much of a difference in the bake of the cookie itself.

Batch 1: Honey to maple syrup

I started with the Honey Walnut Delights recipe from Taste of Home. I’ve made them a couple times, and they’re soft, chewy, and sweet. To start, I substituted the lemon juice with vinegar because that’s what I had on hand. Both lemon juice and vinegar provide acid for the baking soda to react with. I also skipped the coating of granulated sugar at the end because it made the honey version too sweet for my taste. When I switched out the honey for maple syrup, I did not want to make the dough too wet. Because maple syrup contains almost twice as much water as honey, I used half the volume of honey from the original recipe.

Ingredients for Batch 1: Honey to maple syrup

Makes 15 cookies

  • 1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 3/8 c (75 g) granulated sugar
  • 23 g whisked egg (1/2 egg)
  • 1/8 c (42 g) Canada No. 1 Medium (U.S. Grade A Dark Amber) maple syrup
  • 1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) distilled white vinegar

Bake at 350°F for 9 min.

Batch 1: Honey to maple syrup

Results for Batch 1: Honey to maple syrup

I was initially quite pleased with the bake of these cookies. They looked nice and puffy, if a bit pale, not unlike the honey version. But when I bit into them, it was a disaster. All I tasted was baking soda. This was not surprising—maple syrup is less acidic than honey, so less baking soda reacted. This left an unfortunate amount of baking soda in the cookie. (Don’t worry if this is confusing. I’ll be covering leaveners in more depth soon, and then we can come back to this!).

Furthermore, even though I stored these in airtight containers at room temperature after they cooled, the cookies were stale the next morning and not the least bit chewy. Because maple syrup contains very little fructose in comparison to honey, the maple syrup cookies lost a lot more water to the air than honey would, and they hardened quickly.

Batch 2: Brown sugar and extra syrup

For this batch, the most urgent problem to address was the baking soda taste. To get rid of it, I either had to increase the acidity so that the excess baking soda could react, or I had to use less baking soda. I also wanted to get more flavor into these cookies (the last batch wasn’t sweet) and make them stay chewier.

I decided to try a couple things. First, I substituted the granulated sugar with brown sugar. Brown sugar contains a little more fructose than granulated sugar (2% compared to none), which could prevent staling, and it’s a little more acidic, which would neutralize some baking soda. Plus, brown sugar pairs well with a lot of fall flavors. Second, I increased the amount of maple syrup. I’d decreased the amount of sugar in the cookie when I halved the volume of syrup in Batch 1, so it made sense that they weren’t sweet enough. In a given volume, maple syrup contains only about 80% the sugar that honey does, so I increased the sugar to 1/3 cup, more than double what I’d originally used. There’d be a lot of excess moisture, but hopefully that’d help keep the cookies chewy. Maple syrup’s also a little acidic, so it would neutralize some more baking soda.

To summarize: brown sugar and extra maple syrup might prevent staling, get rid of the baking soda taste, and add sweetness.

Ingredients for Batch 2: Brown sugar and extra syrup

Makes 15 cookies

  • 1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 3/8 c (82 g) brown sugar
  • 23 g whisked egg (1/2 egg)
  • 1/3 c (113 g) Canada No. 1 Medium (U.S. Grade A Dark Amber) maple syrup
  • 1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) distilled white vinegar

Bake at 350°F for 11-13 min.

Batch 2: Brown sugar and extra syrup

Results for Batch 2: Brown sugar and extra syrup

They spread, but they didn’t become one giant sheet pan cookie! And the extra maple syrup gave the cookies a nice brown color. The surfaces of these cookies were smooth, which made sense with the extra syrup. Cookies crack when sugar recrystallizes on the surface before the cookies expand. But in these cookies, the extra water from the syrup kept the sugar dissolved. I bit into a cookie while it was still warm, and it was delicious! Chewy center, crispy edge, nice and sweet—but what was that I tasted? Baking soda?

Granted, the baking soda taste was subtle, and it disappeared after the cookies cooled. So not a big deal. Plus, if I made the dough even more acidic to neutralize the baking soda, it wouldn’t spread so much. (Remember, an acidic environment helps proteins coagulate.)

Unfortunately, the next morning, the same thing happened as the last batch: the cookies were no longer chewy. At this point, I figured I might as well try for crunchy cookies. In fact, a couple days later, these cookies had become delightfully crunchy the whole way through, presumably because there wasn’t enough fructose to hold water and keep the cookie soft.

Batch 3: Back to granulated sugar, and use baking powder

For this batch, I decided to go crunchy and crispy. So I brought back the granulated sugar. I also lowered the oven temperature to give the cookies more time to spread and crisp up. And because the last batch, though sweet, had no maple syrup flavor, I added some maple extract.

There was also the problem of the baking soda. I decided to remove half of it. However, I didn’t want to lose any leavening, so I replaced the baking soda with baking powder. Baking powder contributes leavening without changing pH, and I doubled the volume to get the same leavening power.

Ingredients for Batch 3: Back to granulated sugar, and use baking powder

Makes 15 cookies

  • 1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 3/8 c (75 g) granulated sugar
  • 23 g whisked egg (1/2 egg)
  • 1/2 tsp maple extract
  • 1/3 c (113 g) Canada No. 1 Medium (U.S. Grade A Dark Amber) maple syrup
  • 1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) distilled white vinegar

Bake at 325°F for 13–14 min.

Batch 3: Back to granulated sugar, and use baking powder

Results for Batch 3: Back to granulated sugar, and use baking powder

These cookies were a little paler than Batch 2, which was a good sign that the acidity of the cookie had increased. (Acids inhibit the Maillard reaction, which contributes to browning.) And the baking soda taste was indeed gone. The centers were still a little chewy while the cookies were warm, but they crisped up with time. However, at some point in between chewy and crispy, the centers were unpleasantly tough.

Batch 4: More butter, more sugar, more flour

Although these cookies were improving, I wasn’t a fan of the weird chewy-but-hard texture I kept getting in the centers. And who wants to wait before enjoying some cookies? Evidently, the lack of fructose in maple syrup was a big hurdle for this recipe. So I decided to take a look at some other recipes, and I remembered Baker Bettie’s amazing Crispy Gingersnap Cookies. I love this recipe for its strong ginger taste, but maybe I could swap out the molasses in the recipe for maple syrup.

In addition to a one-to-one substitution of maple syrup for molasses, I made three changes. Baker Bettie uses a combination of granulated and brown sugar in her gingersnap cookies. However, because maple syrup already contains so much sucrose, I decided to use all brown sugar for more of its taste. Also, because maple syrup contains more water than molasses, I added two extra tablespoons of flour to absorb some of that moisture. And for flavor, I kept the maple extract I’d been using.

Ingredients for Batch 4: More butter, more sugar, more flour

  • 1 1/8 c (140 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/8 c (3/4 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup (110 g) brown sugar
  • 24 g whisked egg (1/2 egg)
  • 1/2 tsp maple extract
  • 1/8 c (42 g) maple syrup
  • granulated sugar for rolling
Batch 4: More butter, more sugar, more flour, baked under three different conditions.

Results for Batch 4: More butter, more sugar, more flour

I tried baking these cookies a couple different ways. Without chilling, I scooped some dough onto the cookie sheet and baked at 325°F until they were brown at the edges (first column in the image above). They baked beautifully, but they were a little chewy in the center. Then I tried 325° with chilled dough that I’d flattened with the bottom of a glass (middle column). These cookies ended up a similar size to the first ones, but they were crisper. When they cooled, the were crunchy the whole way through without any of the weird chewiness of the previous batches. Hooray! I also tried baking at 350° for chewier cookies (right column). To keep them thicker, I didn’t flatten them before baking. And it worked! The same dough produced thick cookies that were beautifully crisp on the outside yet chewy in the center. Although they dried and staled over the next few days, they retained their chewiness and tenderness.

Oven temperature affects the texture of cookies by controlling how much they spread. The bigger and thinner the cookie, the more surface area it has for water to vaporize. Lower oven temperatures mean that cookies solidify later, so they spread more. They also need longer to cook, so there’s more time and greater surface area for water to evaporate, leading to a drier, crisper cookie. In this recipe, I further encouraged water loss by flattening the cookie dough before baking it. On the other hand, higher oven temperatures solidify the cookie before it’s had much time to spread. Baking the dough as a ball also helps the cookie stay thick, minimizing surface area for water loss. These cookie retain more water, so they’re chewier.

I also played around with the coating of sugar on the cookie dough. The cookies bake fine without the sugar, but I like the extra sparkle it adds. And it does make the outside of the cookie crisper without being overpoweringly sweet, so I added it to the recipe.

The successful Snapdoodle

So what is it about Batch 4 that worked? Let’s compare the ingredients to Batch 1, which contained the same amount of maple syrup. Here are the main ingredients that differed between the two batches.

Batch 1Batch 4% Change
Flour (c)11 1/8–12
Baking soda (tsp)1/21/4–50
Butter (c)1/43/8+50
Sugar (c)3/8, granulated1/2, brown+33
Differences in ingredients between Batch 1 and Batch 4 of maple syrup cookies.

First, Batch 4 contained half the baking soda, which produced just enough leavening for the cookie. Even though Batch 1 contained additional acid from the vinegar to react the baking soda, there was too much left over. So with less baking soda, Batch 4 got rid of its taste.

Batch 4 also contained 33% more sugar. Instead of adding maple syrup for sweetness, like in Batches 2 and 3, Batch 4 used more sugar. The sugar added flavor and crunch without extra moisture. In fact, because the extra sugar attracts more water, there are even fewer free water molecules in Batch 4, making the dough thicker. To help incorporate the extra sugar and soften the dough, Batch 4 also contains 50% more butter.

Both butter and sugar are tenderizers, so Batch 4 also used a little extra flour for structure. Notice, however, that the increase in flour is slight, only 12%, compared to the increases in sugar and butter. This suggests that the toughness in Batches 1–3 was due to too much gluten, both from the higher ratio of flour and the extra water from the maple syrup. Batch 4 balanced the flour better with butter and sugar, resulting in a more tender cookie that held up well to staling.

Conclusions

In hindsight, adding as much maple syrup as I did to Batches 2 and 3 wasn’t such a great idea. Cookies typically contain very little water, and maple syrup has a lot of water for the amount of sugar it contains. Thus, although maple syrup contributes sweetness to cookies, its water content needs to be balanced out with some extra sugar crystals, as we showed in Batch 4. Moreover, the difference in fructose levels between honey and maple syrup makes it difficult to maintain the same texture and shelf life with a simple substitution. When maple syrup is balanced well with other ingredients, however, it makes for a delicious fall cookie.



References

Bridges, M. A.; Mattice, M.R. Over two thousand estimations of the pH of representative foods. The American Journal of Digestive Diseases 1939, 9, 440-449.

Corriher, S. O. Bakewise; Scribner: New York, 2008.

Figoni, P. How Baking Works, 3rd ed.; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, 2011.

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