The real reason why we bake everything at 350 degrees

If there are any cardinal rules of the universe we've come to accept as fact, it's that there's no limit to what you can pumpkin spice, bringing up politics at the dinner table is always a bad idea and the cookie recipe you're making is probably going to call for a 350-degree oven.

That last rule isn't just some random number divined by Julia Child: There's actual science behind why everything from banana bread to mac and cheese calls for this magic temperature. 

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How Well Do You Know Chocolate Chip Cookies?
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How Well Do You Know Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Read on to learn more about chocolate chip cookies.

Q: How old is the chocolate chip cookie?

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A: The chocolate chip cookie has been around since 1938, making the childhood staple 79 years old.

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Q: Who invented the chocolate chip cookie?

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A: The chocolate chip cookie was invented by Ruth Wakefield, who happened to run the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts. Wakefield had been serving butterscotch cookies with ice cream and decided to spice up the cookie recipe by adding chopped pieces of chocolate.

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Q: How many chocolate chip cookies are eaten each year?

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A: Seven billion chocolate chip cookies are eaten each year!

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Q: What's the biggest chocolate chip cookie ever made?

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A: The world’s largest chocolate chip cookie weighed 38,000 pounds. It was 102 feet in diameter and required 30,000 eggs!

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Q: How many chocolate chip cookies are in each cookie?

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A: A typical tablespoon of cookie dough can contain a maximum of 50 chocolate chips. The average consumer is content with six to eight chocolate chips per cookie.

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Q: The chocolate chip cookie is the official cookie of which states?

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A: The chocolate chip cookie is the official cookie of Massachusetts and potentially Pennsylvania, where lawmakers are trying to decide between the oatmeal cookie and the chocolate chip cookie.

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Q: What was the chocolate chip cookie originally named?

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A: Ruth Wakefield originally called her recipe Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies, which appeared in the Toll House Tried and True Recipes cookbook in 1938.

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Q: Which ingredient is most essential to a great-tasting cookie?

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A: Butter. Butter is the most significant in adding to the taste of the cookie and has a huge effect on the outcome. Melted butter yields denser cookies while creamed butter makes more cake-y cookies.

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Q: What is the record number of cookies baked in one hour?

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A: The most cookies baked in one hour is 4,695! Hassett's Bakery in Cork, Ireland set the record on July 30, 2013.

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Q: Is it important to let cookie dough rest before baking?

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A: Yes! Letting cookie dough sit is the simplest way to improve the flavor. While the dough rests, both the flour proteins and starches break down. Leaving the dough to rest over night improves the flavor even more.

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Ask any Good Eats nerd fan, and they'll tell you about the Maillard reaction, the phenomenon responsible for browning protein and sugars. This creates a new set of complex flavors (or, what Alton Brown lovingly refers to as "golden, brown and delicious") and, according to Mental Floss, occurs between 300 and 350 degrees. Bake your foods at lower temperatures, and you'll end up with bland, pale cookies and crustless loaves of bread.

Early baking lore also suggests that before the age of exact temperature knobs, most recipes called for baking in a "moderate oven." Take a look at your oven's temperature range, and you'll find that 350 falls pretty close to dead center.

Of course, that doesn't mean everything should be baked at 350 degrees. Certain foods like piecrust and puff pastry benefit from higher temperatures, so they can become extra flaky, and roast chicken would overcook before its skin becomes crispy and golden. But for those times when you accidentally throw away the directions on a boxed cake mix, 350 degrees is always a good, well, golden rule.

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