How to be the World’s Best at Baking Cookies; Tips and Tricks
Before you begin baking cookies, be sure you have all the ingredients called for and that you understand the recipe clearly.
Remember – If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right! 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 substitute ingredients. Never carry on another activity while you are mixing a recipe. Distractions, no matter how small, lead to mistakes. Let the telephone ring!
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:
Use the type of pan specified in the recipe. Recipes are carefully calculated as to yield and changing the pan size also alters the baking temperature and time.
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 ingredient and assemble the ingredients before starting:
You can’t expect a first-rate product using second-rate ingredients. Be sure your ingredients are fresh and of the finest quality. If your recipe says the ingredient must be room temperature, then make sure they are at room temperature before proceeding.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda: Check expiration dates of baking powder and baking soda, replacing if necessary. For testing purposes:
Baking soda should bubble when added to vinegar
Baking powder should bubble when added to hot water.
Be sure to mix baking powder and/or baking soda into the flour before adding to the wet ingredients, as this distributes everything evenly so your cookies will not end up with large holes.
Controlling Spread in Cookies with Baking Soda:
Cookies spread across a cookie sheet when a they have too little structure and cannot hold their shape. Whether this is desirable or not depends on what kind of cookie you wish to bake, but often some spread is desirable.
There are many ways to increase cookie spread: One way is to add a small amount of baking soda, as little as .25 to .5 ounce (5 to 15 grams) for 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of cookie dough. This increases pH of the dough, weakening gluten, and also weakening egg protein structure. With less structure, cookies spread more and have a coarser, more porous crumb. Since moisture evaporates from a porous crumb more easily, baking soda often provides for a crisper crumb, as well.
Measure baking soda carefully. Baking soda increases browning significantly, and if used at too high a level, it leaves a distance salty-chemical off flavor. Too much baking soda also causes eggs in baked goods to turn grayish green.
When working a high altitudes, omit baking soda from the cookie dough. The lower air pressure at high altitudes already encourages spread.
Check Experation Date or Use by Date on all Ingreadences:
Eggs: Check your date on your egg carton. Check out Sell Date of Eggs (Sell Date of Eggs – Date Codes on Egg Cartons). Eggs should be at room temperature. Also the emulsion can be ruined if eggs or other liquids are too cold or too hot when they are added.
Don’t substitute flour types. If your recipe calls for all-purpose flour, that’s what you need to use. Cake flour and bread flour will not behave the same. Learn about the different types of flour. When a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, it means the bleached variety.
Too much flour can make some cookies rock-hard. When in doubt, err on the side of less flour. Even better, use a scale if the recipe offers a weight equivalent. Spoon the flour into your measuring cup and sweep a spatula across the top to level it off. Don’t use the measuring cup as a scoop or it’ll pack the flour and you’ll end up with more flour in the cup than intended. See #6 below for additional information.
Smell and taste nuts before using. Oils in nuts can turn rancid quickly. Store any leftover nuts in the freezer for longest shelf life.
Make sure your butter is at room temperature, otherwise it won’t cream properly with the sugar. The terms room temperature, softened, and soft mean different things. The temperature of the butter can and will make a difference in the recipe. Most cookie dough recipes depend on the emulsion that occurs when you cream butter and sugar together. This emulsion will not happen if the butter is too hot or too cold.
Room Temperature Butter:
It should be pliable enough that your finger can leave a mark in it, without being soft and greasy. Set the butter out at least one (1) hour in advance (I usually set my butter on the counter the night before I want to bake).
Will feel a little warmer to the touch, and it will be much easier to leave a deep indentation, but it should still be firm enough to pick up without falling apart.
Will be too soft to pick up.
Do not try to microwave your butter as it will just end up too soft. If you don’t have an hour’s lead time, increase the surface area by cutting the butter into small pieces or shredding it on the large holes of a grater. It will then come up to temperature in approximately 10 minutes.
Unsalted butter is generally recommended because some salted butters have more sodium than others. If you use salted butter, only use 1/2 the amount of salt called for in the recipe. Don’t skip the salt, as salt brings out flavors and balances the sweetness in a recipe.
Use the full amount of salt called for in a recipe, especially when using unsalted butter. If you use salted butter, you can use 1/2 the amount called for in the recipe. Don’t skip the salt, as salt brings out flavors and balances the sweetness in a recipe.
Check vegetable shortening before using. Shortening, especially new trans fat-free brands) can go bad, introducing off-flavors to your cookies that you worked hard making. It is best to store opened shortening in the refrigerator.
The type of sugar used in your cookies can promote spread in baked cookies. To understand this, you need to know that sugar is a tenderizer which interferes with the formation structure. Sugars with a finger granulation promote more spread (probably because they dissolve sooner and only dissolved sugars will tenderize). Powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar), when it contains cornstarch, prevents spread in cookies despite it finer grind.
5) Room temperature Ingredients:
Have all ingredients at room temperature for more glamorous perfect cookies, unless otherwise specified.
6) Measure the ingredients quantities correctly – Use correct measuring cups and spoons:
This is a baking must! Follow your cookie recipe to the tee (you can always experiment with later batches, testing how alterations affect the final product). One common cause of cooking failures is inaccurate measurement of ingredients. You can use the best ingredients in the world, but if you do not measure correctly, the recipe will not come out properly. Also always use level measurements (all measurements in a recipe are level).
Measuring Liquids – Liquid Measuring Cups:
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.
Use a Liquid Measuring Cup (glass or plastic measuring cup) for liquids such as water, milk, or oil. The glass or plastic permits you to see the level of the liquid being measured. The cup for liquids should have additional space above the one-cup line, so that a full cup can be accurately measured without spilling. To get an accurate reading in a liquid measuring cup, set the cup on a level surface and bend down to check the measurement at eye level.
Liquid measuring cups come in several different sizes and are also useful for melting chocolate and butter in the microwave as well as measuring. Following are some different types of liquid measurement cups:
Measuring Dry Ingredients – Dry Measuring Cups:
measuring cups and spoonsDry ingredients such as flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder should always be measured in Dry Measuring Cups, never in liquid cups. Use individual Standard Measuring Spoons for tablespoons and teaspoons.
- Check out my Cooking Equivalent Measurement Chart to help you figure out cup and spoon sizes. The charts shows standard U.S. measures following U.S. Government guideline. The charts also offer equivalents for United States, metric, and Imperial (U.K.) measures.
- 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.
- To measure a “heaping” or “rounded” tablespoon or teaspoon, it 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 outFlour 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) Oven temperature:
Preheat the oven 10 to 15 minutes before you begin baking cookies. This is usually consistent unless a recipe specifically calls for you to start with a cold oven.
Purchase an Oven Thermometer to make sure your oven is operating at the right temperature. An oven that is too hot or too cold not only throws off the cooking times but can throw off the texture and appearance of the finished cookies.
8) Baking or Cookie Sheets:
A baking or cookie sheet should be either cool or at room temperature when the cookie dough is placed on it; otherwise, the dough will start to melt, adversely affecting the cookies’ shape and texture when baking cookies.
Type of Cookie Sheets To Use: Cookie Sheets with little or no sides will allow the cookies to bake quickly and evenly.
Greasing Cookie Sheets: Grease cookie sheets with either vegetable shortening or unsalted butter. Do not use vegetable oil for greasing the cookie sheets, as the oil between the cookies will burn during baking – this is very difficult to clean.
You also can use parchment paper or the reusable Silicone Baking Mats on your cookies sheets instead of the shortening or butter. I, personally, can not imagine how I ever lived without these fantastic reusable silicone pan liners. To me this is a “must have” in my kitchen. You can’t rip them, you can’t tear them, they are extremely durable and inexpensive, and they never lose their shape.
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 she is less likely to stick and burn while baking).
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. Cookies should be baked in the center of the oven.
Cooling Cookie Sheets: Be sure to cool your baking sheets between baking batches of cookies. Rotate cookie sheets and rinse and wipe clean between batches. A baking or cookie sheet should be either cool or at room temperature when the cookie dough is place on it. Otherwise, the dough will start to melt, adversely affecting the cookie’s shapes and texture. If the sheets are still hot when you add more dough, the cookies can start to melt and spread before they even get in the oven. To cool your cookie pans in a hurry, run them under cold water and then wipe dry before using.
9) Baking Perfect Cookies:
Cookies should be of a uniform thickness and size so they will bake in the same amount of time. Using a small cookie scoop or ice cream scoop will provide picture-perfect, uniform size for baking cookies. To get uniform cookies, weigh the cookie dough. Using your kitchen scale, weigh 1-ounce dough for each medium-size cookie and 1/2-ounces for each smaller cookie.
Leave room between cookies on the cookie sheet. Rule of thumb is 2 inches between cookies. If the cookies are extremely large cookies or the recipe calls for more space, adjust the space.
Watch the baking time and use an accurate timer. Always check the cookies at the minimum baking time listed in your recipe. Even one minute can mean the difference between a cookie that is done and one that is ruined.
Unless the recipe directs otherwise, remove baking cookies from cookie sheet to wire rack immediately to prevent further baking. Use a thin pancake turner to remove and move cookies from baking sheets. If cookies are left on the sheet to cool, they will be very difficult to remove (this will keep cookies from tearing or breaking).