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SARAH SAYS: Having developed some many different types of cookie recipes throughout my career, I share with you my top cookie baking tips for success. If you have additional questions, please post them in our CraftyBaking.com Forum, and we will be happy to answer them.
TIP #1: When baking cookie recipes, use the heavy cookie sheets. Always bake with an oven thermometer. Preheat the oven and prepare the cookie sheets.
SARAH SAYS: I have found that the best cookie sheets are the ones that are: Non-insulated, dull aluminum pans (light in color, not dark) with or without sides, preferably NOT non-stick. Make sure they are heavy in weight. These pans bake cookies the best and evenly: the cookies are lightly and evenly browned around its edges, a hint of browning on top, experience less spread and bake the fastest.
SARAH SAYS: Many cookbooks advise against using cookie sheets with rims, on the theory that the rims interfere with the circulation of heat, but I have used rimmed cookie sheets and jelly-roll pans (15 x 10 x 1 inch) for years with no problems. Be sure the sheets are flat and not warped.
Most cookies bake at about 350 degrees F, considered a "medium" oven temperature. ALWAYS preheat your oven for about 20 minutes or until done before baking your cookies. Cookies, as all baking recipes, are best baked in a well-preheated oven. If you have dark pans, they absorb more heat than shiny, aluminum ones, and can easily cause burned cookie bottoms - you may want to reduce the temperature by 25 degrees F.
Use two oven thermometers to monitor an accurate temperature. (It can be purchased from the grocery store). Place one on each side of the oven. Adjust the oven's heat, if necessary, to get the right temperature.
Cookies bake nicely and brown more evenly, but also bake faster in a convection oven. Lower the temperature by 25 to 50 degrees than the recipe states when going from conventional oven to convection.
TIP #2: When baking cookie recipes, have all ingredients ready and measure them accurately. You can use ingredients cold from the refrigerator.
Read through the recipe and make sure you have all ingredients on hand. (Make adjustments when baking at high altitudes.)
Prepare any ingredients used in the recipe: when adding dried fruit like raisins or currants to the dough, plump them first to make sure they are soft, not hard and shriveled. Prepare coconut, chopped chocolate, etc. Toast and cool any chopped nuts or coconut before using.
It is important to measure carefully, as tiny drops of moisture cause a cookie to spread or puff or too much flour makes a cookie dry and flavorless. If a recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar be sure you firmly pack it into the measuring cup for an accurate measurement.
QUESTION: Can I eat raw cookie dough?
SARAH SAYS: I do not recommend it. Cookie dough usually contains perishable items which spoil easily. Also, consuming the raw eggs in them carry a risk of your getting salmonella.
TIP #3: Mix the ingredients in the exact order suggested in the recipe. DO NOT OVERMIX.
Cookies are essentially made by several methods of mixing, similiar to cakes, the first one being the most commonly used:
1. Creaming Method (Fat-sugar, Cake or Conventional): Sugar beaten into stick butter, margarine or shortening (solid, plastic fats). Eggs are then added. Finally, flour and dry ingredients added. Cookies have little or no liquid ingredients. With cookie recipes, you will not necessary beat the ingredients until light and fluffy.
2. All-ingredient method (Single stage, quick-mix, one-bowl or dump): All dry and liquid ingredients are mixed together at once.
3. Biscuit method: Similiar to the Pastry-blend method. Flour and all dry ingredients are combined. Fat is then cut into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Liquid is added laste. Dough is mixed just until moistened.
4. Foaming method (Conventional sponge): Whipping eggs (whole, yolks only or whites only) with a portion of the sugar. The egg foam is folded into the batter in the end. Or, egg whites are foamed and flour is sifted over, and folded in.
5. Muffin Method (Two Stage): Dry and moist ingredients are mixed separately and then combined and blended until the dry ingredients just become moist.
6. The Pastry-blend method: the fat is cut into the flour. Once the flour is added, the dough should be mixed well, but not beaten at length for this will toughen the cookies.
Overmixing the flour with the liquid ingredients, will cause the cookie to be tough and flavorless. The more wheat flour is moistened and stirred, the more gluten strands form an elastic network that strengthens as you mix.
While mixing the cookie dough or batter, do not allow it to become too warm. If the dough seems sticky, refrigerate it rather than add more flour. Excessive flour is the main culprit in producing hard, dry cookies.
QUESTION: When making stiff cookie dough, does it matter if you use the paddle attachment or the whisk attachment to a mixer?
SARAH SAYS: Yes. I use the paddle attachment, unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Stiff dough is hard on your whisk attachment when mixing it and you'll risk bending the wires. Whisk attachments also aerate the cookie dough too much.
TIP #4: Form the cookie dough on the cookie sheet(s). THINK COLD.
Follow the directions on preparing your pans. Use parchment paper to line them or spray pans with vegetable oil spray. If done with butter, it burns under high heat, perhaps causing the cookie bottoms to burn underneath.
When a cookie sheet comes straight from the oven, remove the baked cookies from it, clean it by scraping off the stuck on crumbs with the side of a metal spatula, and then cool it completely before using it again for the next batch. Any cookie dough will spread immediately and may connect together when placed on a warm cookie sheet because the fat in it melts. The ones with butter or margarine will spread more than those made with shortening.
A half-batch of cookies on a full sheet will absorb too much heat and are more susceptible to burning. It's better to spread the half batch evenly over the cookie sheet before baking.
TIP #5: Make sure your cookie dough and pans are cold or at room temperature before placing them in the oven. Watch baking cookies carefully. If necessary, rotate cookie pans half-way through baking the reccipe.
For cookies that are made by creaming butter and sugar together, the butter gets soft quickly during mixing and/or if the dough is left out on the countertop. If so, refrigerate the dough until colder before making cookies to help prevent it from spreading immediately when baked.
Baking with one cookie sheet in the center of the middle of the oven shelf at a time is the best. Place the cookie sheet in the middle of the middle rack.
But, most of us bake with two cookie sheets at a time (no more because the oven becomes crowded and the cookies will not bake as evenly.) Even if you have room to bake both sheets on one shelf, its best to stagger the sheets on different ones. Place the oven rack 1/3 of the way from the bottom and the top shelf 1/3 of the way from the top. Leave about an inch or two between the cookie sheets and the sides of the oven to allow for air circulation; the cookies will bake better.
All ovens have hot spots, so it's best to rotate cookie sheets half-way through baking. If using one cookie sheet, rotate the front to back. If there are two cookie sheets in the oven at the same time, swap and rotate the cookie sheets half way through baking. Your cookies will bake more evenly. (If you do bake two cookie sheets on one shelf, leave room between them and the sides of the oven. Remember to swap and rotate them as well).
TIP #6: Do NOT overbake cookie recipes, cooling and storage tips.
Cookies bake in a short time, generally 8 to 15 minutes usually at 350 to 375 degrees. They can burn very easily, and they can be deceptive by looking underbaked when in fact they're perfect. Many cookies rise a little bit, but usually collapse a bit when pulled from the oven.
Check cookies for doneness at 5 minutes before the first time in the range specified in the recipe. Keep checking every minute or so. Cookies burn quickly.
If you want soft and chewy cookies, take them out on the early side; for crispier cookies, bake a little longer, being careful not to burn them. (Some recipes already make soft or crispy cookies, so just follow the recipe).
Thick or moist cookies are done when pressed lightly and leave a slight imprint. Thin, crispy ones are done when firm to touch and slightly golden around edges.
When done, remove cookies from the oven and let cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes. As cookies continue to cool they will become firm enough to remove, otherwise they will fall apart if they are too hot. If cookies are left on the sheet too long, they will be very difficult to remove.
To cool, transfer each cookie gingerly to a wire cake rack with a flat, metal spatula. Do not pile cookies on top of each other and leave a bit of space around each. If you do not have enough space on the cooling racks, putting the cookies on flat, brown paper grocery bags placed on the countertop.
If you bake cookies on parchment paper, let them sit on the pan for 3 to 5 minutes and then slide it with the cookies to a wire cake rack to cool completely. Then, remove the cookies from the parchment paper. They'll break less easily this way.
Cool bar cookies in pan slightly before cutting to keep them from crumbling. For bar cookies...easy removal, line pan with foil, allow an overhang and when cookies have cooled simply pull up foil or you can allow cookies to cool 15 - 20 minutes, cut and remove.
Make sure that there is at least a 3-inch clearance between the rack and the countertop. I have found that if the cooling rack is too close to the counter, condensation forms underneath the cookies, causing them to have slightly soggy bottoms. To do, place upside-down glasses on the countertop and use them to support each corner of the wire cake rack.
Cookies should be (eaten) and stored after cooling. Most cookies are decorated after baking and cooling, but can be done beforehand.