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?

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