My new issue of a magazine came in today’s mail & the cover advertised hints for making great cookies – but the teaser turned out to be just a very small block on a page with only a few suggestions for making really great cookies, every time. I thought to myself “huh! I can come up with a lot more ideas than this!” – and so here I am.
First of all – I’ll make this:
Tip #1 – buy yourself some good cookie sheets. Blackened cookie sheets, even if you cover them with aluminum foil, will not bake as well as nice shiny new cookie sheets. Girlfriends, cookie sheets don’t need to be expensive (I’ve priced them–they CAN be expensive but they don’t need to be. And if you don’t spend a lot on them, you can afford to replace them every few years). And while you are at it, buy some cooling racks. Not expensive! And if you buy parchment paper to line your cookie sheets – and don’t use them for anything else – they will stay nice. You want to invest in about 6 cookie sheets (to be able to have 2 in the oven at one time, one set cooling, one set being covered with cookie dough while the first batch is in the oven). Another thing I treasure is about 6 restaurant-size Bake-lite trays that Kelly’s godfather bought for me years ago at a restaurant supply house. I put the cooling racks on these trays and it eliminates mess from crumbs. When the kids are doing their cookie-and-craft projects, they each have one of these trays to work on – when sprinkles spill (and they usually do), its an easy clean up if you have all the mess contained on a plastic tray. Roger bought these trays for me back in the day (1970s!) when we made shishkabobs almost every weekend—the prepared shishkabobs would be piled up on one of these restaurant size trays, ready to go to the grill. Probably one of my all-time-all-favorite kitchen utensils.
So tip #2 is, don’t ever put cookie dough on hot (or even warm) cookie sheets. Let them cool down completely. If you are in a big hurry and only have two cookie sheets – run cold water over the ones you want to cool down fast. And I have made a curious discovery–Some cookie dough (like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins) works BEST at room temperature. Lots of times I like making up cookie dough in the evening & then refrigerating it to start baking the next day. Sometimes you need to let it come back up to room temperature. And when there were just two of us in the house, I often made up the dough and baked them maybe a dozen at a time. Most cookie dough will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Label it something like “turnip puree” so the kids don’t get into it and eat raw cookie dough.
Tip #3 is – buy a TIMER and USE it for every single batch. I have been notorious for burning the last batch of cookies over the years – because I would get distracted, start cleaning up the kitchen, answer the telephone & whoops, when I could smell them I knew they would be burnt. Now I use a timer. Actually I have three timers. I could use one of those I could wear around my neck.
Tip #4 Most cookies can be removed from the oven before they are really brown. Most sugar cookies only need to be a little brown around the edges. I once asked a friend at work why her chocolate chip cookies were so soft and chewy, just perfect – she said she always took them out of the oven in less time than recommended by the cookie recipe. So I began doing that too. You can let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets–they’ll still be just right–and they’ll be easier to remove from the cookie sheets if you let them stand for a minute or two. Meantime you can be putting the next batch into the oven and setting the timer.
Tip #5 – this is my most important tip, in my opinion. When the cookies are half way through baking – if you are using two racks – switch the cookie sheets, top to bottom, bottom to top – AND turn them around the other way. If your oven (like mine) is a little off this will make the cookies all bake evenly at the same time. Wear long mitts so you don’t burn your arms (I burn myself a lot. Ok. I need new mitts). And while I am thinking of it – get yourself a couple of those handy-dandy cookie scoops. This way you can be sure to have all the cookies exactly the same size so they will bake evenly.
Tip #6 If you are making roll out sugar cookies – you want to keep the dough chilled. Take some out of the frig only what you need to roll out some of the dough, keep the rest in the frig in a plastic bag. If the dough gets too soft/warm – put it back into the refrigerator to chill some more. (or stick it into the freezer to cool down faster).
Tip #7 – also about rolled out cookies – it will be so much easier to roll out the dough and handle it – if you sprinkle wax paper with flour and then roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Less messy, too. Roll out the dough and remove the top sheet of wax paper, then cut out as many cookies as you can (cut them close together–have you ever seen those magazine illustrations showing cut out cookies being made with one or two cut out way apart from one another? What are they thinking?) – you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so cut OUT as many as you can each time you roll out the dough — tossing the bits of dough back into the bowl to mash back together and re-roll (re-chilling if necessary). If I am baking something like all hearts (Valentine’s Day) – I will cut out as many heart-shaped cookies with one size cutter, and then use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter on some of the remaining dough-space…but use different cookie sheets for the different sized hearts. (You want to bake same-size cookies together, too. Don’t put small cutout cookies with large ones – the little ones will be burnt before the large ones are finished baking.
Tip #8 BUTTER. If you are going to all the work of making butter/sugar cookies – girlfriends, don’t waste your time with margarine. Buy butter when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer. You can keep it for a year in the freezer (OK, I have been known to keep it longer than that but I doubt the butter manufacturers recommend it). And you should also consider buying unsalted butter when you find it on sale. Most cookie recipes have salt as an ingredient anyway. Since I first wrote this article, I have switched almost entirely to unsalted butter.
Tip #9 – GOOD UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE – that’s another item I stock up on when I find it on sale. I keep it in a tight fitting plastic container (like Tupperware). And when making chocolate chip cookies – well, I guess there could be a debate over which chocolate chips are the best buy, but for my money, nothing beats Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. I watch for it to be on sale and then USE COUPONS.
Tip #10 – OTHER INGREDIENTS – if you are going to all the work of making homemade cookies, with all the little rug rats underfoot trying to help and people invading your kitchen eating them up as fast as you can bake them – invest in good ingredients. If you buy walnuts or pecans, store them in the freezer in plastic bags. They will last for months (ok, possibly years) in the freezer. They won’t get rancid. Buy large or extra large eggs just to use for baking. Keep flour in a tight fitting plastic container – and oh yes, if you don’t know about BAY LEAVES – let me be the first to tell you.
You can put some BAY LEAVES in any kind of flour or cornmeal or Bisquick or Pancake mix – and you will NOT get any pantry bugs. Put the flour or cornmeal into plastic containers as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket and then stick a couple of bay leaves in with it. (Remember to remove the bay leaves when you scoop out cups of flour-ok, I have found bay leaves in my cookie dough a few times). It always amazes me the number of times I have seen inquiries in magazines – what to do about pantry bugs – and no one tells them BAY LEAVES. I learned this trick from my mother years ago. It works. Bay leaves are cheap (or do as my brother Jim does and grow your own). I have taught my bay leaf trick to two of my daughters in law who have expressed surprise that it WORKS. Also under other ingredients – buy real vanilla extract. It’s worth it.
Ok, those are my ten tips. Happy Cooking!