Cookie Tips For Baking The Perfect Cookie
Home baked cookies add a certain delicious elegance to any occasion, whether it is a Christmas party, a cookie exchange, a picnic, a pot luck, an informal neighborhood get-together, or an afternoon snack. No matter which cookie recipe you choose to follow, here are a few tips to help you get those cookies perfect every time.
Preheat the oven to the correct temperature and adjust the rack.
Always preheat the oven and position the oven racks 10 to 15 minutes before you need to bake to ensure the cookies cook properly. Cookies are best baked in the lower third of the oven unless otherwise instructed.
Check oven temperature for accuracy.
Oven temperatures and heating cycles vary. To be sure of the ovens temperature accuracy, keep an oven thermometer on the middle rack in the oven at all times and make adjustments for the temperature accordingly. Minimize opening and closing the oven door during baking to avoid lowering the temperature.
Use shiny cookie/baking sheets.
The reflective quality of the pan insures even baking and browning. Shiny, light colored sheets brown the bottoms of the cookies more evenly than dark sheets. Dark-colored ones retain heat and tend to burn the bottoms of cookies. The right cookie/baking sheet will produce perfectly browned cookies each time. Dark sheets can be covered with aluminum foil to achieve the same effect.
Line pans with parchment paper.
Parchment paper replaces greasing cookie/baking sheets. It also allows for easy cleanup. The paper keeps the bottom of the cookies from over-browning and sticking to the sheet. The paper will withstand high temperatures without discoloring or scorching. After baking cookies on parchment, you can slide the sheet of parchment with the baked cookies onto the rack for cooling. Parchment paper can be reused several times, both front and back.
Lightly grease cookie/baking sheets and using cooking spray.
Use cool cookie/baking sheets.
Cool cookie sheets between batches to prevent the dough from melting and spreading before baking. To cool sheets quickly, rinse with cold water and dry before using them again. Metal sheets cool quickly once the cookies have been removed and the pan is not left on the stove top over a hot oven.
Only bake one sheet at a time.
Bake only one sheet of cookies at a time on the middle rack in the center of the oven. Placing more than one sheet in the oven will reduce the temperature in the oven and block heat circulation.
Use a mixer.
Unless otherwise directed by the recipe, beat the butter and sugar at a high speed (use the paddle attachment on a standing mixer) to blend into a light, creamy mixture. Beat in the eggs and/or other liquid ingredients until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous, then lower the speed or switch to a sturdy wooden spoon to incorporate the flour. Avoid overmixing cookie dough as it can result in tough cookies.
Measure all of your ingredients accurately.
Dry ingredients as well as liquids should be measured accurately to ensure perfect cookies. For dry ingredients, always use dry measuring cups. Spoon the ingredients into the measuring cup--without packing or tapping on the counter--then level off with the straight edge of a knife. The same is true for measuring spoons, when measuring dry ingredients, such as baking powder, use a knife to level off the spoon. Brown sugar is the exception to this rule; pack it firmly into the cup with the backside of a spoon then level off with a knife. Measure liquid ingredients carefully or the cookie dough may end up very dry or too soft. For liquids use a liquid measuring cup, then hold the cup at eye level to made sure the measurement is accurate.
Use the correct fat for your cookies.
If the recipe calls for butter, either butter or margarine can be used depending on the desured texture. Salted butter may be used in place of unsalted and vice versa. It is not necessary to add more salt to the recipe when using unsalted butter and vice versa. If the recipe calls for shortening, butter flavored or regular can be used. Butter, margarine and shortening provide the bonding needed to keep cookies from spreading too thin while cooking. Butter allows dough to spread more, producing a flatter, crispier cookie. Margarine holds dough more in its original shape, producing a puffier cookie. Stick margarine will produce a puffier cookie than tub butter. Cookies made with tub margarine will be very thin and oily due to tub margarines high liquid content. Do not use light or whipped margarine to make cookies. The low fat, high water content of these products will produce unsatisfactory results. Cookies made with shortening have a lighter texture and volume and produce a crewier cookie.
Start with soft butter or margarine.
If the recipe calls for softened or room-temperature butter or margarine, it should be soft yet still slightly firm. To soften, cut the butter or margarine into chunks and leave to warm to room temperature. Butter can be softened quicker by placing it for a few seconds in a microwave oven or let it stand in a warm place, such as near the preheating oven, or under a lamp. Butter and margarine should always be used at room temperature unless the recipe calls for it be be melted or left cold. Never use butter or margarine that is either too hard or too soft. A large part of your cookie baking success depends on the temperature of the butter or margarine. Cold, hard butter or margarine will not cream as easily when incorporated with the sugar resulting in flatter cookies.
Always use large eggs.
This is the standard size egg used for developing cookie recipes. Cookies will mix perfectly by using the correct size eggs.
Always use ground spices and all-purpose flour, unless otherwise indicated.
If the recipe calls for flour and does not specify what kind of flour, use all-purpose flour. If the recipes calls for a spice but doesn't indicate what consistency, use a ground version of the spice. For example, if the recipe calls for nutmeg, use ground nutmeg, or cloves, use ground cloves and not whole cloves.
Use soft raisins or currants.
When adding dried fruit like raisins or currants to the dough make sure they are soft, not hard and shriveled. To reconstitute hard, dried fruit pour boiling water over them, let sit 4 to 5 minutes then strain.
Use toasted nuts.
If the recipe calls for toasted nuts be sure to toast them before adding them to the batter for maximum flavor. Taste them before using to make sure they are not rancid. To toast sliced almonds, heat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds onto ungreased 15" x 10" x 1" jelly-roll pan. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until golden brown.
Use pure vanilla extract.
For a better flavor use pure vanilla extract instead of imitation vanilla extract.
Use real chocolate.
Chocolate-flavored morsels may be cheaper, but they will not produce the great flavor of real chocolate.
Cookie dough should be firm.
If the cookie dough become too soft, refrigerate for about one hour or until the dough becomes firm enough. If it still too soft and spreads even after chilling, add a little flour at a time until the dough reaches the desired consistency.
Leave enough space between the cookies.
When placing cookies on a cookie/baking sheet, leave enough space between them as most cookies will expand while baking. As a general rule 1" should suffice for small-sized cookies, and 2" for medium-sized cookies. Larger cookies may need more space.
Rotate your cookies halfway through the baking time.
Often ovens cook faster towards the rear of the oven. Rotating the cookies insures even baking. When cooking more than one sheet of cookies at a time, make sure to switch top and bottom sheets halfway through the baking time. Cookies will bake more evenly if they spend equal time on the top and bottom racks of the oven and the front and back of the oven.
Monitor the baking time closely.
Remove the cookies from the oven when they still look a little underdone in their centers. They will finish cooking as they cool. Timing is important when baking cookies. Two minutes more can make the difference between cookies that are burnt to a crisp and those that are just right. It is better to err on the side of under-baking. Using an accurate timer, bake the cookies for one minute less than the recommended minimum baking time. Check the cookies for doneness and if necessary, bake them for a minute or two more. For soft, chewy cookies, bake about 2 minutes less than directed. For crisp cookies, flatten the dough and bake a few minutes longer than directed.
Remove the cookies promptly from the cookie/baking sheets.
Once baked, cookies should be removed from the cookie/baking sheet between 1 and 2 minutes to prevent them from baking any further. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Cookies should never be left to cool on the sheet as they will stick to the sheet as they cool and can be very difficult to remove without breaking. Loosen stuck cookies by setting the cookie sheet on a hot, damp towel for a few minutes.