1. Use the exact ingredients in the cookie recipe
Our cookie recipes call for butter and/or margarine. Use the regular varieties of each, not the light, whipped or spreadable choices. For best results, select a margarine that contains at least 80 percent vegetable oil (this type has 100 calories per tablespoon). When using only butter, do not substitute margarine. Use all-purpose flour unless otherwise specified in the recipe.
2. Measure cookie ingredients correctly
Measuring dry ingredients
Nested metal or plastic measuring cups are used for dry ingredients and for solid fats. For flour and sugar, lightly spoon the ingredient into the cup, then level off with the straight edge of a spatula or knife. For butter, margarine, shortening and brown sugar, spoon into the cup and pack firmly, then level off.
Measuring liquid ingredients
Glass or see-through plastic measuring cups are used to measure liquids. Place the measuring cup on a flat surface, and read the measurement at eye level.
Before measuring sticky liquids such as molasses, honey or corn syrup, lightly spray the inside of the cup with cooking spray, or wipe lightly with vegetable oil.
3. Chill cookie dough if necessary
You’ll know if you need to chill the dough. Just follow the recipe directions. This step ensures easier handling, especially on shaped or cutout cookies.
For cutout cookies, work with half of the dough at a time. Keep remaining dough chilled for best results.
4. Use the best cookie sheets
Shiny, smooth-surfaced or textured aluminum cookie sheets provide the best baking results. Dark-surfaced or nonstick sheets can result in overbrowned cookies. Insulated cookie sheets can lead to underbrowned cookies.
Cookie sheets should be at least 2 inches shorter and narrower than the inside dimensions of your oven, so heat can circulate around them.
For even baking, place cookies on the middle oven rack and bake one sheet at a time. Cool cookie sheets between batches; cookie dough placed on warm cookie sheets will spread.
5. Prepare cookie sheets as directed
The cookie recipe directions will indicate whether or not to grease the cookie sheets. To grease, use shortening or cooking spray.
Cooking parchment paper can replace greasing. Find it in grocery stores near the aluminum foil.
Tear off the length of parchment paper you need to cover the cookie sheet, and place it curled side down. After your cookies bake, just slide them and the parchment paper off the cookie sheet onto the cooling rack. In no time, you'll have a cooled cookie sheet ready for the next batch.
6. Bake a test cookie
Before baking an entire sheet of cookies, take the time to bake a test cookie. If the cookie spreads too much and becomes flat during baking, add additional flour to the cookie dough. Add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time, until the cookie dough feels firmer.
If the test cookie is too firm or dry, fix the cookie dough by mixing in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk until the dough holds together better.
7. Mix, bake and decorate cookies in stages
Cookie dough can be refrigerated or frozen for baking later. Store dough in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 6 months.
Once cookies are baked, cover them tightly and decorate within a few days. Or freeze them and decorate when you have more time.
8. Line pans for perfect bars
When making bars, line pans with aluminum foil for super quick cleanup and evenly-cut bars.
To line your baking pan:
- Turn the pan upside down.
- Tear off a piece of foil longer than the pan.
- Shape the foil around the outside of the pan.
- Carefully remove foil and set aside.
Flip pan over and gently fit shaped foil into the pan.
When bars are completely cool, just lift them out of the pan by the foil “handles,” peel back the foil, and cut the bars as directed. This technique works well for fudge, too.
9. Freeze cookies safely
Freeze baked cookies, tightly wrapped and labeled, for up to 6 months. Do not freeze meringue, custard or crème-filled cookies.
Using a freezer-safe container, place delicate frosted or decorated cookies in a single layer, then cover with waxed paper before adding another layer.
Thaw most cookies in the covered container at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. For crisp cookies, take them out of the container to thaw.
10. Storing cookies separately
Store different kinds of cookies in separate containers so the flavors don’t mix. Be sure to store crisp and soft cookies separately. If stored together, all the cookies will become soft.
Store soft and chewy cookies in a tightly covered container. Store crisp cookies in a loosely covered container, like a cookie jar without a tight seal.