12.30.2013

Arranging a Bagels and Lox Platter

 
New Year's Day is the perfect day for a lazy brunch with friends, to sit around in PJs and recap the events of the night before. It's also the perfect time for a bagel spread- what hungover hostess wants to spend the morning cooking? All you'll have to do New Year's Day is pick up the bagels and arrange the toppings on a platter- easy!

So today I figured I'd share my tips for making your bagel platter look a little nicer.

1. Arrange all your toppings neatly. Fold your smoked salmon slices in half and line them up. Line up your tomato, red onion, and lemon slices (if using) next to that. It's neater looking and easier to pick up.
 
2. I love using radicchio to make bowls to hold toppings. I saw this tip on an episode of Barefoot Contessa.  All you have to do is cut the core from a head of raddicchio, remove the two outler leaves, and fit them into each other to make a bowl. You can fill that with your cream cheese, whitefish, whatever.
 
3. Finally, I like to fill in any empty spaces with bunches of fresh parsley or dill. A little green alwasy makes everything look better.
 
Raddicchio Bowl
 
If you need to take up more room, you can put some bagels on the platter. Otherwise, just pile them in a big bowl lined with a napkin.

 
  
Simple and effective! What are your favorite presentation tricks?

12.26.2013

Recent Reads

Hope everyone had a very merry Christmas!! Mine was wonderful, spent with my husband and family, and possibly a little too much Jack Daniels, courtesy of my brother.
 
I'm on a bit of a work hiatus for the next few days and looking forward to diving into a new pile of books I got.
Which got me thinking, since I usually devour a book a week, I figured I may as well start sharing my recent reads and reactions to them. I figure I'm not the only one with a little downtime on my hands now, so here’s some books I've read over the past month or so:
 
How to Love an American Man, by Kristine Gasbarre
Kristine Gasbarre is pretty terrible at relationships, and after a string of failed ones followed by the death of her grandfather, she moves back home to live with her grandmother. While back in her hometown, Grandma dispenses love and marriage advice while Kristine falls for a sophisticated, but difficult to pin down, local doctor. At times, the author is truly immature, and her actions sometimes are frustrating, but I loved the relationships she had with her family, and her grandmother’s love advice.
 
Dr. Brown is a vulnerability researcher, and this book discusses the way many of our fears, shame, and feelings of inadequacy keep us from living a wholehearted, connected life. She points out that many of these feelings are shared among people, and that throwing light on these dark corners of our emotions reduces their power and gives us courage to really be ourselves. The book is written in a very straightforward, plain style that makes it easy to understand, though her teachings may be harder to actually apply to our lives.  It’s a great and encouraging book, and though it takes effort and courage to improve ourselves, Brown shows the benefits of doing just that.  Excellent choice for improving ourselves.
 
Don’t Sing at the Table, by Adriana Trigiani
This is one I really read and re-read, one of my all-time favorite books. I’m a sucker for family history, and this book memorializes Trigiani’s two Italian grandmothers, sharing their histories, personalities, and life lessons. I also come from a large Italian family, and I see a lot of my relatives in this book. It fills in the gaps just a little for me where my grandmother’s family lore left off. Love it.
 
I am on kind of a Fannie Flagg kick lately. Admittedly, this is not the deepest or most original novel, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It’s about an old Southern lady who dies, goes to Heaven, and comes back.  Flagg’s descriptions of Heaven and life seem fairly prosaic and often oversimplified, but it’s a wholesome and fun read. I really liked it. 
 
I’m always up for a civilian take on religion, and have recently gotten into author Lauren Winner. She converted to Orthodox Judaism only to later convert to evangelical Christianity. I really enjoyed her first memoir, Girl Meets God, so I picked up this second book. It’s a short tome that highlights Winner’s favorite parts of Judaism, things she feels are missing from Christian worship. As part of an interfaith household (I am Catholic, my husband is Jewish), this book was useful in helping me to see ways to combine and celebrate our different faiths.
 
 
Oh, Jen Lancaster. I loved her first few books, but am now finding myself a little tired of her shtick. How many times can she mention her under-theAmbien-influence midnight shopping sprees? How many times can one person give themselves food poisoning, and why does the reader need the details? She’s definitely worth checking out if you’re unfamiliar with her, but for me, I’ve hit my Jen saturation level.

Any book recommendations?


12.24.2013

Seafood Salad

 

Merry Christmas!! Today, I just have a quick last minute recipe if you’re doing the Italian Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner. This comes by way of my friend Laura, a great Italian cook who’s taught me most of what I know in the kitchen. 

Seafood Salad
1 lb fresh calamari, cleaned and sliced into rings
1 red bell pepper, cut into very thin slices
1/3 of a small red onion
Olive oil
Olives
Capers 
Lemon zest, to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Throw in your calamari and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until calamari turns white and opaque. Don’t overcook! (I always remember the old Italian idea, 30 seconds or 30 minutes for squid, anything in between and you have shoe leather).  

Drain calamari well and toss with olive oil to taste- I never measure, sorry! Add your red pepper, onion, zest, olives and capers. I didn’t include amounts for those, just do what you like. I love olives and capers, so I included quite a bit of them. 

Let this sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.  

To prepare a day in advance, combine everything except the red onion- that tends to get overpowering if left to sit overnight. Add that a few hours before serving. 

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

12.23.2013

Holiday Weekend Recap

I might be having too much fun with my Instagram collage apps, but thought I'd share a few snapshots of the weekend.

This past weekend was full of holiday parties, family, and friends, so it really felt like Christmas to me. It was my family's annual "Cousins' Party," where all our (duh) cousins get together, and the fourth annual gathering of my girlfriends from college.



From top left:
reason for the season, snapped late Sunday as we brought our giving tree gifts just in time! // pile of Secret Santa gifts // the cousins tearing into presents // at Jenn's holiday party // huge pile of apps // my parents' Christmas tree

12.19.2013

Snowman Sugar Cookies



I hate making sugar cookies. Every year, I have these visions of beautiful cookies, decked in colorful icing and sparkly sprinkles. I get all excited and plan what I'm going to do.

And then I start to create my masterpieces and the reality is nothing like the vision, and I get frustrated.  Lines don’t come out straight, I can’t get the icing colors right, and I always underestimate the complexity of the design. 
Eventually, I begin accidentally on purpose cracking cookies, so there’s less to decorate.   Then I swear I’ll never do this again, which is a joke, because (of course) they’re my husband’s favorite. 

So over the years, I have figured out the simplest way to execute these and have them still look good. They’re still a bit of a project, though, and this is a really long post, so consider yourself warned!!

Okay so first, start with the cookies. You can make these ahead of time and freeze them to make your life easier.

Neil's Scalloped Sugar Cookies, from Great Cookies by Carole Walter
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2/3 cup (1 and 1/3 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 or 2 tsp cold water as needed

Combine flour, sugar, butter in bowl of food processor, fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to combine, then process for approximately 10 seconds, until the mixture is the texture of fine meal (it will look crumbly and not much like dough).

Combine the yolks and vanilla in a bowl, and add to the processor's work bowl. Pulse to combine, and then process for about 10 seconds until a mass forms. If it looks very dry, add a tsp of water. Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a disk. It will seem rather dry and crumbly. Don't worry.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 3 days. Dough can be frozen for up to three months.

To bake: Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with foil.

Working with 1/4 of the dough at a time, roll out on floured surface until about 1/4 or 1/8 inch thick. Using your cookie cutters, cut into your desired shapes.

Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are golden brown.

**If you don't plan to decorate these, you can brush with an egg wash and top with sprinkles.

Next up, I use Wilton's royal icing recipe:

Royal Icing, from Wilton
1 1/2 tbsp meringue powder (you can substitute powdered egg whites as well)
2 cups powdered sugar
3 scant tbsp warm water

Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks. This will take 7-10 minutes on a stand mixer, 10-12 on a hand mixer.

To Decorate:
Supplies:
White glitter sprinkles
Holly berry sprinkles
Black food coloring
1 pastry bag fitted with a round tip with a small opening- I usually use a #6
Skinnier black tip
1 pastry bag, fitted with another small round tip (again, #6 for me)
1 black food coloring pen

Dump your white glitter sprinkles out on a plate for dipping. 

Take one third of the icing and tint it black. Add a few drops of water to thin the consistency slightly. It should NOT be too runny, more like sour cream. Add this to the pastry bag fitted with the coupler.

Fill the pastry bag fitted with the TIP and no coupler with 1/3 of the white icing. 

Using the white icing, outline the body of each snowman in white. Leave the hat part alone.  After you pipe, press each snowman into the plate of glittery sprinkles. 

Then, using your black frosting, pipe out the outline of the hat. Fill this completely in with black frosting.  Press holly berry sprinkles in for hat detail. Allow to dry partially. 

Thin the remaining white frosting with more water, until it is pourable. Using a spoon, spread it around the snowman’s body. Let dry.

When dry, use the food coloring pen to draw dots for the snowman’s coal eyes, mouth, and buttons.  If you don’t have a food coloring pen, you can use the black frosting, just transfer it to a new bag and cut a very small hole. Let dry fully overnight, and then store airtight. 

These cookies will keep for about a week.  You can freeze them, fully decorated. Defrost at room temperature, as condensation in the fridge can melt the icing.

12.18.2013

Bayou Bars


These delicious cookies are pretty much pecan pie in bar form. They're from, of course, Great Cookies, and named "Bayou Bars" by the author because they contain some classic Southern dessert flavors- pecan, brown sugar, and coconut.

Mississippi Bayou Bars, from Great Cookies by Carole Walter
For the Crust:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

For the Topping:
1 10 ounce package sweetened flaked coconut (about 3 and 3/4 cups)
2 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 large eggs
1/2 cup dark corn syrup (dark is important, for both color and flavor)
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups broken pecans, lightly toasted.

Prep:
Heat oven to 350. Toast pecans for 7 minutes, until lightly brown. Cool.

Tear a large piece of aluminum foil and fit it over a 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1 inch jelly roll pan. Generously butter the bottom and sides.

Make the crust:
Melt butter in a saucepan, and set aside to cool to tepid. Add flour and sugars, blending with a fork until large crumbs form.

Distribute crumbs evenly over the bottom of the pan, using a flat bottomed glass to spread evenly and flatten. A small offset spatula will help you work the crumbs into the corners.

Bake for 20 minutes, until top is set and edges brown. While baking, make the topping.

Make the topping:
Place coconut in the bowl of a food processor, and process for 15 seconds, until finely chopped. Set aside.

Strain together flour and baking soda. Set aside.

Place eggs in a large mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Stir in corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture, then blend in coconut. Don't overmix, or too many bubbles will form. Pour mixture over hot crust and then sprinkle the pecans over the top.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until the edges begin brown and the top feels set. Place on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around sides of pan to loosen edges. Using a sharp knife, make seven cuts across the narrow side and seven cuts across the wide side, to cut into 64 bars. Let air-dry on a cooling rack before storing.

Store airtight, between sheets of wax paper, for two weeks. These cookies freeze beautifully, just defrost at room temperature.

12.17.2013

Molasses Spice Cookies


These cookies are so perfect for winter. They are chewy, warm and spicy; amazing for a snow day. 
 
My husband and I ate these warm out of the oven, with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Holy cow, that combo was one of the best things I ever made. You have to try it. 
 
Molasses Spice Cookies, from Great Cookies by Carole Walter
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp cloves (I used nutmeg)
2 cups sugar, divided
¼ cup molasses
1 large egg
 
Melt the butter in a 3 quart saucepan. The dough will be mixed by hand in this pan. Cool to tepid.
 
Strain together 3 times the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves (or nutmeg). Set aside.
 
Using a wooden spoon, stir 1 and ½ cups sugar, molasses, and egg into the butter, mixing until smooth. Add the dry ingredients in two parts and blend well. Cover with wax paper and chill for an hour. 
 
To bake:
Position shelves in upper and lower third of oven. Preheat to 375. Lightly butter cookie sheets. 
 
Shape dough into 1 inch balls by rolling between the palms of your hand. Place the remaining ½ cup sugar in a shallow dish and roll each ball in it. Flatten ball slightly and arrange 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
 
I like to chill cookies for 10 minutes in the fridge before I bake.
 
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until tops begin to crack. Toward the end of baking time, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back. Remove from oven, let stand 2-3 minutes, and then loosen with a spatula and cool on a rack.
 
Makes about 40 cookies. Will keep airtight for up to 2 weeks.

12.16.2013

Life Lately



A few snapshots of the past few weeks:

5th Ave Tiffany's, all dressed up for Christmas // my new baby cousin, Rose // a night out with two of my favorite people // one of my creations from my 3 day pastry workshop // Belmar, NJ on a cold winter afternoon // hubby’s pile of Christmas presents // Laduree macarons (spoiler: TOTALLY overrated) // with some of my girlfriends at our annual Friendsgiving // hubby and I closing out the Michigan football season

12.13.2013

Hanukkah Party

This weekend was our third annual Hanukkah party. When Mr. B and I moved in together, I adopted Hanukkah as the holiday that would be at our house, and I love hosting it. 

Well, usually. This year turned out to be a bit stressful- I had a busy weekend outside of hosting the party, plus there was a medical issue just before dinner that involved a frantic call to 911 and a visit from the paramedics. Luckily all is okay now. 

But the incident served as a reminder that the point of these parties is to enjoy family. I'd been really stressed and worried about the food (my husband's family includes a myriad of intensely picky eaters) and feeling a lot of pressure, and in the end the only thing that mattered was being together. Especially because dinner was freezing cold by the time we were able to eat. 


Our dinner menu was a pretty standard Hanukkah one:

I always cater my latkes from Wegman's, I can't stand the awful potato and onion smell that hangs in the air. The idea of my guests leaving with that clinging to their clothes gives me nightmares.

Appetizers I kept mostly simple, with a crudite platter, cheese, and these smoked salmon and cucumber canapes, topped with a dollop of creme fraiche and chives:


I set a table of blue and mixed metallics. The tablecloth had silver running through it, as did our bowls, but our chargers and flatware were gold. I ran a string of white Christmas lights down the middle instead of using candles. I thought it was a fun take on the whole "Festival of Lights" thing.


After dinner, we always open presents. We exchange gifts with my husband's family completely on  Hanukkah, and my family on Christmas. There's ten of us, and it's only one holiday, yet I'm always in shock at the sheer quantity of gifts:



This year, I got a brand new, top quality blowdryer, perfume, Deborah Lippmann nail polish, a watch, a new top, an Amazon gift card, and a Lenox challah knife from my mom. Whew! It's not even Christmas yet.


Here's to another Hanukkah. Looking forward to a (calmer) one next year.

12.10.2013

Peppermint Mojitos

 

Today I’m sharing a recipe for Peppermint  Mojitos, a refreshing cocktail that’s perfect for Christmas.

The drink is easy to make for a group, although juicing enough limes to get one cup of juice was annoying. Why are limes so juiceless? Whenever I watch Barefoot Contessa I make fun of her electric juicer, but you can bet I was wishing for one when I made these. 

Peppermint Mojitos, adapted from Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson

2 cups ice cubs
8 large mint sprigs, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lime juice (I needed 8 limes!)
1½ cups white rum
½ cup peppermint schnapps
8 dashes Angostura bitters
1 liter Seltzer, chilled

Add ice, mint, sugar, and lime juice to pitcher. Mash mint against ice and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add rum, schnapps, and bitters. Store in freezer until party time.

To serve, fill 6 8oz old fashioned glasses with ice, and add rum mix to come 2/3 of the way up the glass. Top off with club soda. Garnish with candy cane and extra mint sprigs, and serve.

Serves 6.

12.05.2013

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

In my apartment, at least.  





Last night, we had some friends over for our second annual tree decorating party.  This is what I love about where we currently live. My friends and I grew up in central NJ, went to separate colleges, got jobs in New York City, and then all moved there. Okay, or Brooklyn, or Hoboken, but basically, the same area.

So now I have a nice little set up where our some of our closest friends live within four blocks of our apartment, and it’s easy to get together whenever we want.  I know that this situation won’t go on forever; people will get married and have kids. Or realize we’re all getting the worst value for our money and wise up and move elsewhere. 

But for now, we get to enjoy after work hangouts and celebrations whenever we want.  Last night we ordered pizza, drank peppermint mojitos, and decked out my apartment for Christmas:





I had found a pretty red plaid ribbon to use as garland, so we went with a red and gold tree theme this year.  It doesn’t quite match our blue Hanukkah gifts, and I’m really trying to let go of my inner perfectionist and not be bothered by that. Last year we had a nice burlap and kraft paper theme going on, which all coordinated beautifully:




I tend to prefer themed trees over a conglomeration of mismatched ornaments, but already we’re developing a collection of ornaments that pull at my heartstrings a little:


 

There’s the dreidel I bought last year for Mr. B to recognize his Jewish heritage, a collection of milestone ornaments given to us for our engagement and wedding, a piece of cake Mr. B got me to symbolize my holiday baking obsession, and of course, a Michigan ornament.  As an alumni, the hubs is obsessed with all things U of M.

We also decked out the bar, my favorite spot in our apartment, and put a wreath over our fireplace.






I love how festive everything looks! Share links to your decorations!

12.04.2013

Sugar Saucers

This is my official favorite sugar cookie. It has no frosting or royal icing; just the simple sweetness of sugar, butter, and vanilla, happily rolled in sprinkles.

 
I first saw the recipe on Lottie and Doof, and felt immediately called to make them. The first batch was inhaled in two hours by my coworkers, so I went home and made a second. I’ve never been compelled to make a second batch of the same cookies just a day later. But that’s how good, and maybe more importantly, how easy these are.

The cookies lend themselves to many sizes, from giant saucers to smaller rounds . Mine were about 2 and a half inches across, and I found that the bigger they were, the more variety there was in consistency. A larger cookie will have a crisp edge with a chewier center (aka perfection).

I made these with regular grocery store brand vanilla and butter, but my next step is to pick up some good European butter and dig out my good vanilla, to see if I can make them even better. I’m also looking forward to all the holiday opportunities these cookies provide- now I can have festive Christmas and Michigan football season cookies without having to mess with royal icing and cookie cutters. Awesome.


4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp kosher salt
1 ½ c unsalted butter, at room temp
½ cup canola oil (I used corn oil, no issues)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 large eggs
4 tsp vanilla extract
Lots of rainbow sprinkles for decorating

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium speed for two minutes. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the oil, and then add the two sugars, eggs, and vanilla, mixing well after each addition. 

Add the flour mixture slowly, a quarter of it at a time. Mix until just combined. This will be a very soft dough. Scrape it out of the bowl, and flatten it into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour, or up to three days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment, and fill a bowl with rainbow sprinkles.

To form cookies, remove a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball. You can really make the cookies any size you want, I worked with balls of dough about the size of a walnut, but you may want to go bigger or smaller. The original recipe recommends anywhere from 2 oz to 5 oz, and uses an ice cream scoop (a tool I do not own) to measure.

Using your hands, flatten balls of dough into a disk, and press them into the sprinkles.  Arrange on baking sheet, leaving room for spreading, and bake for 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies.  I found they were done when they had started to puff and crack a little, and were very slightly golden on the edges.

Enjoy!!

These cookies are really best the day they are made. Even kept airtight, they were stale after just three days.  However, you can freeze the dough or make it up to 3 days ahead with no issues.

12.03.2013

Almond Cookies

The hubs and I ate dinner at Babbo last Christmas, and while the food was quite good, the only thing that really knocked my socks off was dessert. We shared an apple crostata, topped with creamy gelato and sea salt caramel. It was amazing.  I'm not usually a dessert eater, but that night I housed the whole thing.

Afterward, I decided to pick up Gina DePalma's book, Dolce Italiano. Gina is the pastry chef at Babbo, and her book is full of Italian dessert recipes. They're simple, authentic, and not overly sweet, and reading the book makes you long for a crunchy biscotti and a glass of vin santo.

I love this recipe for almond cookies. They have a delicious almond and lemon flavor, and go perfectly with a hot cup of tea. 
 

Almond Cookies, from Dolce Italiano

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup almond flour (I used Trader Joe’s Almond Meal)
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, separated
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sliced almonds
Powdered sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt, and put aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the egg yolk, then the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Beat in the dry ingredients (I did this in two stages) on low speed. Remove dough from bowl, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or more.

Preheat oven to 325. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a Silpat.

Place almonds in a dish, and lightly beat the egg white.

Divide your dough into three equal pieces. Put two pieces back into the fridge, and roll the third one into a log about ½ inch in diameter. Slice the log into 1/4 inch slices. Roll each slice in beaten egg white, and press the top into the almonds. Line up on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining portions of dough

Bake for 14-16 minutes, until golden at edges, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. Let cool on baking sheet for two minutes, then remove to a wire rack. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Cookies keep well for up to four days. They taste better at room temperature, rather than fresh out the oven.

Enjoy!

12.02.2013

Cookie Baking Tips



It’s Christmas cookie season! Every year, I bake large batches to share with family, friends, and coworkers, and I’ll be sharing a bunch of my favorite recipes over the next few weeks.

But first, I thought I’d start with my best baking tips. Cookies are a food I’m very particular about. I like for them to be perfect, to the point of tossing a batch if it isn’t. The following tips have helped me to really improve my baking:

  • Use a good recipe. This seems so obvious, but it’s important to know where your recipe comes from. I really trust recipes from Ina Garten, Carole Walter, and Dorie Greenspan, but I don’t necessarily trust miscellaneous entries I find in a Google search.
  • Use fresh ingredients. Last year, one of my family members actually baked cookies using flour that expired in 2001. No one died from eating them, but they tasted like the inside of a coffin. Replace your flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, etc yearly.
  • Additionally, to preserve freshness, store ingredients airtight. You can find lots of storage options in places like Bed Bath and Beyond, Walmart, or Crate and Barrel.  
  • Measure the way the recipe creator does. When I watch Ina Garten, I notice she fluffs her flour, and scoops it out with a measuring cup. Carole Walter spoons the flour into cups, then levels it off. The way you fill a measuring cup can compact the flour and sometimes add as much as a quarter cup extra to your recipe, so take care with this step. Measure as the recipe writer did, and you will be more likely to have similar results.
  • Better ingredients = better cookies. I typically use store brand butter, but for a cookie such as a shortbread, where the butter flavor really stands out, I like to spring for a high quality European style butter. High quality vanilla extract always matters too.
  • You eat with your eyes first, so be neat with presentation. Take care when shaping cookies, using cookie cutters, or decorating.  Make them the same size, and space them out on the tray so they don’t run into each other and form one large cookie blob.
  • Refrigerate shaped cookies on the baking sheet for ten minutes before baking. I find this helps retain the shape and keeps them from spreading too much, especially baking rolled cookies with cookie cutters. (Note: this is in addition to any dough refrigeration your recipe may suggest).
  • Make sure your ingredients are at the right temperatures. If a recipe calls for creaming room temperature butter, don’t start with a stick straight from the back of the fridge. And if you try to soften it and overdo it, don’t try to work with butter that’s half melted. Get a fresh stick and start over.  Don’t be wasteful, but know when you need to start fresh.
  • Use aluminum baking sheets. I learned the hard way that dark metals retain too much heat, resulting in scorched bottoms and underbaked insides. It actually blows my mind that so many baking companies keep producing dark metal pans. You can purchase two aluminum half sheet pans for around $10 in Costco or Sam’s club.
  • Keep ingredients on hand so you can bake when the mood strikes. I like to keep a cabinet full of sprinkles and decorating equipment, and I always have pounds of butter in my freezer.
  • Most cookies freeze well. Store airtight between layers of wax paper, and freeze for 1-3 months. I like to defrost at room temperature, and "refresh" the cookies by arranging on a baking sheet and baking at 350 for 5 minutes. They won't cook further, but they'll rewarm adn taste freshly baked.

What are your best cookie tips or recipes?