Cookie making is an art and a science. These top ten tips for making the best cookies will make you a better baker!
Traditionally, cookies are fairly simple, because, until the middle of the 20th century, white sugar and white flour were kept 'for company only'. Sugar cookies, Mexican Tea Cakes, and Roll Out Cookies all use basically the same dough, varying proportions of ingredients slightly. Because these cookies are so simple with little margin for error, you must follow the directions carefully and follow these tips that will help ensure your cookies are the best ever.
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This is the most important tip for any baker. Adding too much flour will make your baked goods tough and dry. And be sure to not overwork the dough; mix just until the flour disappears. I was watching Everyday Italian on the Food Network, a show that I love, and one of Giada's guests brought Chocolate Mint Surprise Cookies to a cookie exchange. I could tell by the look of the cookie when she broke it open that too much flour was used; it was dry and hard.
Reduce Flour by About 3 Tablespoons to 1/4 Cup
I like to reduce the flour amount in most cookie recipes by a few tablespoons, up to 1/4 cup to make the most tender cookies that do not dry out even after several days.
Chill the Dough Before Baking
Next, handling the dough. Chilling the dough helps softer doughs keep their shape and makes the dough easier to work with. I find that chilling the dough improves the flavor and allows the dough to relax a bit.
Use a Silicone Rolling Pin
With this new rolling pin, you won't have to use as much flour when rolling out doughs and your cookies will be more tender. You can also purchase a Marble Rolling Pin and chill it to keep the dough cold while you're working with it. Or use a rolling pin cover and cloth. You won't have to use as much flour with these cloth accessories. Rub flour into the rolling pin cover (also called a stockinette) and the cloth that is placed on the work surface, and the dough won't stick. Using a combination of powdered sugar and flour to dust the work surface will also help keep the cookies more tender. Also, think about purchasing rolling pin rings that you wrap around the pin so your dough is an even thickness and all the cookies bake at the same time.
Use an Oven Thermometer
Be sure that your oven is accurate with a thermometer, then bake cookies at a slightly lower temp. The instructions for your stove or oven will tell you how to adjust the heat if necessary. I have a digital oven, so when a recipe calls for a 350 F oven, I set the temperature to 345 F. This small reduction in temperature ensures the cookies won't overbake and overbrown, especially on the bottom. With each batch of cookies, the baking time will be reduced because of the increased humidity in the oven from the cookies.
Soften Butter Properly
It's difficult to soften butter properly in a microwave oven; too often part of the butter melts, which will change the structure of the cookies. Butter and sugar form the basic structure of the cookies; the sugar cuts small air pockets into the butter, which are stabilized by the flour and filled with C02 from the baking powder. Soften butter by letting it stand at room temperature for a couple of hours. You can also grate the butter into a bowl, then it will soften in a few minutes.
Making and freezing doughs ahead of time not only is a great time saver, but it improves the texture of the cookies. Icebox cookies are shaped into a log, wrapped, and chilled or frozen until it's time to bake. You can form drop cookie dough into balls and freeze; bake from the frozen state, adding a few minutes to the baking time. This technique also lets you make all the doughs one day, then take another day for the fun part: baking and decorating!
Use Fresh Ingredients
Make sure that all of your ingredients are fresh. Buy new baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, spices, flour, and sugar. Most of us don't bake often during the year, and it's a good bet that your ingredients are more than a year old. You're putting a lot of effort and heart into these cookies: start with the best ingredients!
I set the timer for 2 to 3 minutes less than the cooking time called for in the recipe. I take the cookies out of the oven just as they're beginning to look done because the residual heat from the cookie sheet will continue to bake the cookies. Also, slightly underbaked cookies are more tender and moist.
Insulated Cookie Sheets and Cookie Scoops
One of the biggest problems with delicate doughs is they can get too brown on the bottom. Insulated sheets prevent that so your cookies turn out perfectly every time. And using cookie scoops means your cookies will all be exactly the same size.
Now that you are a cookie expert, enjoy the time you spend in the kitchen with family and friends, baking wonderful cookies.