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Cookie Baking Basics

Get set with the best tips for ingredients, oven temps and materials to bake perfect cookies every time.

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Cookie Sheets 

Choosing the right cookie sheet makes all the difference in the finished product.

  • Choose sheets that are at least 2 inches smaller than the inside of your oven to allow heat to circulate.
  • The sheet may be open on one to three sides. If the sheet has four sides, cookies may not brown as evenly. 
  • Having at least 2 cookie sheets is helpful. When one batch of cookies is finished baking, another is ready to go. 
  • The three basic kinds of cookie sheets are: 
    • Shiny smooth-surface or textured aluminum cookie sheets are recommended. They reflect heat, letting cookies bake evenly and brown properly. 
    • Insulated cookie sheets help prevent cookies from turning too dark on the bottom. Cookies baked on these sheets may take longer to bake; the bottoms will be light colored and cookies may not brown as much overall. Cookies may be difficult to remove from these cookie sheets because the bottoms of the cookies are more tender. 
    • Nonstick and dark surface cookie sheets may result in cookies that are smaller in diameter and more rounded. The tops and especially the bottoms will be more browned, and the bottoms may be hard. Check cookies at the minimum bake time so they don’t get too brown or burn. Follow the manufacturer’s directions; some recommend reducing the oven temperature by 25°F. 

Choosing the Right Ingredients 

  • Flour: Bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour is recommended for cookies and bars. Whole wheat flour also can be used, but only substitute it for one-third to one-half the amount of all-purpose flour to keep cookies from becoming too dry. Don’t use bread and cake flours because bread flour causes cookies and bars to become tough and cake flour causes the cookies to be too delicate and fragile. Only use self-rising flour when specified in the recipe. 
  • Sugars: In addition to adding sweetness to cookies and bars, sweeteners also help brown and add tenderness to baked goods. 
  • Leavening: Cookies usually call for baking soda or baking powder, which are not interchangeable. For more information, see Baking Soda, and Baking Powder
  • Fats and Oils: Fats add tenderness and flavor to cookies and bars, but they are not all are equal. For best results, use butter, margarine or shortening. Any other spreads or reduced-fat products (with less than 65% fat) contain more water, resulting in cookies that are soft, tough and puffy. 
  • Eggs: Eggs add richness, moisture and structure to cookies and bars. All the recipes in this book have been tested with large eggs. Egg product substitutes, made of egg whites, can be substituted for whole eggs, but the baked cookies and bars may be dry. 
  • Liquids: Liquids like water, fruit juice, cream and milk tend to make cookies crisper by causing them to spread more. Add only as much liquid as the recipe calls for. 
  • Oats: Quick-cooking and old-fashioned oats are interchangeable unless a recipe calls for a specific type. Instant oatmeal products are not the same as quick-cooking and should not be used for baking. 
  • Nuts, Peanuts and Almond Brickle Chips: When nuts are called for in a recipe, you can substitute any variety of nut or peanuts. Nuts can easily become rancid, giving them an unpleasant, strong flavor that can ruin the taste of cookies. To prevent rancidity, store nuts and peanuts tightly covered in your refrigerator or freezer for up two years. Do not freeze cashews because they can become soggy. Almond brickle baking chips can also become rancid. To prevent rancidity, store them in the refrigerator or freezer up to six months. Always taste items adding to a recipe; if they don’t taste fresh, throw them out. 

Softening Butter 

Softening Butter or Margarine: Let butter soften at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. You can also soften it in the microwave. If the butter is too soft, the dough will be too soft and will cause the cookies to spread too much.

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Perfectly Softened: Butter is soft (leaves a slight indentation when touched lightly) yet still holds its shape.
Too Soft: Butter is overly softened and doesn’t hold its shape. 
Partially Melted: Butter is overly softened and has started to melt 

Bake a Test Cookie

If you’re new to cookie baking or trying a new recipe, bake just one cookie as directed in the recipe to see how it performs. This is a great way to make adjustments before baking a whole sheet of cookies. If the cookie spreads too much, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour to the dough, or refrigerate the dough 1 to 2 hours before baking. If it’s too dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk to the dough. 

Mixing

An electric mixer or spoon can be used for mixing the dough in most of the recipes in this book. The sugars, fats and liquids are usually beaten together first until well mixed. Flour and other dry ingredients are almost always stirred in by hand to avoid over mixing the dough, which can result in tough cookies. When the recipes in this book were tested, there were no significant differences in the appearance or texture between cookies mixed with an electric mixer or a spoon. 

 Beating Butter and Sugar

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Butter and sugar have been beaten long enough with mixture is light and fluffy and light in color.

REVIEWS & COMMENTS

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