A few months ago, I published a weeks-long experiment involving 400 chocolate chip cookies and, presumably, a perfectionism-driven death wish. I messed with a ton of different variables to achieve the perfect cookie, but one thing remained constant: a splash of apple cider vinegar in my dough. (One teaspoon, to be exact.)
After publishing the recipe, I heard from a few fellow bakers with questions re: the apple cider vinegar (ACV). They wanted to know: Wouldn’t vinegar add an unpleasant tang to the dough? And why would you bother adding vinegar to baked goods in the first place?
To answer these questions, we must look *cue booming voice* to science. Vinegar is highly acidic, and it’s often included in batters because, as we know from science fair volcanoes, it reacts with baking soda. That reaction produces carbon dioxide, which, in turn, can help give your cake batter or cookie dough a bit of a lift. This is a common tactic in egg-free or vegan baking, as the vinegar helps aerate batter in lieu of eggs. (Disclaimer: I don’t do a lot of vegan baking, but if you have questions about that, I can try to point you in the right direction.) A popular Tasty pancake recipe is a good example of this; it directs home cooks to let the batter stand for a few minutes after mixing in the vinegar, so you can actually see the carbon dioxide bubbles forming as the vinegar reacts.
While I do bake with eggs, I find that apple cider vinegar helps to prevent cookie spread—which, as Joe Pastry explains, is because the vinegar helps set the egg proteins a bit faster. Less spread means slightly springier, more voluminous cookies. “But Lillian!” you might exclaim, “Vinegar tastes gross by itself!” Well, yeah—you probably wouldn’t eat a spoonful of baking soda, either. (Also fine if you like that sort of thing!) Apple cider vinegar is a mild, sneaky ingredient, and I’ve never been able to taste it in a finished baked good. Keep in mind that I’ve never used vinegar in a milder, less sweet cookie, so I can’t necessarily speak to that effect. But hey, as we know, I’m down to try anything once. Or 400 times.