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A Baker’s Dozen Tips for Fabulous Cookies
by Pat Sinclair
The holiday season is when everyone thinks about baking something special to share with family and friends and cookies are one of the easiest things to make. As with all baking, make sure you read the entire recipe and gather all your ingredients and equipment before you start so you don’t have to stop and run to the store.
A dozen tips to cookie baking success:
1) Follow the recipe closely the first time – you can make changes next time. Use high-quality ingredients such as pure vanilla extract, unsalted butter and real chocolate. Measure accurately, using stacking measuring cups for dry ingredients and clear measuring cups for liquids.
2) Bleached all-purpose flour is the best type of flour to use for cookies unless the recipe specifies another type but unbleached flour works as well. Some recipes contain cake flour because its lower protein content adds tenderness to cookies. Whole-wheat flour adds a nutty flavor but tends to make cookies dry.
3) Test baking powder if you haven’t used it since last year. Dissolve 1 teaspoon in 1/3 cup warm water. It should become fizzy. If there is no reaction, you should replace it.
4) When you are making cookies it is best to use butter, margarine or shortening. Reduced-fat spreads contain more water which makes the dough spread too much, and the cookies become flat, tough and tend to stick to the cookie sheet. If you are using margarine, read labels carefully and be sure it contains 70%-- 80% fat, similar to butter.
5) If your butter is too soft, your cookies may spread too much. Soften butter by removing it from the refrigerator no longer than 45 minutes before you use it. Chilling your dough can reduce spreading.
6) Some cookie dough is too soft to handle if it isn’t chilled. Bake a couple of test cookies to determine if the dough is firm enough to use. Rolled cookie dough is much easier to handle when chilled. Keep the remaining dough chilled until needed.
7) For ease in rolling out cookies dust your work surface and rolling pin lightly with flour. Chilled cookie dough made with butter is less likely to stick. Margarine makes dough that is much softer, even when chilled, and requires a light touch. Use a long metal spatula to place the cookies on the cookie sheet. Cookie dough scraps should only be rerolled once or your cookies will be tough.
8) Avoid hard dry cookies by measuring flour properly. Lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off with a spatula. Because flour tends to pack down, if you scoop it up you may get too much.
9) Use shiny aluminum cookie sheets with one or two raised ends. Insulated baking sheets prevent cookies from browning too much on the bottom, but it’s hard to judge doneness because the edges don’t brown as well either. Cookies bake faster on dark cookie sheets so watch carefully.
10) To prevent cookies from becoming too brown, bake one cookie sheet at a time or rotate sheets halfway through baking. Use an oven thermometer to test the accuracy of your oven. Try to have about 2 inches between the cookie sheet and the sides of the oven. Cool your cookie sheets between batches.
11) Follow your recipe directions as to greasing or not greasing your cookie sheet. Because most cookies are high in fat they won’t stick. If you grease the cookie sheet when it’s not needed, your cookies may spread too much. Shortening is the best fat to use for greasing.
12) Cookies are done when they have lightly browned edges and appear set in the middle. Most recipes tell you how the cookies should look and give a range for baking time. Always check cookies one minute before the baking time is up. One minute too long can make a big difference.
13) After baking, crisp cookies should be stored loosely covered. Soft cookies should be stored tightly covered so that they don’t dry out. Don’t mix strong flavored cookies in the same container or the flavors will transfer. For longer storage, freeze cookies. Wrap the cookies in airtight containers and freeze up to three months. Cookies thaw quickly at room temperature.
Pat Sinclair is the author of Baking Basics and Beyond (Surrey Books, 2006), which won the Cordon d’Or-Gold Ribbon Award for baking from the Culinary Arts Academy in 2007. She is currently working on The Ultimate Cooking for Two Cookbook. Contact her at www.PatCooksandBakes.blogspot.com