Google is good at a lot of things. Searching the internet. Cloud-based office software. Smart phones. But what can the tech giant do when it comes to baking and recipe development?
Following a pandemic-fueled baking spree, Sara Robinson, one of Google Cloud’s team members who specializes in artificial intelligence (AI) decided to see if she could apply her knowledge of data and computers to the kitchen.
The developer’s first step was to see if the computer could accurately identify whether a recipe was bread, cake or cookie, which it was able to do with precision, down to the percentage (i.e., “97% bread, 2% cake, 1% cookie”). The next step was to see if the computer could create its own recipe that was 50/50 cake and cookie (which they called a “cakie”) and one that was 50/50 bread and cookie (which they titled a “breakie”).
If you’re interested in the minutiae of how they collected and prepared the data to build a classification model, check out their blog post on the topic. I’ll stick with what I do best as a recipe developer, recipe editor and food writer: bake, eat and write.
In the name of research, The Daily Meal’s video producer Jacqui Wedewer and I decided to test out the AI-created breakie recipe.
I got to work in my kitchen. Meanwhile, Jacqui got baking in her apartment. There were a few red flags in the recipe — like adding yeast but no time to rise — but we gave it an honest chance.
Because Google’s AI only came up with ingredients and the developers wrote their own directions, we each played around with how to cook the breakies a bit. Jacqui tried baking the cookies at three different temperatures and for three different lengths of time (including one version that was exactly as written). I made a single batch. I tweaked Google’s recommended directions, and tried letting the yeast proof longer, ensured my milk was at the perfect temperature (around 105F), and tried to give the mixture time to rise (which it didn’t since it was so dry before adding the butter).
And time and time again, both of us got flat, weird cookies with an odd texture.
The dough itself came together fine for me despite its initial dryness; Jacqui described hers as grainy. “The final dough smelled like a combo of chocolate chip cookies and pizza dough,” she said. “It had the chocolatey/buttery smell of cookies but that yeasty scent of pizza dough. It’s the smell that instantly reminds me of being on a brewery tour.”
As they baked, the breakies spread out a lot for both of us, and the resulting texture was definitely not bread-like, and barely cookie-like. “It didn't have that gooeyness of a great cookie or pillowyness of great banana bread,” lamented Jacqui. “You'd think the yeast would help them rise a little, but these are by far the flattest cookies I've ever made. It's almost as if all that flour had the opposite effect. My guess is it was the odd computer decision to include baking soda but not baking powder.” I couldn’t agree more.
As for the taste...Well, they taste...fine. A bit yeasty, though the dash of cinnamon is actually quite nice. Jacqui said the taste was “blah.” She went on, “without the chocolate chips, it's inedible. Not sweet or buttery enough. I've thought about breaking up the extra crispy ones from my 3rd batch and making Cookie Crisp cereal with them.”
My kids, meanwhile, were thrilled to come home and find cookies waiting for them. They gobbled them up and requested I make the recipe again, so clearly it wasn’t a total flop. (Though to be fair, most 3- and 6-year-olds are not that discerning when it comes to foods with chocolate chips and sugar.)
But did the breakies gain anything from the yeast or succeed in creating a worthwhile bread-cookie hybrid? No. A typical chocolate chip cookie recipe is better, and easier. So pastry chefs and recipe developers need not fear. It looks like we’re still a while away from computers stealing your jobs. But you know what? This was fun. Thanks, Google. And if you're looking for tried and true recipes developed by humans, check out our 50 favorite cookie recipes.