10 Secrets to Perfect Cookies
What's Cooking America (WCA) shares some wonderful advice on how to make the perfect cookies everytime. Their philosophy is - if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right, so let's cultivate the do-it-right attitude and habit.
Baking demands accuracy and care. Unlike other kinds of cooking, such as soups or stews, you cannot improvise or successfully substitute ingredients (at least not often). So to keep from getting distracted (which for me has meant burnt cookies!), never carry on another activity while you are mixing a recipe. Distractions, no matter how small, lead to mistakes. Let the telephone ring!
Here then, are WCA's best tips for baking the BEST cookies:
1. Read the cookie recipe carefully before starting: Be sure you have all the ingredients called for and that you understand the recipe clearly.
2. Use good tools and utensils: Assemble all the bowls, pans, and utensils you will need on your counter or worktable before starting. Use standard measuring cups and spoons.
3. Use correct pan sizes and the type specified in recipe: Recipes are carefully calculated as to yield and changing the pan size also alters the baking temperature and time. For instance:
Larger, shallower pans need increased heat; smaller, deeper pans need decreased heat.
The size of a baking pan or dish is measured across the top of the container from the inside edge to inside edge. The depth also is measured on the inside of the pan or dish from the bottom to the top of the rim.
Prepare the pan carefully according to the recipe. Place pans as near the center of the oven as possible. Do not place pans directly over another and do not crowd the oven (this makes for uneven baking).
4. Use top-quality ingredients and assemble them prior to starting: Don't expect a first-rate product using second-rate ingredients. They should be fresh and of the finest quality. If your recipe says the ingredient must be room temperature, they are at room temperature before proceeding.
Check baking powder and baking soda expiration dates; replace if necessary. Results can be disastrous if either of these are outdated. To test: baking soda should bubble when added to vinegar and baking powder should bubble when added to hot water.
Mix baking powder and/or baking soda into the flour before adding to the wet ingredients, so everything is distributed evenly.
5. Unless otherwise specified, have all ingredients at room temperature. Honestly, this creates a more glamorous perfect cookie.
6. Follow the rules regarding measuring:
Always use level measurements (all measurements in a recipe are level).
Know the difference between liquid and dry measures, and use the appropriate one for each task. While they hold the same volume, they are used differently.
ALWAYS use a liquid measuring cup (glass or plastic) for liquids so you can see the level of the liquid being measured. Cups for liquids should have additional space above the one-cup line, so that a full cup can be accurately measured without spilling. For an accurate reading, set cup on a level surface and bend down to check the measurement at eye level.
Cups come in several different sizes and are also useful for melting chocolate and butter in the microwave.
ALWAYS use dry measuring cups for measuring dry ingredients. NEVER measure these in a liquid measuring cup. It's impossible to get an accurate measure when putting dry ingredients in a liquid measuring cup.
Lightly spoon dry ingredients into correct cup or spoon size, and level off with edge of spatula by cutting across the top. Use measuring spoons in this way too.
Dip a dry measuring cup into the ingredient and sweep away the excess with a straight-edged tool, such as an icing spatula.
Measure a liquid in a measuring spoon by filling it full.
A "heaping" or "rounded" tablespoon or teaspoon is generally a moderately-sized, round mound, or heap of the dry ingredient (in addition to that which fills the spoon).
Measure a "scant" spoon by filling the measure not completely full or by shaking or pouring a little bit out.
Flour need not be sifted before measuring unless recipe specifies it. When a recipe calls for sifted flour, it is important to take the time to sift, even if the flour you're using is labeled "pre-sifted." Sifting flour onto a sheet of wax paper instead of into a bowl cuts down on dishwashing.
Measure brown sugar by packing it firmly into a measuring cup or into a measuring spoon.
Shortening should hold its shape when turned out of the measuring cup. The same applies to brown sugar.
7. Preheat the oven 10 to 15 minutes prior to baking unless a recipe specifically says to start with a cold oven. Use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven is operating at the right temperature. An oven that is too hot or too cold throws off the cooking times and affects the texture and appearance of the finished cookies.
8. Follow the rules regarding baking sheets:
Be sure baking sheet is cool or at room temperature prior to placing cookie dough on it, otherwise, the dough will start to melt, adversely affecting the cookies' shape and texture.
To cool your cookie pans in a hurry, run them under cold water and then wipe dry before using.
Bake one cookie sheet at a time, and be sure that the sheet fits in the oven with at least one inch of space around its edges for the proper heat circulation.
Rotate cookie sheets and rinse and wipe clean between batches.
Use sheets with little or no sides to allow the cookies to bake quickly and evenly.
Grease sheets with either shortening or unsalted butter. Do not use vegetable oil for greasing the cookie sheets - it will burn during baking (this is very difficult to clean). OR use parchment paper or reusable silicone baking mats.
BUT, if the cookie dough you are using has a large amount of vegetable shortening or butter in it, it is not necessary to grease or butter the cookie sheets or pans. Most cookie dough can be baked on ungreased pans.
If you flour a cookie sheet after it is greased, there will be less tendency for the cookies to thin out and spread too much during baking.
A greased and floured cookie sheet is also preferred for any dough containing chocolate chips (the chocolate which comes in contact with the cookie sheet is less likely to stick and burn while baking).
9. Follow the rules regarding baking cookies:
Bake one cookie sheet at a time, and be sure that the cookie sheet fits in your oven with at least one-inch of space around its edges for proper heat circulation.
Avoid placing one sheet above another sheet in the oven, as this causes uneven baking.
Bake cookies in the center of the oven.
Measure uniform (in size and thickness) dough balls so they bake in the same amount of time. Using a small cookie scoop or ice cream scoop provides picture-perfect, uniform size cookies. To get uniform cookies, consider weighing the cookie dough using a food scale.
10. Follow the rules regarding storing cookies:
Always store cookies after they have cooled completely. If still warm, they will get too soft and moist from the condensation and you'll wreck them.
Store crisp cookies in a container with loose lid unless you live in a humid climate. If your humidity is high, store these cookies in an airtight container as well.
Store fragile cookies in a shallow tin instead of a deep cookie jar or crock as extra weight will break the delicate treats.
Store frosted cookies only after the frosting is set on the cookies. Like soft cookies, all frosted cookies should be stored between layers of waxed paper. It is best if you do not stack the layers deeper than 3 layers.
Store soft cookies placed between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container. Make sure the container has a snug fitting lid. If the cookies begin to dry out, place a slice of on a sheet of waxed paper and place inside the container. Replace the slice of bread as needed.
If storing cookies in a cookie jar, line it with a re-sealable plastic bag for airtight storage.