Saturday, October 22, 2011

Handy Dandy How To Bake Cookies 101 Guide

I have to say having the biggest cookie monster in my house (that would be Mr. V) over the years I have baked countless amounts of home baked cookies at home.  Very rarely do I buy store bought, bagged cookies.  My family seems to have this weird "radar" for knowing when I have fresh cookies or maybe they just have me down to a science. I don't know, but whenever cookies are popping out of the oven I will have a niece at the door or call on the phone from kids asking "got cookies?".  I always know when Mr. V runs out of cookies because he gives me the pouty lower lip, hitting the floor, doe eyed look of "honneeeyyyyy I have no more coooooKies!".

Cookies come in all types of varieties, textures, some crispy some chewy and heck even some that don't even need baking.  Creating your own cookie recipes or tweaking a recipe will give you a cookie made just for your specification and tastes.  Here are some handy dandy tips to help you along.

MEASURE CAREFULLY- measuring correctly and carefully is the most important part of baking cookies.  You want to follow your recipe to the letter as well as taking your time to learn how to use measuring spoons and dry measuring cups properly.   To an experienced baker this sounds redundant but to someone just getting started it's really a key to successful batches of cookies.  There is always time to experiment with batches of cookies once mastered.

MAKE SURE BAKING INGREDIENTS ARE FRESH -  especially with baking soda and baking powder.  These ingredients are not expensive and depending on how much cookie baking you do if they sit too long they become "inactive" and you'll have a ruined batch of cookies.  You can test baking soda by adding a little bit of vinegar and if still good it will bubble and sizzle.  You can test baking powder with hot water.  If your ingredients do not bubble, throw it out and get fresh ingredients.  

FOR THINNER, CRISPIER COOKIES - just add a little extra baking powder to the cookie dough.  This will increase the pH balance of the dough, which makes the structure weaker and the dough will spread more easily when baking.  BUT be very careful doing this or you can add too much and end up with a salty icky chemical like flavor and too much browning of the cookie.  Using a fine bakers sugar or powdered sugar will result in thinner, crispier cookies as well.  BEWARE if you use powdered sugar make sure it does not have corn starch in it or your results will be nasty.

KEY TO CHEWIER COOKIES - when sugar dissolves it acts like a tenderizer that interferes with your dough structure.  this increases spreading in the same way as baking soda does as I mentioned in the step above or thinner cookies.  So, if you want them thick and chewy, use coarse sugar.  If you want crispier use fine baking sugar.  

ALWAYS MIX DRY INGREDIENTS FIRST - This is so when you bake with soda/powder it ensures that they are evenly distributed and make sure that you don't end up with big holes in your cookies.  Since baking powder is activated by water, you'd want to wait until the last minute before mixing the wet ingredients so that the baking powder doesn't "run out of juice" too early in the process.

FOLD/MIX WE INGREDIENTS BRIEFLY - You just want to fold or mix just until moistened. Over mixing will allow too many gas/air bubbles from the baking soda or powder reactions to get away.  Over mixing will also develop the gluten in the flour making a dense, tough cookie. Make sure your butter is room temp because cold butter is stiffer and requires more mixing and that will take a toll on the texture you are looking for.  The butter is soft enough when it gives slightly when pressed yet it still holds its shape.

PUT COOKIES ON ROOM TEMP TO COOL COOKIE SHEET - If you use one hot the dough will start to melt too soon.  Grease the cookie sheet with vegetable shortening or unsalted butter.  Do NOT use vegetable oil or your cookies will burn in between.  Some cookie dough recipes have a lot of shortening or butter in it already so your cookie sheet may not need to be greased at all.

USE PARCHMENT PAPER - This makes your baking sheet so much easier to clean and not cause a greasy build up on your cookie sheets.  Another plus to using parchment is the cookies can be removed carefully from cookie sheet to cooking rack. 

USE COOKIE SCOOP OR MEASURING SPOON - to make sure drop or shaped cookies are all the same size so the cookies bake evenly and taste better.

CHECK THE COOKIES - A time range is generally given in a recipe, so once you reach the short end of that time (Bake 9-12 min) stick a toothpick right into the center of the cookie, pull it out quickly.  If little or no cookie comes back on the toothpick they are done.  If not adjust time.

ALLOW COOKIES TO COOL - when taking cookies out of oven it is best to let the cool on the sheet before moving to a cooling rack.  Once the cookies have cooled slightly, remove them from cookie sheet to keep them from sticking and breaking later.

A few more tips for you are:
  • Flour the cookie sheet after it's been greased to minimize spreading and prevent chocolate chips in dough from sticking
  • Always preheat your oven
  • After baking is done and oven has been turned off, keep your oven door open a bit to cool off the oven faster.
  • Use vanilla sugar for baking for added richness and flavor.  Put a vanilla bean in a canister of sugar for 2 weeks before using sugar.  This adds beautiful flavor to cookies, cakes and sweet breads.
  • Don't under bake cookies or they will taste doughy and you also run the risk of salmonella from the raw eggs in dough
  • Don't "worry" your cookies by constantly opening the oven door.  Every time you open it the oven cools off and effects the ultimate turn out of your cookie.  Use your oven light to see how the cookies are doing without opening the door to let precious heat escape
  • Make sure you don't put anything that might burn on top of the stove while items are in oven or you can start a fire (I've done this before!)
  • Kids should always have a parent present to help in baking cookies
Until next time, see you in the kitchen,

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